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From BRT to Metro: The ambitious transition of Bogotá to a rail-based transport network

 


Curitiba (Brazil) and Bogotá (Colombia) are the leading cities in the world in terms of  construction of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). While the first city was the pioneer in the implementation of buses with exclusive and accessible lanes, it was Bogotá which took this system to an unprecedented metropolitan scale, becoming the largest city in the world where its main public transport network is based on BRT.

TransMilenio, the official name of Bogotá's BRT system, has become a representative image of the Colombian capital. Since its inauguration, TransMilenio has not only changed the way citizens move around the city, but it has also driven urban renewal in various sectors of Bogotá, creating more public spaces and generating the largest network of cycle routes in Latin America.

TransMilenio in Bogotá. Source

However, after more than 20 years of operations, TransMilenio has exceeded the capacity for which it was planned. Despite the inclusion of larger capacity buses and the constant expansion of the network, the number of passengers daily overflows stations and portals, affecting the wellbeing of users in a city rated as one of the most congested in the world.

Traffic jam in Bogotá 

The long wait for the metro


The answer - for many people belatedly - to Bogotá's congested transport system is the construction of its metro system. A project that planned since the 1950s and has gone through numerous processes of technical and financial studies, which were never brought to fruition. Only in 2019, with the award of the first line to a Chinese consortium, Metro de Bogotá finally went from being a proposal to a real project.

Failed subway proposal. Source

However, like almost all major projects in Colombia, the Bogotá Metro has not been free of controversy. Aspects such as design and layout, which consists of a viaduct of more than 20 km in length, have generated multiple criticisms due to the negative urban impact that it could have on the surrounding areas of the structure. 

Among the fiercest critics of the current project is the former mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, who during his term in office presented the technical studies for an underground metro and who emphasizes on the serious impact that the viaduct would have on the traditional areas of Bogotá. On the opposite side, the former Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who was in office during the contracting process of the project, defends the elevated metro proposal, claiming that it is a much more economically viable solution, also mentioning the urban renewal that the project will bring and the additional public spaces that it will generate.

The time of the trains

While the technical details of Bogotá Metro are still under development and passenger trains would only start running in mid-2027 or 2028, one of the biggest challenges of this project is to consolidate a public transport network that improves mobility in Bogotá and enhances the environmental sustainability of the Colombian capital.

Render of Bogotá Metro. Source

Unlike most major cities around the world, which first built their metro networks and then adopted lighter systems such as BRT to complement public transport coverage, Bogotá has consolidated the TransMilenio network as its "heavy" transit system. However, with the construction of the first Metro line, the city has seen the opportunity to rethink this scenario, turning to rail systems as a long-term approach to mobility.

Projects such as the "Regiotram de Occidente" (currently under construction) and the north and south regional trains will connect Bogotá with the cities in the region known as "Sabana de Bogotá". This will create a greater integration of the Colombian capital with the cities in the metropolitan area, which are heavily dependent on the central city but have grown disconnected from the capital's major projects.

Future public transport network of Bogotá. Source

As for the Metro itself, the studies presented in Bogotá's new Land Use Plan propose the construction of four additional metro lines, which will be integrated with the TransMilenio lines and will form a more robust public transport network within 30 years. In addition, aerial cable cars in the mountainous areas of the capital, which have proved successful in several Latin American cities, will also complement the main transit system.

According to estimations, the Bogotá metropolitan region will have a network of more than 180 km of rail transport between metro lines and commuter trains by 2050. While TransMilenio will continue to play a key role in the transport system, this is an ambitious plan that aims to ensure that inter-regional passenger demand is mainly covered by the rail network. A model that will require large investments, but, above all, the security and continuity from the urban planning and management instruments, allowing these projects to be "shielded" from the country's changing political and economic circumstances.  A way to avoid repeating the same mistakes of the past that postponed the construction of the Bogotá Metro for decades.

Sources

CORREDOR T., Juanita. Urban Development in Bogotá: The Metro Case of Study. https://www.intechopen.com/books/an-overview-of-urban-and-regional-planning/urban-development-in-bogot-the-metro-case-of-study

FAJARDO, Martha. The transformation of the Public Space in Bogotá - TIME as Catalyst –Planning & Building with TIME  https://dianawiesner.com/publicaciones/referidas/Public_Space_in_Bogota-Martha_Fajardo.pdf

ROJAS P., Fernando. Garcias M., Carlos. El transporte público colectivo en Curitiba y Bogotá
http://www.scielo.org.co/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0121-49932005000100011

ROZO M., Ximena. Transmilenio, tensión entre cobertura y calidad. Pesquisa Javeriana. https://www.javeriana.edu.co/pesquisa/entre-el-deseo-y-la-realidad-del-sistema-de-transporte-publico-de-bogota/




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