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10 Dec 2013

Cutting the commute

Graham Smith

by Graham Smith

Director of Export Finance, HSBC

Until recently, the rush-hour traffic congestion in Mexico City was so bad that some commuters were leaving home at 4 am to avoid the morning gridlock.

BRTs are quick to build and can go from the planning stage to buses on the road within two to three years

Although the city had an underground rail system, many of its 18 million inhabitants lived outside the network. There was severe congestion and commuters often faced long and difficult journeys into the city centre.

Since 2005 there has been a remarkable change. Journey times are shorter, congestion has eased, and emissions are lower – largely because of a new bus network, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The system can be more cost effective than rail projects, is easier to implement and causes less disruption.

BRT stops are raised so that passengers stand at the same level as the bus doors, making it easy and quick to get on and off. Passengers buy their ticket before they board and, crucially, the buses have dedicated lanes so that they can bypass some of the worst traffic.

Cutting the commute

The BRT network in Mexico has reduced CO2 emissions

HSBC began providing banking services for BRT projects in Brazil in the 1970s. Since then the bank has supported projects in Bogota, Colombia; and Santiago, Chile; as well as Mexico City.

More than 160 cities have adopted some form of BRT, according to new research from EMBARQ, a sustainable transport consultancy. It estimates that more than 25 million journeys are made on BRT each day. Latin American countries remain the biggest users of this form of transport, but Asia now accounts for a quarter of passengers.

There are similar networks in Europe and North America. Three African cities have also adopted BRT, including Johannesburg in South Africa, which revamped its public transport system with HSBC’s help in preparation for the football World Cup in 2010.

Mexico City’s BRT by numbers:

  • 50km long
  • 850,000 passengers daily
  • 250 buses on four routes
  • 60km/h average speed
  • 50 per cent cut in average journey time
  • 6 per cent* shift from private vehicles to public transport
  • 80,000 tonnes reduction in carbon dioxide emissions

Source: BRT Impacts Report prepared by EMBARQ for HSBC, November 2013. (*estimated)

BRTs are attractive to city planners for a number of reasons. They are quick to build and can go from the planning stage to buses on the road within two to three years. Overground rail networks can take seven years and underground rail, ten.

Encouraging commuters to take the bus rather than drive can also help reduce emissions. The introduction of BRT in Mexico City has reduced nitrogen oxide by 690 tonnes and carbon dioxide by 80,000 tonnes a year, according to the Center for Sustainable Transport Mexico.

BRT is growing fast, with the number of cities adopting the transport quadrupling since 2000, according to EMBARQ. But not all BRT systems are alike and the costs and benefits vary significantly from city to city. Leaders can learn from what has worked to help improve their transport infrastructure.

To read EMBARQ's research, visit www.embarq.org

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