Friday, July 10, 2009

Innovation in Public Transportation

Could a secret weapon against climate change be hiding in the mountains of South America? According to the New York Times, maybe so.

Yesterday's edition includes a fascinating article about public transportation in Bogota. The Colombian capital - a city of some 9 million people - has implemented a high-speed bus network called TransMilenio ("TransMillenium"), which has simultaneously slashed passengers' commute times and reduced the city's fuel use by 60%.

How? In a sense, the network is a bus-subway hybrid. In other words, the city has taken the speed and efficiency of subways and the low costs of buses, combining them to create a completely new model.

TransMilenio operates with dedicated lanes; it doesn't share pavement with cars, trucks, or motorcycles. It is also designed to transfer large numbers of passengers very quickly (as opposed to traditional buses, where passengers board individually). Finally, the stations are large and centrally located (unlike traditional buses, which stop for passengers every 2-3 blocks). As such, TransMilenio moves large numbers of people very quickly through the city, and it doesn't get gridlocked during rush-hour traffic. A bus system is also significantly cheaper to build and operate than a subway system.

It's a terrifically innovative solution to a universal problem, and cities around the world are studying and adopting the TransMilenio model. If rapid-transit bus networks become commonplace, the decreased fossil fuel consumption could make a sizable dent in the climate change problem.

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