Colombia Transforms Urban Transport

March 31, 2010

  • Bank-supported rapid transit systems in Colombia cut travel time, accidents and pollution.
  • TransMilenio a model for Colombia's ambitious national urban transportation plan.
  • TransMilenio first large transportation project approved by UN to generate and sell carbon credits.

March 31, 2010—Getting around in Bogotá, Colombia, used to be chaotic. Thousands of independently operated buses competed for customers on congested streets, without organized stops.

Today, a modern and financially self-sustaining bus rapid transit system, TransMilenio, has 114 stations and 84 kilometers of segregated bus lanes. Recent data show big drops in commuters' average travel time, accidents and pollution in the city of 7 million as a result of the system.

“Bogotá has changed 100 percent since the arrival of TransMilenio. In 2002, I used to struggle a lot,” says Amelia Cuestas.

Now, she's among 1.64 million people who use the bus rapid transit (BRT) system daily—about 27 percent of the city's public transport demand.

TransMilenio is the model for Colombia's ambitious national urban transportation plan, Programa Nacional de Transporte Urbano, aimed at creating efficient and accessible transportation networks in 10 cities over a decade at a fraction of the cost of rail systems.

The World Bank-backed program has three other BRT systems up and running—Megabus in Pereira-Dosquebradas, Mio in Cali (financed by Inter-American Development Bank) and Metrolinea in Bucaramanga —with plans to develop BRTs  in Barranquilla, Bello, Cartagena, Cucuta, Medellin-Valle de Aburra, and Soacha.

Network Reaches Six Cities

Since 2003, the World Bank's International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has provided $757 million in financing for studies and BRT construction in six cities--Bogotá,  Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Medellin and Pereira—as well as technical advice on a regulatory and institutional framework for urban transport in Colombia.

The Colombian government has committed $1.4 billion to the program so far. Total government commitments from 2009 until the program’s completion in 2016 amount to $1.9 billion for nine of the 10 participating cities, of which $1.1 billion can be drawn from IBRD financing.

Other partners include the Inter-American Development Bank and the Andean Development Bank.  A gasoline surtax, mostly paid by car users, covers about 30 percent of the program’s total cost.

" Efforts are aimed towards improving the quality of life, productivity and mobility in cities.  "

Mauricio Cuellar

World Bank Transport Specialist

“The impact that these projects can have is immense, and all the efforts are aimed towards improving the quality of life, productivity and mobility in cities,” says Mauricio Cuellar, a senior transport specialist for the World Bank.

The goal is to provide an efficient and low-cost way for all inhabitants to move around the city. About 70 percent of TransMilenio’s customers are from low-income groups, and the system is also designed to accommodate disabled people

“The trip is really fast…there’s the comfort of having guide to tell me which bus to take,” says Luis Fernando Rincon Abadia, who is blind. “The bus makes fixed stops as part of an itinerary; the other buses would see I was blind and assume I was going to get in to sign or beg.”

System Saves Time, Cuts Accidents

Among other benefits of TransMilenio: an average time savings of 32 percent (20 minutes) per trip vis-a-vis the traditional bus system. That's more than 10 hours a month for the average rider. The program has also decreased accident rates by 90 percent in corridors where the system operates, according to 2009 data.

In Pereira, customers in the two lowest income brackets have saved an average 17 minutes per trip; Megabus has also reduced emissions by an estimated 30,000 tons.

In 2006, TransMilenio became the first large transportation project to be approved by the United Nations to generate and sell carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol. The program's success has made it a model for other countries looking for cost-effective and relatively quickly implemented urban transit solutions. Since its inception, delegations from more than 20 countries have visited Colombia to learn about the program.