This summer, the bus rapid transit system of Bogot�, Colombia, earned the distinction of being the world's first mass transport project to be approved for participation in the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). As such, it is a model for similar transport-related CDM initiatives in the pipeline worldwide. Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, Laos, Panama, and Peru are all establishing or planning mass transport systems based on rapid buses, according to the Andean Development Corporation, the multilateral financial institution that helped develop the bid.

Under the CDM, qualified industries in the developing world that reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other climate-altering pollutants receive “credits” that they can then sell to industrial-country polluters seeking to offset their own emissions. Under the recently approved deal, Bogotá’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system, the TransMilenio, will sell the credits earned from emissions reductions of nearly 250,000 tons of CO2 equivalent per year—achieved through more-efficient passenger transport and the substitution of private vehicle use—to the government of the Netherlands. According to a 2002 report from the World Bank, the TransMilenio resulted in a 40 percent reduction in certain Bogotá air pollutants between its December 2000 launch and May 2001.

BRT combines the efficiency and user-friendliness of light rail with the economy and flexibility of on-road vehicles. Using high-speed buses that travel in dedicated lanes, BRT systems vary by location but typically consist of seven elements, including efficient passenger boarding methods, adaptable route structures, comfortable stations, and technology that updates travelers on bus locations and timing, according to the Washington, D.C-based Breakthrough Technologies Institute (BTI), which operates the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center, a non-profit program that promotes BRT as a sustainable solution to mobility and air quality problems. The best systems also take full advantage of the periphery opportunities that BRT provides, such as rejuvenating local economies and encouraging high-density development near the bus routes, says William Vincent, BTI’s deputy director and general counsel.

Because BRT builds off existing infrastructure and has a high carrying capacity, it can be more economical than light rail. A typical BRT system costs between US$1 million and $35 million per mile (1.6 kilometers), while a light rail or subway system typically costs US$13–336 million per mile, reports the BRT Policy Center. Moreover, some BRT systems, such as Bogota’s TransMilenio and the BRT network of Curitiba, Brazil, have demonstrated that high-quality public transit services can be provided without government operating subsidies, according to Vincent. BRT can also significantly reduce long commutes.

The World Bank reported a 32 percent reduction in travel time for passengers using the TransMilenio, and a BRT line in Beijing, China, can shave 23 minutes from an otherwise hour-long trip. With transportation responsible for as much as a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, reducing fossil fuel use in the sector is considered critical. Vincent cites a study of two rapid bus lines in Los Angeles that estimates the systems save 19,000 barrels of oil per year.

Another study predicted that the city’s recently opened Orange Line BRT would save more than 18,600 barrels of oil per year. Today, 63 BRT systems operate on six continents, and as many as 93 more are planned worldwide. Based on the results in Los Angeles alone, Vincent estimates that BRT is achieving annual reductions of millions of barrels of oil globally—reductions that should increase substantially as more BRT systems are built.


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