Sunday, December 12, 2010

Transmilenio Bus System

While other cities are busy building subways, Bogota is building a network of above-ground busways called the Transmilenio (Transmillennium in English). The current system has nine lines and is spreading throughout the sprawling city of 8+ million residents. Lanes have been installed in the middle of the largest streets including this one in the center of the Autopista Norte, which runs from the city center out to the northern limits:

In lots of ways the system feels like a subway. The elevated stations are accessed by way of pedestrian bridges and you enter through turnstiles where smartcard passes are used. The 160-passenger articulated buses pull up to the station and the glass doors open allowing you to enter the bus, which are at the same level as the platform. This is a picture of one of the stations fairly late in the evening (and therefore empty):

The buses are clean and modern. Almost every trip I've taken so far has been either packed with people or super-packed with people. The lone exception (as with the station above) was this bus where I could actually see from back to front:

The system works fairly well in that the buses have dedicated lanes in a city where most of the streets are full of very-slow-moving traffic. You can see in the next photo a good example of heavy traffic and the completely open bus lanes.

I've heard that the Transmillenio is very pricey at its current 1600 Pesos ($0.80 U.S.) but you might not know it by how crowded the entire system is. I took this photo the night before a holiday when I couldn't even get into the station because it was completely full:

I have mixed feelings about the system. On the one hand, it's a super-inexpensive option when compared to building a metro (I read 1% of what a metro would cost for the entire system). On the other hand, it relies on above-ground transportation corridors that are already squeezed beyond their limits as well as using diesel-powered buses that are not as clean as electric-powered subways (but I'm sure are much better than the mini-buses they replaced). Another issue is that the system is PACKED most of the time but I guess not too much worse than Tokyo, Beijing, New York, or any other large city. From what I can tell, most Bogotanos seem to really like the system and I agree. It's a great, low-cost, quick-to-build alternative that I'm sure has really helped the city. I give it "Two Thumbs Up!"

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