Bus Rapid Transit and the Latin American City:
Successes to Date, But Miles to Go
Over the past fifteen years, cities throughout Latin America have achieved a modest, yet significant, revolution in urban design through the adoption and refinement of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. Promising the benefits of developed world transit systems at developing world prices, BRT has quickly become a popular policy initiative among national and municipal level Latin American policymakers charged with reducing the crippling congestion, choking pollution, and alarming accident rates characteristic of the largely unregulated bus transit systems in most cities throughout the region. Pioneered in the mid-sized Brazilian city of Curitiba in the 1970s, Bus Rapid Transit increased bus speeds and improved road safety by placing high-capacity buses within committed bus lanes which channel buses to a series of fixed stations, similar to light-rail or metro systems. Inspired by the success of Curitiba’s system, cities such as Bogotá and Quito have more recently made BRT the linchpin of their transit network, to considerable acclaim from the riding public and international observers alike.
BRT constitutes an important step towards resolving the problems of spatial distribution that afflict Latin American cities. Most Latin American mass transit systems are composed of slow, overcrowded, and expensive private bus lines incapable of meeting the challenges of tremendous urban sprawl. Moreover, most commuters must travel great distances from homes situated on the periphery of cities to centrally located jobs. Quito’s approximately 1,842,000 inhabitants, for example, take up 4,204 square kilometers, which is equivalent to one-tenth the population of the New York metropolitan area occupying one-fourth the territory. As a fast, reliable, and cost-effective means of transportation, BRT can effectively alleviate the structural inefficiencies of this sprawl.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Robert Banick