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TransMilenio: Ten Years Down the Line
Happy Birthday! Bogota’s Transmilenio bus system is 10 years old this month. Photo by CTS-Mexico.

Happy Birthday! Bogota’s TransMilenio bus system is 10 years old this month. Photo by CTS-Mexico.

“Road space is the most valuable space a city has; it’s more important than diamonds,” according to former Mayor of Bogotá Enrique Penalosa, who oversaw the first phase of the Colombian capital’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, known as TransMilenio, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month.

Ten years ago, Bogotá’s streets were invaded by a disorganized and outdated network of individually owned vehicles. The city of 7.5 million people was highly polluted and congested, and “businesses around transit corridors were declining and closing or were replaced by low-key pawn shops, auto part shops, and even smutty nightclubs and hourly motels,” says Dario Hidalgo, director of research and practice at EMBARQ (the producer of this blog.) “Public space was encroached by hawkers and cars parked on top of sidewalks.”

Today, merely a decade after the implementation of TransMilenio, the city is a shining example of how integrated transit policies and transportation networks can transform the urban environment.

“After the system was launched, the city regained hope,” Hidalgo adds. “People started believing that good things can be done.”

TransMilenio brought a revival to the transit corridors of the city.  The high-capacity bus system now boasts 84 kilometers of busways, 104 stations, 10 integration points, integrated feeder services and advanced centralized control. It includes more than 1,000 buses that move 1.6 million passengers per day. And TransMilenio’s Avenida Caracas is known as the best performing single BRT corridor in Latin America, in terms of peak usage, transporting 43,000 passengers per hour in each direction, according to the report, “Modernizing Public Transportation.”

Bogotá has become so easy to navigate by public transportation that its citizens approved a referendum endorsing an annual car-free day. (Despite citizen interest, there were not enough votes to approve a referendum to make the city car-free by 2015). TransMilenio’s implementation has occurred alongside the installment of one of the world’s most extensive network of bike paths, CicloRuta, as well as hundreds of new parks and plazas. Businesses are thriving. New homes have been constructed. And the ultimate benchmarker of success: nearly a million people, or 10 percent of the population, have left their cars at home for a more convenient and cost-effective public transportation system.

However, the system is not without need for improvement. Bureaucratic contracts with service providers make tweaking small components of the system difficult. And as Hidalgo says, “The TransMilenio system still needs attention and improvements, especially in two aspects: buses and selected stations are overcrowded and road surface needs permanent and timely maintenance.”

Given TransMilenio’s central role in improving transit and quality of life in Bogotá, and its importance for elevating the concept of BRT globally, we’ll be celebrating TransMilenio’s first decade over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for our series of Q&As, photo essays and the release of a new EMBARQ case study on Bogotá’s bus system improvement.

See below for previous posts we’ve written about TransMilenio:

Bus Strikes Paralyze Bogotá – and Show Transit’s Importance (March 2010)

Bogotanos are suffering through their fifth straight day of bus strikes.  About 16,000 owners of traditional buses (i.e. not the vehicles from bus rapid transit system, Transmilenio) went on strike Monday at the urging of their union, the Association of Small Transporters (Apetrans), to protest the city’s plan to reorganize the transit system..Meanwhile – and somewhat ironically – Transmilenio has been picking up the slack for Bogotá’s many residents who depend on public transportation for their daily commute.  During the strikes, Transmilenio has registered a record ridership of 2.6 million passengers a day, 1 million more passengers than normal.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Bogota’s Transformation (July 2009)

This video happens to be a crash course in how the city transformed itself in a short time, with great images of what happened and the challenges that still remain to be solved. Hopefully Angelina Jolie knows a little more about Bogotá after watching the video, since the script is read by Brad Pitt. You will also hear from locally recognized journalists and architects; Enrique Peñalosa, former major of Bogotá; and Angélica Castro, former General Manager of TransMilenio, among others.  But the real protagonists of the story are the sidewalks, the plazas, the bikeways, TransMilenio, and the Bogotanos, young and old, that are enjoying a transformed city. Share the joy!

Why is Transmilenio Still So Special? (August 2008)

The clues could be in its “rail like” capacity and travel speed – not seen before in bus systems, and its ability to transform traditional bus operations with an interesting public-private partnership model. The most interesting aspect is that it has shown that it was possible to innovate, transform, and improve transport conditions in a very large city with profound transport challenges.

In Bogotá Car-Free Isn’t Pollution Free (February 2008)

On Thursday, February 7 Bogotá held its 8th annual car-free day during which 14% of the population left their private cars at home and walked, cycled, and took mass transit to get around Colombia’s capital city. The car-free day is a bold effort to give people the chance of experiencing how nice the city could be without the 1.2 million private vehicles that ply Bogota’s streets every day. Following Bogota’s lead the car-free movement is spreading throughout the world, but still, this Andean city is the only one of its size that actually enforces its efforts, slapping $118 fines on any vehicle breaking the ban.

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  • David

    Transmilenio is great, but Bogota’s real answer to a reduction in surface traffic would be a subway system. Visit Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires and see how a city can really handle mass transit and significantly reduce the choking exhaust and confusion from its streets.

  • Jonna, great post!

    A very good summary to celebrate 10 years of one of the most influential bus systems in the world, along with Curitiba, Brazil.

    Banning all vehicles to use the city streets during the day in year 2015 was not approved because there were not enough votes to make it a mandate, despite the fact that the majority of voters say ‘yes’ to this proposition.

    Still the city has one of the most strict car restriction measures around (note that 15 latin american cities have some sort of car restriction): 40% of the private vehicles are banned of using the city streets two days a week – at the beginning it was only during peak hours, last year 2009 it was expanded to the whole day (7am to 8pm). This, in conjunction with the improved economic situation and reduction in car prices, resulted in a sharp increase in car ownership during 2010.

    TransMilenio is impresive, and at the same time requires many improvements specially reducing bus and station occupancy (too high to be acceptable), and keeping up with the maintenance of the buslanes (early deterioration). Sitll is the jewel of the crown and source of pride for Bogota, so much that it was recognized by Camilo Duran Casas, Vicepresident of Public Affairs of Caracol TV (leading TV channel in Colombia) as one of the four greatest ideas in our country http://www.semana.com/noticias-especiales/cuatro-casos-muy-buenas-ideas/146252.aspx