Bus Rapid Transit systems are the only option for enhancing mobility in the developing world’s growing urban centres, according to the official behind one of Latin America’s most successful transport systems.
During his time as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa Londoño was instrumental in introducing the city’s 112-kilometre TransMilenio BRT system, a shining example of modern urban transport planning. The bus system, which now provides transport for 2.3 million passengers each day, was first opened in the year 2000. Scania has been one of the suppliers for the TransMilenio and offer cities comprehensive BRT support, not only supplying vehicles but also turn-key solutions including needed services such as ticketing systems.
Since leaving office, Peñalosa Londoño has continued actively advocating bus systems as the most cost effective measure to rapidly improve mobility in cities crippled by congestion. Unlike other advances as nations become more affluent, with gains in education and health, transport tends to deteriorate. And bigger and more roads are not the solution, Peñalosa Londoño argues. “We must look at mobility as an issue of equity, political democracy and behavioural change,” he says.
Good cities foster happiness
Cities in developing countries should start by defining which type of city they strive for: a Los Angeles, a Houston or an Amsterdam? “It decides the way of life we want. This isn’t an engineering issue but rather a philosophical issue. A good city fosters happiness and equality.”
Bus systems stimulate democratic equality, whereby all citizens are treated equally. “A buss that takes 100 passengers should be entitled to take up 100 more road space. Pavements are equally important for the rich and poor to meet as equals in public spaces. Yet, there is a conflict between people and cars for money and space.”
Rights to road space
The main political issue in cities, according to Peñalosa Londoño, is the allocation of valuable urban road space between pedestrians, bicycles, public transport and cars. “If we allocate more space for cars, we will have more cars. Children have the same right to road space as adults in luxury cars. And, most importantly, is not whether we have subways or highways but that we have quality sidewalks where we can talk, play and do business. In many respects, sidewalks are more akin to parks than roads.”
Peñalosa Londoño, evidently, advocates restricting cars and, especially, parking areas. “Parking is not a constitutional right. Cities are not obliged to provide parking. When have we ever put to a vote whether we should have more parking spaces?”
There is now a proposal in Bogotá to build a metro system, which Peñalosa Londoño claims is estimated to cost USD 275 million/km. A BRT system, by contract, costs USD 17 million/km. “I say that buses aren’t only the best way of solving mobility in developing countries – they’re the only way!”
Wrongly planned cities
There is always opposition to BRT systems since car owners are extremely powerful, Peñalosa Londoño notes. “There is flagrant inequity right in front of our noses, only we can’t see that. We don’t see that cities are being planned wrongly. A committee of 12-year olds would without hesitation come to the conclusion that we need exclusive lanes for buses. A truly advanced society is not where the poor have access to cars but where the rich take the bus or bicycle.”