Friday, October 20, 2006

Chronicle Article On Mexico City BRT

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article named "Look out, BART -- here comes BRT." Here are a few excerpts:

Mexico City rolls out new kind of mass transit. Commuters crowding onto jumbo buses that operate like an above-ground subway.

Costing some $30 million, the Metrobus is the gridlocked capital's ambitious plan to streamline traffic, rid streets of smoke-belching buses and entice drivers to ride modern, comfortable buses that ply express lanes.

The pilot line, which rolled out in mid-June, makes 36 stops along the congested Avenida Insurgentes, the city's main north-south thoroughfare, which stretches 121/2 miles in each direction. Each of the 80 double-length Volvo buses has a capacity of 160 passengers.

Riders run a "smart card" through a turnstile to enter a raised, steel- mesh-encased station along Avenida Insurgentes' median and then enter the bus through four doors, like a subway. The system attracted 4.5 million passengers in its first three weeks, and it is currently carrying as many as 250,000 passengers daily, according to Adriana Lobo, director of the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Transport, a nongovernmental organization.

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is designed to offer the low price of a bus -- 33 cents a ride in Mexico City -- and the speed of a light rail system.

The first BRT was rolled out in 1974 in the Brazilian city of Curitiba, where more than 70 percent of the population use the system. Bogota followed with its own version in 2000 that currently serves about 750,000 commuters daily.

Urban planners are slowly looking at BRT as a cheaper alternative to subway and light rail.

Embarq, an environmental organization based in Washington and affiliated with the World Resources Institute, says dozens of similar systems are being considered around the world. Las Vegas recently started a BRT system, and Seattle and Houston are among several cities studying the rapid buses.

In San Francisco, BRT is being planned for Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue, according to Aaron Golub of the University of California Transportation Center, a statewide program. "I see more and more cities looking to BRTs and scrapping their light-rail and subway plans," he said.

Metrobus officials say the system's success depends on performance. "We can't have riders wondering where's the bus -- that's half the battle," said Calderón. "We're just making sure that if a bus is set to leave at 5:03 p.m., then it leaves at 5:03 p.m."

Most important, Metrobus appears to be attracting a new type of commuter. "I'm spotting a bigger mix of people, executive types who never rode the old microbuses," said Clara Salazar, an urban studies professor at Mexico City's Colegio de Mexico. "Here, mass transit is considered a poor man's ride."

Leonardo Ortiz, 40, a cell-phone-company executive, is one such commuter. This "makes the city more livable," he said. "The old jitneys were savage. This takes us to a higher level."

For the entire article, see


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