A new Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system with gas-powered buses from Scania has fundamentally changed Cartagena de Indias in Colombia. The city, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, is fast turning into a new, cleaner and more sustainable place. It is widely seen as an international reference point among other cities with overwhelming traffic and environmental problems.
Cartagena selected Scania as the exclusive provider for two trunk lines in its ‘Transcaribe’ transport network, the most modern system of mass transportation in Latin America, with large feeder and articulated buses that use alternative fuel.
Scania is providing 147 Euro 6 gas buses to the city, as well as contracts for service and maintenance, financing and driver training. A key factor in the city authority’s choice of provider was Scania’s expertise in providing sustainable transport solutions for cities around the world.
Success first year
Both the local government and the citizens of Cartagena are full of praise for their new mass transport system and the first year of the Scania gas-powered buses from Scania is widely viewed as a success.
“Transcaribe and the gas buses from Scania are already proving popular with Cartagena’s citizens as a safe and reliable way for them to get around town. We have seen great improvements in quality of life,” says Humberto Ripoll Durango, Director for Transcaribe.
When fully implemented Transcaribe will have exchanged 1,600 smaller traditional Euro 1 and Euro 2 buses for 658 Euro 6 and Euro 5 gas buses.
“A year ago it could take hours to go from one side of the city to the other because of the chaotic traffic. Now it’s a trip you can do in minutes. The bus system also saves money for our citizens. Before Transcaribe, many had to buy motorcycles to get around. You don’t see that so much today,” Ripoll says.
A new mindset
He believes that the new mass transport system has also changed the mindset and general behaviour of Cartagena’s residents and tourists alike.
“Today you can see them queuing for the buses politely with a smile on their face. And as soon as they get onto one of the new buses they become more generous and offer their seat to someone who’s in better need of it. They also really enjoy the comfort in our new buses!”
The gas buses in the Transcaribe BRT system bring a significant environmental improvement for the historic Cartagena de Indias. The city was founded in 1533 and the colonial architecture of its astonishing buildings is protected by the most complete set of fortifications in South America. However, as it lies near the Equator and sits on the Caribbean Sea coastline, the climate can be merciless to the city. In recent years emissions and air pollution have added to the challenges facing the Cartagena, and have become an acute threat to the integrity of the historic city centre.
“The gas buses have become part of our solution to save this Word Heritage Site,” Ripoll explains.
“Changed our lives”
The bus drivers in Cartagena are also experiencing a dramatic change in their lives as the traditional old buses are exchanged for a new and modern BRT system. Many of the drivers talk about a “cleaner, friendlier and more human” working environment.
For Mariana Torres, Cartagena´s first female bus driver, the new bus system has truly changed everything. From a precarious existence with temporary jobs, both she and her husband are now employed to drive buses in the Transcaribe system. Mariana drives a standard gas bus for the operator Transambiental and her husband is the driver of an 18-metre articulated gas bus for the city’s other bus operator, Sotramac.
“Now, thanks to Transcaribe, we have a secure future for our family. It has changed our lives completely,” she says.
“Before I was employed I had never been driving a bus. But with extensive training from both Scania and Transambiental I became a good bus driver – and the very first woman bus driver in Cartagena!”
Hope to inspire
That has brought a little bit of fame, as Torres explains: “I’ve become something of a celebrity because of this. Before, I used to have a few hundred friends on Facebook. Now I have thousands of followers and people want to chat with me. I hope to inspire more Colombian women to become bus drivers.”
Driving their two gas buses Mariana Torres and her husband meet each other on the road several times a day, in different parts of the city. They always acknowledge each other with a loving blink of their bus headlights.
Vladimir Castro Mendoza, Managing Director for the operator Transambiental explains why it chose gas buses from Scania.
A complete solution
“When we were offered the chance to operate this new mass transport system we chose Scania because it was not just selling the buses. Scania came up with a perfect and more or less complete solution, including everything from financing to service and maintenance and training our staff. As the icing on the cake we also got robust and comfortable high-quality buses. That is essential here in tropical Cartagena, where the sun, heat and humidity from the Caribbean Sea can take its toll on the infrastructure,” he says.
But most important of all, the new mass transport system has improved life for the citizens of this beautiful city.
“When this bus system opened, only 10 percent of the people thought that it would improve their life. Now, a year later, 84 percent say their lives have already improved, even though we only have put half of the new buses into operation,” Castro says.