Public transportation that works: The Curitiba Case

Cities all over the world strive to improve their public transport system. The benefits of a faster, more reliable and more effective bus transportation system is obvious; both to users and the environment. Why is public transport then often so extremely badly planned, expensive and unreliable?  Curitiba in Southern Brazil offers their solution to the challenge. In fact, in such a way that the city is well-known to city planners worldwide. What has Curitiba done?

City of Curitiba, Brazil 31-3-2012

Curitiba’s bus system is referred to as one of the world’s most efficient, and cities like Los Angeles, Bogota, Las Vegas, Bangalore and many more have modeled their bus systems with inspiration from Curitiba. In 2010 the city was even awarded with the Globe Sustainable City Award. Curitiba’s bus system can briefly be described as:

The bus system of Curitiba, Brazil, exemplifies a model Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and plays a large part in making this a livable city. The buses run frequently—some as often as every 90 seconds—and reliably, and the stations are convenient, well-designed, comfortable, and attractive. Consequently, Curitiba has one of the most heavily used, yet low-cost, transit systems in the world. It offers many of the features of a subway system—vehicle movements unimpeded by traffic signals and congestion, fare collection prior to boarding, quick passenger loading and unloading—but it is above ground and visible. Around  70 percent of Curitiba’s commuters use the BRT to travel to work, resulting in congestion-free streets and pollution-free air for the 2.2 million inhabitants of greater Curitiba (…)  about 1,100 buses make 12,500 trips every day, serving more than 1.3 million passengers—50 times the number from 20 years ago. Eighty percent of travelers use the express or direct bus services. Best of all, Curitibanos spend only about 10 percent of their income on travel—much below the national average. (Goodman et al, 2007).

I was fascinated by the “space shuttles” that stand at many of the bus stops (see picture below).

Enter stations for the Curitiba buses

These glass-covered platforms are similar to what would be the metro station under ground elsewhere. They allow the bus company to have the all the passengers ready to board as the bus arrives. Payment is taken care of as the passengers enter the platform. The price is  fixed and relatively cheap. This removes monetary transactions in the buses and creates safer conditions for the driver (in an area of the world with above average crime rates). I imagine that these shelters would be perfect for the colder conditions in the Northern part of Europe; who does not hate to stand in zero degrees, slash and sleet, to wait for the bus that rarely is on time? You lose some flexibility (the bus must stop at the exact location every time) – but, in my experience, standards beat flexibility in transportation systems. It is all about reliability and volumes – two highly interdependent performance measures.

In the part of the world that I come from, the following ironic picture is a good example of the volumes and fun of riding the bus:

Something to learn from Curitiba, Brazil?

It’s a fun fact that the Swedish company Volvo Buses produces and delivers the new buses to Curitiba City in their Curitiba plant (which is the reason why I’m here). As we export the design of our great Nordic products, it should be of interest to import some great Brazilian ideas back home.

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  1. Pingback: Travel in Brazil: CURITIBA (09). City Tour II, Bus Stops 1 – 10 « Inside Brazil

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