Better Transport, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor in Bogotá

August 13, 2015


The Tranmilenio system in Bogota.

World Bank

Since 1998, the City of Bogotá has been delivered a large urban infrastructure investment program supported by a series of World Bank loans, including the Bogotá Urban Services Project. Between 2004 and 2014, the BUSP supported the expansion and modernization of water supply and sanitation networks, increasing access, coverage, quality, reliability, and inter-agency coordination in the provision of water, sanitation, transport and related basic services.


Like most countries in Latin America, Colombia experienced a rapid urbanization process through the decades of 1960 and 1970. This led to annual population growth rates over ten percent. Provision of urban services did not keep pace with population, and an infrastructure gap was made evident through pathologies common to large cities, including (i) inadequate management of the public transport system; (ii) deficient land-management policies, which led to unregulated urban growth, typically in slums; (iii) unsatisfied demand for basic urban services, including housing, water and sanitation provision and access to quality public transport, in particular for populations migrating from rural areas; (iv) high unemployment and underemployment rates, reaching levels of 10.4 percent and 37.1 percent, respectively; and (v) urban crime, perceived insecurity and violence (19 murders per 100,000 inhabitants). 


During the 1990s, Bogotá undertook a series of structural changes in the administration of urban services, which allowed planning for significant improvements in public services provision. These changes included an enabling environment for sound fiscal management and good governance practices, which allowed providing for financing mechanisms for ambitious infrastructure investment plans. This was the first step that later allowed for the city to embark in an internationally recognized program of sustained investments in infrastructure aimed at closing the infrastructure gap. The BUSP was designed to assist Bogotá to implement a strategic portion of its Development Plan (Planes de Desarrollo, PD) consistent with the ten-year spatial plan (Planes de Ordenamiento Territorial, POT). The focus was issues of affordable housing, improvement of informal and marginalized settlements, improvement key areas such as public transport, comprehensive road maintenance, and inter-agency coordination, to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of the urban population. At time of appraisal, the Bogotá DP focused on collectively building an inclusive and equitable city. At that time, Bogotá had undergone a positive process of improved municipal operation framework which made possible requesting that the Bank prepared a multi-sectorial project with a special focus on low-income neighborhoods, the BUSP, which also represented an innovation in the type of engagement that the urban sector of the Bank was used to with projects in Colombia. The underlying principle for multi-sectorial interventions was that there would arguably be more impacts and efficiency associated with well planned, community-driven holistic approaches than isolated, uncoordinated sectorial improvements across the city.  


Transport: The project daily benefits nearly 160 thousand women users of Transmilenio Suba Trunk corridor, and nearly 155 thousand men. For these users, average passenger travel times along the corridor from 48 min to 31 min, thus representing a 25% decrease in the travel time to access employment, education, health and economic and social opportunities. The construction of feeder lines and bike lanes has especially benefitted low income population, since it has provided significant accessibility to fast, reliable BRT services and mobility gains to population living in the low-income periphery of the city. The feeder lines feature operational, physical and fare integration to the trunk BRT system, allowing quick, accessible interchanges of bus services without requiring the purchase of an additional fare. The bike lanes feature segregated design from pedestrians and street vehicles, and feature well lit, signalized and properly connected traces which connect to BRT stations which in many cases feature free or low cost bike storage facilities. 

Urban Upgrading: Nearly 1.2 million inhabitants have benefitted from 55 improvements to urban space works (parks, pedestrian access) and pedestrian infrastructure, including lighting, signaling and painting. These works were done using a participatory design process with the community. The project also contributed to improve the direct living conditions of 1,995 housing units resettled away from high risk areas. Eighty-nine low-income neighborhoods (barrios) were legalized and 14 public information points were established, providing improved legal status to residents and an increased voice and formal role in the city politics’ community participation. 1,559 families were assisted, with 534 new residential titles granted. Participatory development of environmental management plans for low income settlements/areas including Ciudad Bolivar, Altos de la Estancia, Quebrada La Hoya del Ramo and two hectares of degraded areas were developed for subsequent city projects.

Water and Sanitation coverage: It is estimated that nearly 120 and 450 thousand persons benefitted from new water and sewage connections, respectively, and the city as a whole advanced from 97 and 90 percent coverage of these services to 99% in 2007.

Bank Group Contribution

The Bogotá Urban Services Project is part of a series of IBRD Loans provided to Bogotá and to the Republic of Colombia which aim to improve coverage and access to urban services in Bogotá. The BUSP parent Loan provided $100 million for the city of Bogotá. An AF loan of US$30 m was approved in October 2008 to scale up the project’s impact and development effectiveness through the support to the District’s new program for urban transportation, which was a key element of the original project design, and to support local agencies with institutional strengthening activities. In addition to the US$30 m of Bank financing, US$32.6 m would be provided as counterpart funding. As part of the engagement of the Bank with Bogotá, TA activities funded by grants in excess of $2 million over the 2004 – 2014 period provided the city with valuable knowledge products that helped the city improve its planning capabilities in the transport, water and sanitation and environmental fields.  For example, Grant proceeds from the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility in the strengthening of the institutional framework and looking at different institutional layouts by which the administration will be able to make arrangements for the contracting of the construction and operation phases of the Bogotá Metro Line One Project.


For the implementation of the Bogota Urban Services Project, the Bank fostered a strong partnership with Bogota’s Finance Secretariat (SHD), which was the designated Project Coordinating Unit (PCU). Facilitated by the PCU, the Bank fostered working partnerships with other Bogota specialized agencies in charge of the implementation of project components. Partner local agencies included the Urban Development Institute (IDU), in charge of mobility related components, the Popular Housing Unit (CVP), in charge of urban upgrading activities, and the Bogota Water and Sewage Company (EAAB), which led water and sewage connection works. No other National, International or Multilateral Partners were directly involved with the implementation of the Project; however, multilateral banks including IADB and CAF have participated in complimentary actions in the transport and housing sectors in Bogota.

Moving Forward 

The Bank continues its engagement with Bogotá around increasing provision, coverage and access to urban services, and in particular, to transport. As a result of the successful implementation of mass transit project, the city administration has prioritized a sustainable transport program that aims to improve mobility conditions in the short and medium-term: the first one is the full integration of public transit system (named Sistema Integrado de Transporte Publico—SITP), namely the integration between the existing BRT network – Transmilenio- and the traditional bus system, and second, the construction of Bogotá’s first Metro Line, which will also be conceived as the first rail component to be integrated (in terms of tariff, operations, and infrastructure components) to the SITP in the future. The BUSP project financed the second phase of expansion of the BRT system and the studies and designs for the Bogotá Metro Line One Project. The deliverables of the engineering design studies are presently under review by the Government on Bogotá, and the Bank is providing technical support in reviewing and monitoring the results of the designs. The Government of Colombia and the City of Bogotá are working on the financial, technical and institutional aspects of the 27-kilometer metro project, and a bidding process for the construction of the project is expected to be launched early 2016.


Thanks to the construction of inclusive urban infrastructure, including a fully accessible mass transit system (Transmilenio), citizens have been able to access to an unprecedented mobility.  Accessible urban infrastructure and public transport have allowed citizens to access new perspectives, many of them related to their individual and collective identities. One of them is the relationship to people with some form of disability and their right to participate in public transport. The idea of incorporating this important sector of the population to the network came up in the first phase of Transmilenio, when ramps, safety elements and audible mechanisms were included in the system with the idea of satisfying the particular needs of disabled people. Urban upgrading has also adapted the surrounding areas of feeder stops, mimicking the trunk line experience, in order to provide a more inclusive urban design. Beyond resources such as signposting for the blind, audible signals for the deaf and ramps for people in wheelchairs, the most important access code in the system is the code of conduct. This allows people with disabilities to access the world of equality, and promotes a behavior based on principles of respect and solidarity among users. 

Transmilenio gave me many good things. First of all, it takes me everywhere quickly, even though people complain that it’s too crowded. The trip is really fast. Second, there’s the comfort of having a guide tell me which bus to take. Third, 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 on to sing or beg. They also have elevators that help a lot

Luis Rincon

Blind User of Transmilenio


decrease in the travel time to access employment, education, health and economic and social opportunities.