Exploring BRT in Lima, Peru

Exploring BRT in Lima, Peru

By Rossana Guevara

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems have revolutionized public transport since the 1970s, becoming a cost-effective alternative to typical mass-rapid transit (MRT) schemes. BRT delivers “fast and comfortable public transport services at metro-level capacities, through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and iconic stations typically aligned to the centre of the road, off-board fare collection, and fast and frequent operations” (ITDP). The first BRT was introduced in Curitiba, Brazil in 1974. Since then, the approach has been widely adopted throughout the developed and developing world. Examples of BRT schemes can be found in Colombia, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and even the USA.

Figure 1

Latin American cities in particular have embraced BRT as a key component of their transport structures as a result of their price-efficient execution and operation. As shown in Figure 1, BRT provides a high capacity service at a much lower price than other MRT schemes like the Metro underground or overground. Prior to the BRT movement in the continent, delivering public transport had proven to be a complex challenge, where cities featured a largely inefficient and dysfunctional transport culture. Only after institutional and regulatory reforms, the way of delivering transport has been transformed. A renowned example resulting from a succession of mayors committed to making a difference, is the TransMilenio in Bogota, which is now the world’s largest BRT system functioning since 2000, with 12 lines servicing 2.2 million people on a daily basis. The project was implemented during Enrique Peñalosa’s mayoral mandate (1998-2002). Peñalosa was committed to delivering physical interventions in the city, for which he created a coherent long-term plan for Bogotá, encouraging projects that prioritized pedestrians and equalized the city by connecting its disparities. Institutional determination and therefore the adoption of appropriate MRT policies is key to not only delivering fast, safe and reliable public transport, but also key to creating democratic spaces for everyone.  

The case of Lima

Lima city showcases a recent example of transport reform through BRT. The capital of Peru, with a growing population of 9.75 million, is slowly attempting to deliver a reliable, convenient and faster integrated public transport system that resolves persistent traffic congestion delays. This is, however, not a simple task. Lima is Peru’s economic hub; it generates half of the total Peruvian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and on a daily basis there are 11,236,000 transport journeys from which 82% are made on public transport. Weak planning, enforcement and control strategies from the 1990s have resulted in the current chaotic state of Lima’s roads, where a low quality transport service is provided by several formal and informal private operators, who use old defective low capacity vehicles and charge, on average, a low fare of $0.35 per trip. This, coupled with car ownership as a marker of economic status, has resulted in severe traffic congestion throughout the day, even outside of peak travelling times. In certain corridors, transit time has increased from 30mins to 2hrs. Subsequently negative externalities such as accidents, air pollution and infrastructure deterioration are largely evident.

To address the issues, the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima (MML) established Protransporte, a semi-public agency that plans and coordinates transport investment projects in Lima. It also created the Urban Transport Masterplan for Metropolitan Lima and Callao (TMMLC) in 2004 with support of the Transport and Communications Ministry (TMC). The legal ordinance published in 2006 (MML), enforced 4 main policies: the encouragement of MRT systems, the rationalization of current operational systems, the improvement in transit infrastructure and the enhancement of institutional transport culture.

The MRT policy explicitly aims to prioritize the implementation of efficient, reliable, cleaner and safer MRT systems by maximizing the use of current infrastructure to meet travel demand. The long-term goal is to enhance economic productivity and quality of life of the population by improving mobility and accessibility, particularly in the peri-urban neighbourhoods. This will also boost the capital’s competitiveness by introducing a modern and efficient new mode of transport. The BRT approach meets all the requirements, and was chosen as the way forward, being a low-cost and less intrusive scheme than light rail or a metro system while still having similar features.   

Delivering the BRT, named El Metropolitano, can be described as unconventional as the scheme was initially designed in 2003 under a different municipal administration and had already attained external financial support from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. However, the process was interrupted by political agendas and a public inquiry of the scheme’s projected costs. Only in 2006, the scheme was adapted to suit the TMMLC objectives and final implementation took 4 years (2006-2009) at a cost of almost US$300 million. The system opened to commercial operation on July 28th of 2010 with a flat cost per journey of $0.65.

Figure 2 – Complete Metropolitano Route (Protransporte,2014)

El Metropolitano covers 27.58km in a north-south corridor, where 16.5km are physically segregated busways and 9km use the Express Way by modifying a 1970s motorway scheme. The main trunk and feeder lines have in total 38 stops with 500m between each other and feature 312 gas-propelled articulated buses with the capacity of 160 passengers. Furthermore, bicycle storage areas have been incorporated at stations to encourage modal shift journeys. Significantly, the routes offered run through 16 districts of Lima (See Figures 2 and 3) where it has recovered derelict spaces and turned them into quality public spaces.

Execution of the scheme was slow and inefficient mainly because of the low institutional capacity of Protransporte and the MML. Many barriers were presented, for instance, local transport consultants lacked the experience and skills to deliver a major transport scheme and required the collaboration of international experts from Brazil and Colombia. Furthermore, Public-Private Partnership (PPP) investment projects are hard to manage due to the existent fragmentation between public institutions, causing time-consuming bureaucratic processes.

Figure 3 – El Metropolitano’s Trunk Corridor

Figure 3 – El Metropolitano’s Trunk Corridor

The implementation of the BRT corridor generated several direct impacts in Lima’s transport system. It immediately provided an efficient north-south transit route, alternative to the usual congested corridors. It was identified that travel time along the BRT corridor was reduced from 120mins to 52mins on average in 2011, achieved due to the traffic-free segregated lanes allowing for a constant commercial speed of 22km/hr on average at peak hour, which highly differs from the average speed (14km/hr) outside the corridor. Ridership has increased since the system’s opening and surveys reveal that the main trunk route transports around 630,000 people per day. Most of these rides are attributed to commuters, who fall mostly in the age range of 18-39. El Metropolitano has therefore provided a quicker route to work for many people, particularly those living in the peripheral areas of Lima.

Transport quality has also increased in the corridor; as reflected by 60% of users, who consider that public transport in Lima has improved in the last years. Still, as exposed in Protransporte’s evaluations of the system, buses in the corridor are insufficient to meet the increasing demand, particularly during peak hours. This leads to long waits and uncomfortable journeys where personal space is disregarded, which in consequence forces people to opt for private vehicle use or older operators as a means of transport. Furthermore, access routes for pedestrians, especially disabled people have also been heavily criticised, likewise, there is a general discontent about the limited operational schedule. These persistent concerns continue to push users to opt for alternative routes offered by older operators, who offer a greater fleet and frequency of buses at half the price.

The scheme has produced indirect social impacts. For instance, 50% of El Metropolitano users come from secluded peripheral areas and particularly benefit from the new feeder routes, meaning that the project has facilitated access to areas that previously lacked formal public transit.

BRT systems also impact the urban fabric of the city. Although El Metropolitano intervention used parts of existing motorways, various neighbourhoods were altered during the process. It is a challenging task to introduce BRT into the existing fabric of a city without compromising its dynamics; it is crucial therefore, to consider the character of the affected neighbourhoods ahead of the implementation of such scheme. In the case of El Metropolitano, an impact assessment of the urban fabric was carried out, and major impacts were mitigated by recovering neglected spaces along the corridor that have now been transformed into public spaces for exclusive long-term use of the Lima community.

Indirectly, the environment has also been benefited. Air pollution has been reduced by 33% in the corridor; this constitutes a reduction of 324,440 tons of Green House Gases (GHG) from the baseline value of 2003. This has been achieved by the use of low emission bus fuels and the segregated busways, which improve fuel economy and reduce stopping distances. In addition, 32.4km of bikeways have been integrated to the BRT system, encouraging cleaner modes of transport from universities and dense office areas. It is evident that BRT corridors are a good alternative to alleviating environmental pollution, and if successfully implemented and integrated to the wider transport system, BRT could trigger modal shift and the reduction of private car use.

Figure 4 – Map of Lima’s Integrated Transport System

Figure 4 – Map of Lima’s Integrated Transport System

It is clear however that the BRT scheme cannot work in isolation. El Metropolitano forms part of a greater plan of public transport reorganization called the Integrated Transport Plan for Lima, which aims to reduce the number of operators in high demand routes and formalizing the bus fleet. This scheme has already formalised routes parallel to El Metropolitano, helping to meet the north-south transport demand. Furthermore, the Metro Line 1, a light-railway service that runs north-south, east of the BRT route. A further MRT scheme, the Metro Line 2 is under construction and will run east-west, increasing accessibility of western Lima districts into the city centre. Figure 4, shows the integrated public transport plan. Without the plan’s execution, El Metropolitano is a limited scheme that competes with 41 cheaper and more frequent alternative services, creating a transport conflict in the city. In order to make a BRT scheme successful, it needs to be embedded and fully integrated with the wider transport system.

Although there is a good attempt at delivering efficient public transport in Lima, unfortunately, there are other factors undermining the use of these services. In Latin America, car ownership is regarded as a power tool and measure of success that results in car dependency. This leads to an ever-growing automobile fleet and therefore traffic congestion. It is undeniable that door-to-door car use benefits are difficult to replace by less direct MRT systems, however the success of a MRT policy relies on slowly modifying this culture. Modal shift requires a complex behavioural change and thus a long-term engagement, where simultaneously car dependency is lessened and public transport reliability is increased.

Implementing BRT in cities that face profound transport issues is challenging. El Metropolitano scheme in Lima, is an interesting policy output that offers a quality and frequent service in a single north-south corridor and its outcome benefits which include a faster and cleaner form of travel are undeniable. Nevertheless, its success has been undermined by the established public transport culture in Lima. BRT systems are a good solution to providing mass transportation along demand corridors, and should be considered alongside other conventional modes of public transit. For Lima, the scheme signifies the start of a transport reform that requires the improvement of institutional capacity, political will and a coherent vision to continue to deliver an integrated system that will support Lima’s long-term growth.


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