Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems have become an increasingly popular approach to addressing mobility and environmental problems in urban areas in Latin America and around the world. In line with this trend, the IDB’s support for BRT projects as well as other urban transport in Latin America and the Caribbean has grown rapidly in recent years: the annual lending volume for the urban transport sector grew by 36% from 2005 to 2012, to account for more than 20% of the transport sector lending portfolio. BRT systems represented roughly half of all IDB mass transit projects. These projects typically aim to increase overall mobility while also reducing negative externalities such as traffic accidents and emissions of local and global pollutants; in addition, they often seek to improve mobility and access to jobs, goods, and services for the poor. This evaluation presents lessons learned from OVE’s in-depth comparative case studies of three IDB-funded BRT projects –in Lima, Cali, and Montevideo– and makes suggestions to inform future IDB support for urban transport projects.
Lima’s system garnered the highest travel-time savings and corridor-level emissions reductions of the three cases. Cali’s system also provided several benefits, including substantial travel-time savings for trips along the trunk lines and had a much wider impact on emissions reductions in the city because of its ambitious scale and more successful bus scrapping program. In addition, important improvements to public spaces were part of both the Cali and Lima projects. In Montevideo, because of poor design and corridor choice, as well as a lack of institutional and bus sector reforms, the system realized few if any mobility or environmental objectives; however, passengers benefited from improved sidewalks, a new electronic fare card system, integrated tariffs, and a system enabling passengers to access information on the best route combination from any origin to any destination in the city. Although all three projects had explicit or implicit objectives of improving mobility for the poor, little or no diagnosis of mobility needs of the poor was conducted by the client or the IDB to inform their design. In Lima and Cali the poor are using the traditional bus service at higher rates than the BRT system, citing a lack of service coverage, slow service, and long lines as barriers. This was not measured in Montevideo. The projects generated some positive land use developments; however, none incorporated a transit-oriented development (TOD) strategy in their design. Although TOD strategies would have required a high degree of inter-institutional coordination and management of complex factors, if incorporated they could have not only supported the project’s objectives of improving mobility and increasing transit ridership, but served as a potential source of additional revenue to the system through land value capture mechanisms.
OVE makes several suggestions for future IDB support for such projects:
- offer increased support and technical assistance for the necessary reforms (PPPs, fleet modernization, institutional frameworks, station design, among others) to support BRT infrastructure and garner strong political buy-in of key stakeholders for such reforms early on;
- deepen the diagnosis of mobility needs of the poor to inform project design;
- support LAC governments in considering subsidization of BRT system operational costs and innovative financing mechanisms;
- incorporate TOD planning around BRT stations, and
- integrate other innovative, demand responsive public transit modes as complements to BRT systems in lower demand corridors.