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FEATURE STORYNovember 29, 2022

With Bus Rapid Transit, African Cities Are Riding Toward a Better Future

Bus Rapid Transit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

A bus arrives at a BRT station in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Hendri Lombard/World Bank


  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a high-capacity public transport service that generally runs on dedicated lanes, offering fast and consistent journey times.
  • BRT is enjoying growing popularity in Africa, where six systems are already operational and another ten are under development.
  • In the face of rapid urbanization, BRT can be an effective way to keep African cities moving while reducing the carbon footprint of transport.

Africa’s cities are the fastest-growing in the world, with the region’s urban population increasing by about 3.5% each year. While urbanization can often boost economic growth and open new opportunities, this steady influx of people is also putting tremendous pressure on cities and their transport systems.

The picture is largely the same across the continent: more cars, more commuters, more gridlock, and limited mass transit alternatives. The snarling traffic is more than just an annoyance. Soaring rates of motorization and congestion are eroding the competitiveness of African economies, affecting the health and well-being of their residents, and undermining countries’ efforts to fight climate change.

In the face of these challenges, a growing number of African cities are turning to an innovative form of urban transport known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Although the characteristics of each system may vary, most BRT buses operate on dedicated lanes, allowing them to zoom past traffic and offer fast, predictable journey times. Buses only stop at designated stations where passengers typically prepay the fare before boarding, which helps streamline and speed up operations. Services run frequently and are operated by large vehicles—often articulated or even bi-articulated buses, meaning they can carry large amounts of people quickly and efficiently.

The rise of BRT in Africa

Thanks to these design features, BRT systems boast capacity and performance levels that are close to other advanced public transport technologies such as metro or light rail. The difference? Building a BRT is much cheaper and faster, making it an attractive option for cities that are looking to develop high-quality mass transit with limited time or resources.

BRT corridors are already up and running in Dar es Salaam, Lagos, and in the South African cities of Cape Town, George, Johannesburg, and Pretoria. Another ten are currently under planning or construction all around Africa. The World Bank is providing financial or technical assistance to eight of these projects, including Abidjan, Dakar, Dar es Salaam (phases 3 & 4), Douala, Kampala, Kumasi, Maputo, and Ouagadougou.

Bus Rapid Transit in Cape Town, South Africa
Bus Rapid Transit in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: World Bank
“Public transport is a key focus of our operations, reflecting our clients’ aspiration for efficient, green, and inclusive mobility. Bus Rapid Transit is an integral part of that transition and has become one of the fastest-growing components of our portfolio, especially in Africa,” said Nicolas Peltier-Thiberge, the World Bank’s Global Director for Transport.

One city that has made impressive progress on its BRT system is Dakar, Senegal’s bustling political and economic capital. Construction crews are working hard to complete the 18.3-km corridor and 23 stations, with the objective of starting passenger service by June 2023.

For Dakar, which has been struggling for decades with chronic traffic congestion and insufficient public transport capacity, the appeal of BRT was hard to ignore. “The government considered a range of solutions to improve transport conditions in the city,” said Franck Taillandier, a Lead Urban Transport Specialist who supervises the World Bank team working on the project. “In the end, the BRT was chosen as the most efficient and cost-effective solution. The BRT corridor will carry about 300,000 daily passengers, with reduced construction costs, a high-capacity, high-quality bus fleet, and strong integration with the existing public transport system.”

Public transport is a key focus of our operations, reflecting our clients’ aspiration for efficient, green, and inclusive mobility. Bus Rapid Transit is an integral part of that transition and has become one of the fastest-growing components of our portfolio, especially in Africa.
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Nicolas Peltier-Thiberge
Global Director for Transport, World Bank

Good for people, good for the planet

Once operational, the new BRT will make a significant difference in the daily lives of people across the city. Commuters from the densely populated area of Guédiawaye, for instance, will see public transport travel times to central Dakar decrease from 90 to just 45 minutes, and will be able to access an additional 120,000 jobs. The BRT corridor will pass through many of the city’s busiest and most populous districts, connecting residents to businesses, education, healthcare, and many other services and opportunities. To ensure maximum coverage, feeder buses will link more distant neighborhoods to the BRT stations. The system will be closely integrated with other modes and offer discounted transfers to local buses or the commuter train service (“Train Express Regional”).

In addition to faster commutes, safety and inclusion are also essential considerations. Roads and public spaces along the corridor will be completely redesigned to optimize the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users, and motorists. Stations and vehicles will be fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Adequate lighting, security cameras, alert systems, and station agents will help ensure everyone can feel safe while traveling, especially women. In addition, the BRT operator will be hiring at least 25% of female workers with a long-term objective of gradually increasing to 50%.

The rise of BRT is good news for people and good news for the planet. By providing an efficient alternative to private cars, these modern bus systems can go a long way toward reducing the climate emissions and air pollution associated with urban transport.

“African governments are looking to the future, and they want that future to be sustainable. As urbanization accelerates, now is the perfect time for countries in the region to consider how they can build greener cities and transition toward low-carbon transport. BRT can be an attractive and cost-effective way to achieve this,” said Hongye Fan, a Transport Specialist for the World Bank and author of a recent study on BRT financing in Africa.

Of course, when BRT corridors are serviced by low or zero-emission vehicles, the climate and environmental gains become even more impressive. That is precisely what will happen in Dakar, where the introduction of electric-powered buses will save an estimated 67,700 tons of carbon dioxide every year. A breath of fresh air that can’t come soon enough.


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