Bogota Transmilenio
(As of February 2007)
Few public transport systems in the world are as iconic as Bogota's Transmilenio.  Delegations visit on a weekly basis and, in February 2007, we cosponsored (together with CUTR and APTA) a delegation that visited Bogota as well as Pereira and Guayaquil.  

Bogota is a big city -- roughly 7 million people.  Prior to Transmilenio, public transportation was provided almost exclusively by private buses, known as
colectivos, that can be flagged down at any point along their route.  Transmilenio was designed to replace many of these private buses with a high quality, state of the art transport system that covers most of the city.  As shown below, there also are over 150 miles of bicycle paths that run near the Transmilenio system, and there are substantial connections between the bicycle paths and the stations. 
According to Transmilenio's General Manager, Angelica Castro, roughly 75 percent of passengers use the express services rather than the local services.  As shown by the photo below (which was taken at roughly 11 a.m.), it is not uncommon to have multiple local, limited, and express buses serving or passing stations at the same time.  Unlike many US rail systems, where the wait between trains can be 10 or 15 minutes or more off-peak, there is almost always a vehicle serving a Transmilenio station.  This greatly reduces travel time and enhances passenger convenience.  
The current capital costs for Transmilenio are about $20 million per km, not including vehicles, according to Ms. Castro.  Unlike US systems, however, all operations are conducted by private sector operators under contract to Transmilenio.  Currently, these operators are paid roughly $2.2 per km of bus service provided. 

The quality of service appears to be very high.   Currently, the contracts between Transmilenio and the private operators require that the fleet average km/vehicle cannot exceed 850,000 km per vehicle.  Each vehicle operates roughly 85,000 km per year, and every day roughly 240,000 km of service are provided on the trunk lines.  The contracts require a thorough cleaning for each bus at the end of each day. 

The result is a remarkably clean and well-maintained fleet that is used extensively by professionals and others with access to cars to make the same trip (see photo below right, which was taken during the evening peak).  All of the stations are fully accessible, with ramps leading up from the streets and level boarding between the stations and the vehicles. 
Transmilenio is essentially a high-end subway or metro that happens to operate on the surface using vehicles with rubber tires. The stations are like rail or subway stations, with multiple doors, level-boarding to vehicles, fare collection at the station entrance, electronic information signs showing arrival times for vehicles, glass door partitions between the stations and vehicles, and many other amenities.   
Transmilenio is showing the world that BRT can exceed the performance of even the best rail transit systems, and it can do so at a fraction of the cost.  Yet, like any public transit system, there is room for improvement.  We asked the General Manager what she would do differently if she had the opportunity.

First, she would not limit the amount of compensation that can be provided to feeder bus operators.  The current limitation of  20 percent of total fare revenues acts as a restriction on the amount of feeder bus service that can be supplied.

Second, she would use different materials for station flooring.  Currently, the floors are metal and have proven to be too fragile for the high passenger volumes.

Third, she would make the stations wider.  Most stations are roughly 5 meters in width, and they can get crowded during peak hours.

Fourth, she would eliminate some of the intersections on the trunk lines and/or install a signal priority system.  Currently, Transmilenio does not have signal priority at intersections.

Fifth, she would add ticket vending machines outside of stations and in other locations from the beginning, rather than retrofitting them into the system later. 

Finally, she would make even more extensive use of bicycles as feeders.   Much of Bogota's bicycle lane was built as part of Transmilenio and has achieved extraordinary results, raising the commute share for bicycles from 0.2 percent to 5 percent.
On major trunk lines, Transmilenio uses two dedicated lanes in each direction.  This enables local service on the inside lane and express service on the outside lane, so that passengers can choose the route that is best for them.  It also greatly reduces travel time for passengers, particularly when compared with most light or heavy rail systems, which have only one track in each direction, thus preventing trains from passing each other.  In the downtown area, a major street was converted to transit and pedestrian use only (below right), enabling thousands of workers per hour to access the downtown by transit and to have a safe and attractive pedestrian walkway to access their offices. 
Transmilenio's performance is truly world-class.  Although only the first two phases are complete, Transmilenio carries 1.3 million passengers per average weekday -- nearly twice the number carried by the entire Washington, DC subway system.  The fare is 1,300 pesos, or roughly $0.55, which enables passengers to travel anywhere in the system without paying any transfer fees. 

Transmilenio is a trunk and feeder system -- only 160-passenger, biarticulated buses are allowed on the dedicated lanes.  Feeder buses serve terminal stations, where passengers transfer to a trunk line.  About half of all passengers access the system via feeder buses.

As shown above, fares are collected via smart card at the station entrance.  No fare is charged for use of the feeder buses.  Feeder bus operators are compensated through the fares collected at the trunk stations, and up to 20 percent of total fare revenue can be used to support feeder bus operations. 

As of February 2007, fare cards could be recharged through attendants at station entrances only, and only cash was accepted.    However,  there are plans to place fare machines outside of stations, thus reducing wait times to purchase or reload cards from attendants. There also are plans to put machines in convenience stores and other locations frequented by passengers, and Transmilenio is experimenting with using cell phones as smart cards. 

Transmilenio has extremely high passenger volumes on its trunk routes, with the maximum measured capacity currently at roughly 42,000 passengers per hour in the peak direction.  The main reasons for this appear to be that Bogota is a high density city, the two dedicated lanes per direction, extremely high frequency, and very efficient passenger flows in and out of stations.
In the future, Transmilenio is planning a third phase of trunk lines, with the goal of having at least 80 percent of the city population within 500 meters of a trunk line.  They also are considering biarticulated buses and bus convoys as ways to achieve even greater capacity. 

First, however, Transmilenio needs to survive a challenge from some local politicians, who are promising to build a subway if  elected mayor of Bogota in October 2007.  A subway would cost many billions of dollars -- money that is needed for other urgent priorities. A subway would require massive operating subsidies, whereas Transmilenio requires none -- all operating costs are covered through the farebox.   Finally, even if built, a subway could not provide the level and scope of services currently provided by Transmilenio. 

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