Transforming Colombia

The Colombian government made a momentous decision over a decade ago to implement one of the world’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in its largest city, Bogotá. In addition to its environmental improvements (it was the first transit project approved under the Clean Development Mechanism), TransMilenio is credited with decreasing the average travel time by 32 percent, increasing property values along the main line by 15-20 percent and improving the health and safety of the community. With its widespread success, TransMilenio has become a model transportation system for other cities, not only in Colombia, but worldwide. Since its inception, delegations from more than 20 countries, including China, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Kenya, Finland and the United States have visited Colombia to learn about its transportation program.

A recently released case study, Colombia’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Development and Exploration, outlines the process that turned TransMilenio from an idea, to a system, to a model.

In 2002, Colombia championed the National Urban Transport Program (NUTP) that revolutionized the public transport system; implementing Strategic Public Transportation Systems (SPTS) and expanding Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in major cities.  However, throughout the process Colombia had to overcome significant barriers, such as low public opinion of busways and bikelanes, opposition from existing bus operators, and budget constraints. Were it not for strong leadership, local input, educational campaigns and a strong financing plan, TransMilenio would not be the model of transport sustainability it is today.

Colombia’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Development and Exploration also examines two similar, albeit smaller, examples of implementing a BRT system in two Colombian cities – Pereira and Cali. Both case studies outline the challenges, as well as the benefits of constructing sustainable transportation systems.

Since the implementation of TransMilenio, Colombia has gained a wealth of experience to draw on as it considers developing a transit-oriented development (TOD) Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA). A TOD NAMA would provide technical and financial support for intensified, high-quality development around transit stations that enhances pedestrian accessibility, shortens trip lengths and boosts economic and environmental performance of transit services. With more financial support for mitigation-related activities expected to come online in the coming years, transport sector NAMAs offer an opportunity for developing countries to achieve significant reductions in GHG emissions and contribute to sustainable development.