Colombia's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) development and Expansion.

Document Type


Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus rapid transit, place - south america, planning - environmental impact


Colombia, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), challenges, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)


Many major cities in Colombia struggle with managing transportation issues arising from growing populations and vehicle use and the development of sustainable public transportation alternatives. Rapidly developing metropolises suffer from highly congested roadways, extreme air pollution, and high rates of road related accidents. In Colombia, these issues stem partly from the over-saturation of independent bus operators, underinvestment in infrastructure and inefficient operations. In 2002, Colombia championed the National Urban Transport Program (NUTP) that revolutionized the public transport system; implementing Strategic Public Transportation Systems (SPTS) and expanding Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in major cities. In the process, Colombia had to overcome a variety of significant barriers. Some of these main challenges were as follows: • Low public opinion of busways and bikelanes before the year 2000. This required a shift in thinking about urban space, the relationship between motor vehicles and pedestrians, and the image of public transport. • Intense opposition for BRT development from existing bus operators, especially bus owners as they feared loss of income. In Colombia, “War of the Pennies” is a term used to describe the fierce competition that occurred among buses and small buses, which resulted from a dysfunctional permitting and incentives program. A BRT system seemed to further threaten the market share of the bus owners and operators. • Interference from non-project participants within government slowed development plans. Colombia’s BRT Development and Expansion 6 Center for Clean Air Policy • Competing goals for the transportation system; the transportation department valued rider comfort and satisfaction while private bus companies and drivers wanted to maximize profits. • There was resistance to raising the low costs of public transportation to levels that would cover all operating and maintenance costs for the contractors without subsidies. • Tight city and national budgets meant that well-executed transportation plans and strategic financing models were necessary to develop cost-effective transportation systems. • Unfavorable experiences in busway-like projects (i.e. Caracas busway) in the mid-1990s. The first BRT system, TransMilenio, was built in Bogotá. It was so successful that it became a model for the rest of the country. Among other things, it decreased the average travel time by 32%, increased property values along the main line by 15-20%, enhanced tax revenues, created jobs, and improved the health and safety of the community. TransMilenio helped galvanize support for the national plan to expand BRT systems to 8 other cities in Colombia. Through impressive leadership, strategic institutional coordination and innovative financing models that included funding from public, private, and international institutions, Colombia was able to address these barriers and build a national plan to expand Bus Rapid Transit systems across the country. This case study describes the challenges and successes of Colombia’s national effort to build Strategic Public Transportation Systems and to expand Bus Rapid Transit to major cities across the country. The national plan was rooted in the success of Bogotá’s TransMilenio and has already been successfully replicated in cities like Pereira and Cali. Colombia’s approach could be reproduced in other developing countries as they search for ways to address transportation and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) challenges through development of BRT systems.


Permission to quote the overview and link to the article has been given by Centre for Clean Air Policy, copyright remains with them.