Celebrating 18 Years of TransMilenio: Growing Pains and What Lies Ahead for Bogotá’s BRT
Eighteen years ago, I was deputy general manager of TransMilenio S.A., the city agency running Bogotá’s brand new bus rapid transit (BRT) system. It was amazing to be there at the start of operations for this system knowing that it took just three years from idea to implementation.
On our first day, December 21, 2000, we had 23,000 riders, a figure that grew very rapidly in the following weeks. Initial service was very limited – just 14 kilometers (8 miles).
News of the system spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted to try it, and, at first, public perception was very positive. But TransMilenio’s teenage years have been more problematic. The expansion of services has slowed considerably, even as demand continues to increase, leading to crowding, inefficiency and declining service.
The Largest BRT System in the World
TransMilenio grew-up very quickly. By 2002, the system reached 42 km, including a 1.7 km transit mall downtown, where there was only walking and public transport. User satisfaction remained above 90 percent during the first three years of operation. Agency staff were committed to delivering a service that was respectful of life, diversity, and time, and that was affordable for users and the city.
Building a high-capacity, mass transit system based on buses was a novelty, not only for Colombia’s capital, but for the whole world. It was inspired by bus systems in Brazil and Ecuador, but the BRT in Bogotá was like Curitiba’s on steroids. Bogotá had much larger stations with up to five bus docking bays, double bus lanes for passing, and express and local routes, making TransMilenio the largest capacity BRT system in the world.
Before TransMilenio, the busway on Avenida Caracas, a main arterial road, carried 35,000 passengers per hour in each direction; the new BRT was able to orderly carry up to 48,000 passengers in each direction, amounting to 2.5 million passengers each day. It was also much safer: the old busway had 64 fatalities in 1998; the new BRT had 8 fatalities in 2001.