April 24, 2009

Cali’s BRT System Takes Off

With a population of nearly 2.5 million inhabitants, Cali is ranked as the third most important city in Colombia after Bogota and Medellin respectively. It is now the third city in Colombia to implement a bus rapid transit (BRT) system.  Called MIO, phase one opened in February to public excitement and fanfare after many months of delays.

Public transport before MIO’s implementation was characterized by traffic congestion, polluting emissions, drivers fighting for passengers, low efficiency and very high accident rates. A 42% percent oversupply in the bus fleet meant that 23,156 buses overran the streets.  Cali’s proximity to the Buenaventura port, the country’s most important on the pacific coast, makes the city an important trade center and home of several multinational companies.  But for this economic hub, the inefficient transport system was costing too much.

In the 1990’s, initial proposals for improving transport were developed, favoring a light rail transit (LRT) system for the city, which would have limited overall impact due to its restricted coverage and high costs. By 2000, in part due to the successful opening of Bogota’s BRT system, a national debate was held about the costs and benefits of LRT compared to BRT in terms of capacity, efficiency, financially and equity. As a result the Colombian government decided to build BRT systems for cities of more than 600,000 inhabitants with an initial short list of 8 cities, of which Cali was part.

Phase One opened with 220 clean articulated buses running through a 36-kilometer long network of exclusive corridors.  MIO is meeting about 46 percent of the city’s public transport demand, and phase II is expected to reach the rest of the city and meet 100 percent of public transport demand.  The buses were manufactured at the Superior Polo factory outside of Bogota, which has also increased employment in the country.

This is just the start of the city’s comprehensive mobility strategy which seeks to improve public transportation by offering high frequency and quality service. .  The city’s strategy also recognizes the need to strengthen pedestrian and bicycle access to public transit specifically and throughout the city more generally.  Other public works will complement the BRT project in the near future including public parks, a 50-kilometer long bicycle path network, and wide sidewalks are planned until 2015.

MIO will fundamentally transform public transport in the city, making it more efficient and more enjoyable for the passenger.  The route structure will be simplified from an existing 232 down to 81 routes.  The fleet will be reduced from over 4,300 vehicles to 937, which will substantially reduce emissions and air and noise pollution.  Overall, MIO has become one of the most exciting changes in Cali in a long time, and will substantially improve quality of life of its citizens.

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