Curitiba First for the Future
Autonomous vehicles, levitating trains, and supersonic tubes have all been suggested as radical ways to transport us faster as the 21st century urban age approaches, but it seems the real secret to a faster commute has been here all along — the bus.
Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are paving the way for sustainable, efficient, and affordable travel and now operate in 181 cities worldwide. However, they’re not just your regular bus service. In a BRT system, exclusive bus lanes dominate the center of roads, prepaid tickets prevent delays when boarding, and raised platforms at bus stops make you level with the bus floor to get on and off more quickly.
These small details all make for a smooth and faster service to help you reach your destination in record time. The surprise element of BRT is it’s nothing new; the first system was pioneered 40 years ago in Curitiba, Brazil.
The Rede Integrada de Transporte (RIT) in Curitiba first began service in 1974. Industrial expansion saw the city’s population grow by 5.3 percent per year in the 1970s and this rapid influx of people living and working in the city called for new urban design, which led to this innovative use of buses in their own infrastructure by the mayor and architect Jaime Lerner.
Jaime Lerner’s design of a “subway on wheels” transported 50,000 people daily back in the 1980s and today sees over 2 million passengers step on board each day. Six circular routes radiate around the city in both directions and in dedicated lanes, enabling frequent services. Color-coding of buses also makes it easier to know if you’re on the right route.
This bus-based infrastructure is significantly cheaper to build than going underground with the metro systems seen in other cities such as London and New York.
Thirty-three cities in Brazil now host a BRT, as well as another 26 cities across the rest of Latin America, setting the example in the field of public transport.
Despite its overwhelming success, BRT has its own social obstacles to overcome among its users. One of the main challenges of these systems is to remove the social snobbery associated with taking the bus by offering a faster service that people can’t refuse.
This was accomplished in Curitiba when the buses first appeared, but today some of the city’s middle class residents are offering resistance. Curitiba has one of Brazil’s highest per capita ownership of private cars.
However, as with every growing city, populations begin to live farther and farther away from its epicenter. Human rights activist Luana Xavier Pinto feels the system no longer accommodates the working class who can’t afford to live in the city and therefore within easy access to the BRT.
“They have been pushed into the metropolitan region surrounding the city where you don’t have good integration with the system, so they have to take longer and longer bus trips, using more than one bus, to get to work,” says Pinto. The city has tried to overcome this with bigger, longer buses that encompass three buses in one and run on bio-diesel fuel. The result is a high-capacity bus capable of carrying 250 passengers at once — as many as a Boeing 787 plane.
The priority now is to get people on board. The tried and tested technology of Curitiba has proven successful and the city has long been known as a laboratory for sustainability. So as the future approaches with daydreams of jetpacks and hovercrafts, the reality for us all may be not to miss the bus!
[This article was written by Meera Senthilingam and appeared on the CNN website. It was edited by CIE.]