EMBARQ’s Director of Research and Practice Dario Hidalgo, former deputy general manager for TransMilenio, shares a memory from 10 years ago, when Bogota’s new bus rapid transit (BRT) system first launched. This post is part of our monthlong series, celebrating TransMilenio’s 10-Year Anniversary.
“The true lesson [of TransMilenio] is that it is possible. It is possible to have a civilized, orderly capitalism that respects people’s rights. For all people.” —Alfredo Molano Bravo, El Espectador, January 2001
Ten years ago, on December 18, 2000, we had only 14 kilometers, half of the stations completed, and about 20 buses providing free service from 9:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon. Total ridership was about 30,000 passengers per day, most of them just curious to know what the new TransMilenio system was all about. Many just took a joy ride to the Calle 80 Terminal, where they were asked to step down off the bus and make a line again to ride the bus back.
All of us from TransMilenio S.A., the city agency in charge of planning and controlling the new bus system; from Si99, Expres del Futuro, Ciudad Movil and Metrobus, the new companies operating the buses; from Angelcom, S.A, the new fare collection system operator; from the police that were supporting the operations; from Mision Bogotá, the user guides; from the Institute of Urban Development (IDU), in charge of building the infrastructure…we were all very excited about the whole thing. We were learning what a high-capacity bus system was all about, finishing the infrastructure, incorporating buses and drivers, and so on. We were creating something different, making a change in the way people moved around the city.
People riding the buses were very happy, enjoying the brand new Mercedes and Volvos (the brands of the articulated buses), the clean, clear and well-lit stations, the spacious terminals, and most importantly, the exclusive bus lanes. The big red buses zoomed while the normal traffic was stuck in congestion (and still is.) The bus users had the priority. We saw all sorts of people using the buses: a full pre-school class dressed like Santa helpers enjoying a day trip; elderly people being given the blue seats reserved for them; some wheelchair users being able for the first time to board a bus and have a designated area; lots of mother’s pushing baby strollers, including my own wife riding the system with our five-month-old daughter Laura.
I still think the whole process was just a dream come true. And the people were living that dream. I am very proud to be part of the team that made it happen under the leadership of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, the project management of Ignacio de Guzmán, and the general management of Edgar Sandoval. There is a long list of great people involved, like Andrés Camargo and all his team at IDU; Carolina Barco in the Planning Department; Claudia Franco, Secretary of Transport; our team in TRANSMILENIO S.A.—Angélica Castro, Edgar McAllister, Mauricio Arciniegas, José David Marín, Adriana Betancour, Juan Carlos Díaz, and so many others. Too many to mention in this short post.
Thanks to all of them, and thanks to all the people that followed under Mayors Antanas Mockus, Luis Garzón and Samuel Moreno, expanding and improving the system over time. I recognize that there are several, a lot of things to correct and improve, but the fact that 1.7 million people ride the system everyday is a tangible measure of success, as are the many cities that TransMilenio has inspired. Here’s to hoping that TransMilenio continues growing, improving and helping my city Bogotá be a more livable, sustainable and competitive city.
Happy 10 years, TransMilenio!