• Opinion
  • September 24, 2018
  • 6 minutes
  • 1

Bogota slashed pollution and road deaths with one simple tool: a bus

Opinion: The TransMilenio system has become the largest bus rapid transit in the world

This piece was written by Jakki Mann, content manager at the Policy Transfer Platform. It can also be found in our smart cities newsfeed


During the 1990s, Bogota’s population increased rapidly, largely due to internal migration from the countryside. Simultaneously the public transport system was in decline and not able to cope with the increase in users.

In 1999, Bogota’s mayor, Enrique Peñalosa, proposed a plan for a bus rapid transit system (BRT), called the TransMilenio, that would improve the efficiency and safety of public passenger transport services.

The idea was to provide public transit access to the urban poor, enhance private sector involvement in service provision, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and lay the foundation for a comprehensive urban development process for the city.

Bogota’s previous public transportation system was dangerous, underused and offered poor quality service. It consisted of 15,000 buses, owned and operated by 66 private companies.

The system was inefficient: the bus fleet was old and required large amounts of fuel and operated at low average speeds; there were no designated bus stops; and trips were paid in cash on the bus. Moreover, there were almost 50,000 taxis operated by private companies on the roads. And, the city had significant growth in private car ownership, causing high accident rates, long commuting times and severe air pollution.

The world’s largest system

The TransMilenio system is based on the concept of high-capacity buses operating on dedicated bus lanes on truck routes. They’re supplied with passengers by feeder buses that connect residential areas to BRT bus stops.

“The TransMilenio system has become the largest bus rapid transit in the world”

From the initial 41km of bus lanes completed in 2000 to the expansion to 207km in 2015, the TransMilenio system has become the largest BRT in the world — developed via a public-private partnership, led by both national government and city government.

To reach this point, the implementation of TransMilenio has involved two phases. An initial phase was completed in the year 2000, and extra kilometres of busways were added slowly after that. Now, two more phases that could lead to even further expansion are being assessed for feasibility.

The system consists of dedicated bus routes, large-capacity buses and elevated bus stations. By 2024, the plan is that it will also include a metro train system that will expand the network by another 388km.

And, alongside the vast public transit expansion, the city of Bogota has also implemented car-free days, peak hour car restrictions, bicycle schemes and pedestrian and public space improvements.

A safer, happier city

The BRT system has improved fuel efficiency per passenger due to new and larger buses. It has reduced transport times, and increased safety, reliability and comfort — attracting many car and taxi drivers to abandon their private vehicles, which in turn leads to an improved traffic flow in the city.

It has also had environmental benefits, in the form of reduced air pollutant emissions. From 2013 to 2019, the annual average estimated reduction of CO₂ emissions amounts to 578,918 tCO₂eq — equivalent to the emissions of around 123,174 cars per year.

The social well-being of residents has increased as a result of less time spent in congestion, less respiratory diseases, less noise pollution and fewer accidents per passenger transported.

“There has been a reduction of 92% in road-related deaths”

In the areas where TransMilenio operates, there has been a reduction of 92% in road-related deaths, 75% in injuries and 79% in collisions. Robberies at bus stops have been reduced by 83%.

And, finally, approximately 1,500 temporary jobs were created during the construction period.

Encouraged by the successful implementation and usage of the TransMilenio in Bogota the government of Colombia has embarked on a major program to replicate similar systems in other Colombian cities. — Jakki Mann

More information can be found here on the Policy Transfer Platform, a Metropolis initiative led and co-funded by the City of Berlin. lt is supported by the lnstitute for Culture and Society at the University of Western Sydney.

(Picture credit: Flickr/Edgar Zuniga Jr.)

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