BRT is the way forward

10 / 05 / 2012

Source: Opinion on O Globo by Luis Antonio Lindau, president of EMBARQ Brazil and member of our Centre. Published on September, 7th, 2012.
One of Brazil’s biggest challenges is to implement extensive and high quality public transportation networks in large cities.
We gave away the urban road space to cars. Today we seek for solutions to one of the worst impacts of this wrong decision: traffic jams. Many of us believe that only metro systems can save mobility, as metros already proved to be effective in cities that developed extensive networks formed by several lines.
London and New York metro networks are longer than 350 km, and were consolidated half a century ago. Beijing and Shanghai are getting there: in the last 12 years, jumped from scarce 50 to over 350 km, as result of huge state investments. In Brazil, in spite of 30 years of metro construction, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo still lack a comprehensive network, having not yet achieved 50 and 100 km, respectively.
Metros are very costly and require long periods for implementation. Isolated lines will not solve the transportation problem of our several large cities. If we continue to believe that the only solution to traffic congestion relies on a system that in Brazil expands at an average rate of 3 km per year, we are doomed to a future even more chaotic.
In the current world scenario, dictated by public-private partnerships, it is hard to imagine the construction of large metro networks in any Brazilian city. The private sector is interested in projects with positive financial returns. Its metro participation is thus narrowed to lines with heavy demand potential.
We know that investing only in public transportation is not enough to solve traffic congestion. To discourage car use, we must count on an integrated transit network of high quality. That is why more than a hundred cities around the world reordered the use of the road surface, dedicating a 3.5 m wide lane to public transport, which carries up to ten times more people than cars. Several of them also added to that connectivity, speed and reliability, some of the transit users´ most desired attributes.
A proper public transportation network needs to connect multiple sectors of a city over long periods of time. Its vehicles must circulate free of traffic congestion, operate under short intervals and guarantee arrivals on time. The “metronization” of the buses, a concept originally applied by former mayor Jaime Lerner in Curitiba, today matches stopping, accelerated and express services, making BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) the most efficient user of the urban road surface.
Rio de Janeiro is consolidating its integrated transportation network with BRT corridors that will exceed 150 km by 2016. The recently inaugurated Transoeste corridor has been approved by 90% of its users. This very positive rating follows the trend of other BRT, like Metrobus in Mexico City. In a city wide poll promoted by Reforma newspaper in 2011, BRT beat even the metro as the best transit system: 7.8 to 6.9.
The attack to urban road congestion must begin with setting up a fully integrated and high quality transit network that appeals most citizens. That is the premise to contain the unrestricted use of cars. But when will we get there? To implement high quality public transportation networks, consistent with our financial reality, how about forgetting the sterile discussion on metro versus BRT and start acting?
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