There are not too many cities that can build expensive subways or other mass transit systems today. China may be the exception but the rest of the urban world is stuck with impossible parking and bumper to bumper rush hour commutes.
But there are rays of hope. Curitiba the capital of the Southern Brazilian state of Parana is a very progressive place. As early as the 1960s it started designing a fast bus solution that is now being copied by others. On a recent trip to Colombia and Ecuador I saw versions of the Curitiba system in Bogota, Medellin and Quito.
Curitiba went the ‘modest initiative’ route, closing off some streets to traffic and creating fast bus corridors from the downtown to the suburbs. The buses run very frequently as often as every 90 seconds in rush hour.
In addition, they redesigned the on-off experience (see picture above). They raised the bus station from ground level to a height where you just walk into the bus, like a subway. Also, they put in a pre-boarding pay systems so there is no on board collection of fares. You pay when you enter the station. When the bus arrives people get in and out and the bus is off again within 15 to 20 seconds. There is one ticket price ($0.25 or $0.75 U.S. depending on Bogota, Medellin or Quito) no matter how far you travel. Finally they integrated the city’s trains, trams and gondolas (spectacular views) with the buses so everything runs on one coordinated system.
The whole thing works but it does require a lot of planning (deciding which streets to close off) and figuring out where the best corridors are. The systems in Bogota, Quito and Medellin are such a success that at rush hour you are packed in like a Tokyo subway. But you get where you are going fast!
Anyone who visits a big city in a developing country has to come away wondering how much pollution all those long haul trucks, buses, motorcycles and cars with no emission controls produce. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 15% of all worldwide man made carbon dioxide is caused by transportation. More rapid transit systems like Curitiba, Quito, Medellin and Bogota, along with (and this is a big if) better emission controls on those pollution belching buses, would go a long way to improving everyone’s lives.