Streetfilm: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Bogotá

Want to learn more about Bus Rapid Transit? Watch this StreetFilm and let Streetsblog editor Aaron Naparstek show you how BRT works in Bogotá, Colombia. Take a gander and you’ll see an efficient, modern and — relatively speaking — inexpensive way of moving 1.3 million people per day.

In Bogotá, where the BRT system goes by the much more sexy name, TransMilenio, you’ll travel almost three times the speed of the typical New York City bus. The average TransMilenio vehicle travels at 17.4 mph. In New York City, buses poke along at 6.2 mph. Some TransMilenio routes average nearly 25 mph!

For quite a few years now, New York City’s Department of Transportation and the MTA have been studying and studying and, sigh… studying the possibility of implementing BRT routes on selected corridors. And if Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan passes, a significant portion of the promised $354 million in federal funds will go towards launching new BRT lines.

Hopefully, New York City’s BRT system will offer many of the excellent features that we saw in Bogotá; features like physically-separated bus lanes, pre-boarding fare payment, wide doors that open at boarding level and a control room nerve center that monitors and manages the entire system. These features give Bogotá a bus system that really works. Take a look.

  • John Morris

    The outer boroughs do have a number of roads that might work for this. Most have been stated–the major highways like the L.I.E. Atlantic Ave, and Woodhaven Blvd are two other candidates for either light rail or this. Of course, going into New Jersey and upstate gets you a lot more candidates.

  • iso

    mfs #16, the average speed of the subway is not 25 mph. From a quick sampling of the timetables online, I found the following express speeds:

    A – 125th to W 4th (6 mi) – 21 min – 17 mph
    4 – 125th to Bowling Green (8 mi) – 23 min – 21 mph
    2 – 96th to Chambers (6 mi) – 14 min – 25 mph

    These are the scheduled times for the express portions on selected lines, and they fall between 17 and 25 mph. Given that the majority of the system is not express, and given the way reality can deviate significantly from schedules, the average speed of the entire system must be far below this range.

  • Clarence Eckerson


    Thanks for the opinion:

    I’ve been trying to research what the average speed of the subway is. Can’t find anything reliable enough to say as fact, but there are at least three people above have asserted that the speed is 20-25 mph – and I find that awfully high.

    I think system wide it is most likely somewhere in the high teens. But again cannot find facts to prove that. Anyone have any data?

  • iso

    If you had a couple hours on hand and were handy with GIS, it would not be hard to do this research yourself. All you would have to do is load the line files for the subway lines into GIS and measure out the length of each line. Then look up the scheduled run time end-to-end, and do some division to get mph.

    Unfortunately since I have no way to justify this as work-related, I would not have time to do this any time soon. Anyone else?

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Free lollipops to whomever crunches the numbers!

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t think this will work, but:


    Line Route Limits Weekday, Time Miles Per Hour Stations Per Mile Approx. Miles Scheduled Minutes Inter-mediate Stations

    Lexington Exp 4,5 Brooklyn Bridge to 125th St 10:49 20.3 0.6 6.4 19 4
    Lexington Local 6 Brooklyn Bridge to 125th St 10:06 13.8 2.8 6.4 28 18
    Pelham Local 6 Parkchester to 125th 12:17 17.5 2.0 5.5 19 11
    Pelham Exp 6 Parkchester to 125th 12:17 22.1 0.4 5.5 15 2
    Jerome 4 Woodlawn to 125th 1:54 16.7 2.0 6.7 24 13
    WPR – Local 2 E 180th to 149th St 12:20 13.5 2.2 3.2 14 7
    WPR – Exp 5 E 180th to 149th St 9:05 23.7 – 3.2 8 0
    Broadway/7th Exp 2,3 Chambers to 96th 10:58 20.0 0.8 5.0 15 4
    Broadway/7th Local 1 Chambers to 96th 12:00 13.0 3.2 5.0 23 16
    Upper Bwy Local 1 96th to Van Cortlandt 12:04 15.5 2.4 6.7 26 16
    Flushing Exp 7 Main Street to Queensboro 11:49 24.5 0.5 6.1 15 3
    Flushing Local 7 Main Street to Queensboro 11:58 17.5 2.0 6.1 21 12

    8th Avenue Exp A 145th to Broadway-Nassau 12:20 18.5 0.9 8.0 26 7
    8th Avenue C 145th to Broadway-Nassau 12:19 15.5 2.3 8.0 31 18
    6th Avenue Local F, V W 4th to Rock Center 10:21 14.7 2.0 2.0 8 4
    6th Avenue Exp B, D W 4th to Rock Center 1.0 1 1

    Upper 8th Avenue A 145th to 207th 12:15 14.5 2.2 3.1 13 7
    Fulton Express A Euclid to Jay 12:08 24.7 0.6 7.0 17 4
    Fulton Local C Euclid to Jay 12:56 18.3 1.9 7.0 23 13
    Queens Blvd Exp E, F 71st St to Queens Plaza 10:38 23.1 0.2 5.0 13 1
    Queens Blvd Local V, R 71st St to Queens Plaza 12:32 14.6 2.2 5.0 21 11
    Queens Blvd Outer F 179th Street to 71st Street 3:00 18.8 1.6 3.8 12 6
    Culver F Kings Hwy to Jay Street 10:50 17.6 1.9 7.5 25.5 14
    Crosstown G Hoyt to Court 1.0 1.0 1 1
    Concourse Local B Fordham to 145th 8:57 14.4 1.7 5.3 22 9
    Concourse Exp D Fordham to 145th 8:56 18.6 0.8 5.3 17 4

    Broadway Local R Whitehall to Lex 10:59 11.1 2.4 5.0 27 12
    Broadway Exp Q Canal to 57th 10:20 17.1 1.0 3.1 11 3

    Brighton Local Q Brighton to DeKalb 3:22 16.8 1.8 8.1 29 15
    Brighton Exp B Brighton to DeKalb 3:23 21.2 0.9 8.1 23 7
    4th Ave Local R 95th Street to DeKalb 1:18 14.4 2.0 6.0 25 12
    4th Ave Exp N 59th Street to Pacific 11:13 18.4 0.5 4.3 14 2
    West End D Stillwell to 36th Street 11:35 13.3 2.0 6.0 27 12
    Sea Beach N 86th Street to 59th Street 10:58 17.0 1.9 4.3 15 8

    Canarsie L Rockaway Pkwy to Bedford 12:04 17.4 2.1 10.8 37 23
    Jamaica Local J/Z Jamaica Center to Essex 12:30 17.2 1.9 12.3 43 23
    Jamaica Skip Z/Z Jamaica Center to Essex 8:17 18.4 1.1 12.3 40 13

    Bridges and Tunnels

    Manhattan Bridge Q DeKalb to Canal 10:12 16.9 – 2.3 8 0
    Williamsburg M Marcy to Essex 9:21 17.1 – 2.0 7 0

    Montigue Tunnel R DeKalb to Whitehall 1:43 19.3 0.9 2.3 7 2
    Cranberry Tunnel A Jay to Bwy-Nassau 12:01 24.0 0.5 2.0 5 1
    14th St Tunnel L Lorimer to 1st Ave 12:27 28.5 0.4 2.4 5 1
    63rd St F 21st Street to Lexington 3:26 22.5 0.7 1.5 4 1
    53rd Street V 23rd to Lexington 1:07 28.1 – 1.9 4 0
    60th Street W Queensboro to Lexington 10:26 26.3 – 1.8 4 0

  • MTL

    About the only negative I can say about BRT is its proponents – like many rail zealots – generalize and overstate its advantages. That isn’t much of a complaint. BRT is NOT the underdog – the FTA has made sure of that. BRT alternatives are practically mandated in every Alternatives Analysis being done in the country. MOST of the small starts grants are going to BRT projects – with some proponents of streetcars being cheesed off as a result. BRT works – it is another valid transit technology. The trick is finding the right situation – which is ALWAYS the problem for any proven transit technology.
    Loved the video – it was informative.
    The days of it being under-publicized or misunderstood are really past.
    Let the debate continue – but not with BRT as some sort of underdog technology.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The problem is BRT is, to some, an excuse not to invest in light or heavy rail — and then BRT is defined down to fancier buses and better signs.

    Real BRT requires grade separation, if not all all intersections, at least at major intersections in congested areas. That isn’t cheap. And for a really good system, you need an exclusive, grade separated ROW.

    At that point it is easy to use the same ROW for rail, and the trade off is this.

    Rail cannot go off that ROW, and requires extensive signal equipment, but can MU — one person driving a bunch of cars. If traffic is heavy enough, this cuts operating costs. And, the ride is smoother, and the equipment lasts longer.

    A dedicated BRT roadway could also accomodate buses on the street going up or down ramps and using the system. Imagine, for example, that the Brighton Line was BRT instead of subway. People from Gerritsen Beach could get on a bus there, which would run on the street, then express on the Brighton Line direct to Manhattan.

    Of course, the Brighton Line can carry vastly more people as a subway. But instead of spending so much money replacing the signals on the Staten Island Railroad, they should have converted it to BRT IMHO.

  • “And finally, yes, people do think that light rail has some magical property that causes them to like it more than buses, but that’s mostly because the riders tend to think the same way.”

    That pretty much sums it up.

    Plus one thing I noticed… ride quality is massively different. Roadways seem to lose ride quality a lot faster, and so do buses.

    When I ride a bus I cannot set my glasses on the corner of the laptop while I work. On a light rail or streetcar vehicle I can. I also can eat without balancing at the torso, instead I can lean back on an LRT vs. a bus.

    In addition, as mentioned, the operational costs are massively different. The real costs aren’t the vehicles that are murderous, it is the cost of the drivers. With BRT you end up with a whole bunch more of those than with LRT. Especially if the LRT is being used in 3, 4, or 5 car configuration. BRT then doesn’t hold a candle to the different.

  • Mitch

    A dedicated BRT roadway could also accomodate buses on the street going up or down ramps and using the system.

    Not necessarily. The TransMilenio BRT has platforms on the left, since the bus lanes are in the middle of the highway. This is probably the best way to do what TransMilenio does, but it requires special rolling stock that won’t work on ordinary streets.

    You can BRT systems that don’t have these requirements, on New York’s streets, these might be an improvement over ordinary buses, but they won’t be radically different from ordinary bus systems, the way TransMilenio is.

  • Nathanael Nerode

    Josh wrote about Charlotte Lynx:
    “Although I believe a train can pull another train, I would imagine it couldn’t pull more than one or two, and would likely still require an operator for each one.”

    Absolutely wrong. Currently Charlotte is running what are called “one-car” trains — that’s those massive articulated things you described. They can run two-car trains with no problems, and they already have done so occasionally — still only one operator.

    The vehicles are quite capable of running in three or even four car trains with one operator with no problem — but the platforms at the stations aren’t long enough!

    Really, this sums it up:
    – Quality Bus (exclusive bus lanes, stations, etc.) is a good idea.
    – If you need really high capacity, rail is more popular, cheaper and more effective in the long-run, but cities often have sticker shock at the initial cost.

    Expect the Bogota system to have tracks in it within 10 years.

  • MTL

    The ride quality differences between BRT and LRT are substantial. In Pittsburgh on the east busway when those vehicles get up to speed they bounce around like boats. I doubt that there is much that can be done either – and the more is done the more BRT will cost.
    The other point is that trying to pin BRT advocates down to what they are talking about can get frustrating. One minute it is rubber tired trains on exclusive guideways, the next is it dirt cheap buses running on streets. The more BRT approximates LRT, the more it costs. The more “flexible” it is, the more it is just like buses in streets.
    Frankly, I see it as an interim strategy for upgrading transit service that – if successful – eventually results in conversion to LRT. It is absolutely an upgrade from routine street running buses. To portray it as the equivalent but cheaper alternative to LRT is simply not true. By the time all the necessary conditions are met to give it equivalent service levels – and ride quality – its costs approach those of LRT. At SOME point it becomes an argument of rubber tires vs. steel wheels – and diesel (or hybrid) motive power vs. electric motive power.
    Final thought, living on a street with plenty of bus service – buses are STILL noisy as hell and LRT services are not.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The other point is that trying to pin BRT advocates down to what they are talking about can get frustrating. One minute it is rubber tired trains on exclusive guideways, the next is it dirt cheap buses running on streets. The more BRT approximates LRT, the more it costs.)

    The key issue is an exclusive right of way with grade separation, at least when major streets are to be crossed. That is a more important distinction than between buses and trains. And it is very expensive.

    Given that right of way, an LRT line will have lower cost at high ridership, because you can have multiple cars, but a bus line can accept street buses coming down a ramp.

    I’ve been told that in some places both types of vehicle use the save ROW.

  • Some great debate on BRT vs. LRT vs. subways here.

    I’ll just chime in to say, to those who think that light rail will eventually replace the BRT in Bogota, I think it is not that easy. From what I saw many of the buses skip over many stations – even identical routes when it gets busy. Sure it could be done with Light Rail, but that would give the system a little less maneuverability. Not saying it couldn’t be done because the next post will surely point out that YES it can, but that the BRT in Bogota’s enormous flexibility to change on the fly is why it is successful.

    Finally, I love both BRT and Light Rail. The more of the both of them, the better this world will be.

  • Smaller cities are having the Light Rail vs. BRT debate all across the U.S. right now. See this post from Rochester NY for example…

    Rochester, a city that had a light rail subway line 50 years ago, now wishes it hadn’t abandoned it. The problem that Rochester shares with many other towns is that its downtown streets are overly congested, but its population is too diluted to support the huge rail system that would be required to reach adequately serve the suburbs. Unlike Bogotá however, Rochester has no shortage of highways. Sound familar?

    So why in America is the argument Rail vs. BRT? Why not implement BRT on the expressways, and use that system to feed into a downtown streetcar or subway system? Both have their merits. There must be some examples of this out there??

  • So why in America is the argument Rail vs. BRT? Why not implement BRT on the expressways, and use that system to feed into a downtown streetcar or subway system? Both have their merits. There must be some examples of this out there??

    Yes, right here at the Lincoln Tunnel.

    By the way, go Rochester Subway!


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