The TransMilenio is Bogotá, Colombia"s bus rapid transit system. Its main stretch runs through the north side of the city, through Av. Caracas, Calle 80, Autopista Norte, and Av. Jimenez. The system opened to the public in November 2000, and several routes have been added since then.
Based on the successful model used in Curitiba, Brazil, the TransMilenio consists of numerous elevated stations in the center of a main avenue, or 'troncal'. Users pay in the station and await the arrival of the bus, whose doors open in time to the sliding glass doors of the station. Two dedicated lanes are used on either side of the stations in order to allow express buses to pass regular service buses.
Since the main route goes east-west, users wishing to travel north-south must take regular 'feeder' buses operating without dedicated lanes. Although TransMilenio stations are handicapped-accessible by virtue of being elevated and ramps leading to the entrance, the alimentadores are normal buses without handicapped accessibility. However, a lawsuit by disabled user Daniel Bermúdez in 2000 caused a ruling that all alimentadores must be handicapped accessible by 2004, but this has yet to occur.
The buses are diesel-powered, purchased from such manufacturers as the Brazilian company Marco Polo and German conglomerate Mercedes-Benz. The buses are bi-articulate (split into two sections with an accordion-like rotating middle to allow for sharp turns) and have a capacity of 150 passengers.
As of March 2004, the fare was $1100 (Colombian pesos) for a single trip. Cards issued at booths present in every station use a magnetic 'smart touch' system, and up to ten trips can be loaded on each card. Due to substantial percentage of errors when swiping the cards, many users are distrustful and purchase only one or two trips at a time. This problem has not yet been addressed with discounts for multiple purchases or public education campaigns, as has been recommended by urban planning consultants.
Although most users will agree that the TransMilenio is a vast improvement over Bogotá's previous public transit system, and a straphanger's wet dream when compared to the chaotic systems in place in cities like Lima, Peru, there are a fair number of criticisms aimed at the TransMilenio system:
Buses and stations are often packed to or beyond safe operating capacity, even during non-rush hour periods. This can be attributed to the small size of the buses—modern metro trains can hold up to 1000 passengers, and buses in the Curitiba system hold up to 270—as well as inadequate planning and response.
The use of diesel buses instead of clean-burning natural gas or electric-powered light rail is best defined as an economic decision made to benefit TransMilenio, S.A., and not the best interests of the city. Diesel pollution has a much greater impact than at sea level in a high-altitude city like Bogotá (at 2,660 meters above sea level), not to speak of the noise pollution problems associated with diesel motors.
Alimentadores continue to use obsolete engines that belt visibly black or brown exhaust fumes and are not driven in a safe or efficient manner.
The problems with the TransMilenio, though apparently fatal, can be addressed quickly and efficiently if proper care is taken in addressing them. Regardless, the system is another shining example of how efficient, safe, and orderly public transit systems can be created without significant investment or disruption.