Public transport should be of high quality, terminals should be accessible by bicycles, and vehicular emissions should be low, says Dario Hidalgo, a Colombian city planner

Dario Hidalgo could be a synonym for sustainable transport. An urban planner, a transport engineer and an environmental expert, Hidalgo from Colombia is known world over for his expertise in designing sustainable transport for cities and advising urban planning around them. Holding a doctorate in Transportation Planning from Ohio State University (U.S.), he has been the brain behind transport and development projects in China, Turkey, Thailand, Brazil, and several countries in Africa. He is also advising the BRTS in Ahmedabad. Currently he is the Director, Research & Practice at EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Centre for Sustainable Transport at Bogota, Colombia.

He spoke to M.A. Siraj on issues in urban transportation for The Hindu Habitat while he was in Bangalore recently. Excerpts:

Question: How could cities lay down a sustainable urban transport network?

Answer: For any urban transport system to be sustainable, three aspects must be crucially addressed. The transport system must maintain social equilibrium, it should be economically sustainable and should leave least environmental footprint. In Colombian cities, namely Curitiba and the capital Bogota, we focused on these issues by minimising motorised transport, making cities compact and designing good access. A successful city is one where people feel encouraged to walk or go biking. Further to this, the cities should have high quality public transport, accessibility to their terminals should be possible through bikes and they should improve the technology and operation of public transport to cut down harmful emissions. We at EMBARQ apply these principles wherever we are called upon to plan urban transport.

What features of urban transportation make the experiment in Curitiba and Bogota exceptional?

We started planning the city of Curitiba in the 1960s and meticulous designing went into land use and integrating transport network with the growth of the city. A Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) was put in place and began to operate in 1982. Now 30 per cent of the residents of Curitiba depend upon the BRTS. Bogota needed a high capacity BRTS. In Curitiba, it was carrying 13,000 passengers per hour, per direction. Bogota introduced private-public partnership and it carried 45,000 passengers per hour, per direction. It started in the year 2000 on a 14-km corridor and has now extended up to 108 km and moves two million passengers every day in a city with eight million people. The system has been put in place at a cost of $2 billion. It had the leadership of the then Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa while I conceived the technical design and the government funded the programme. In Bogota 30 per cent of the people depend on BRTS. Though the city has 1.5 million private vehicles, they move only 12 per cent of total trips. The original plan conceived 380 km of BRTS in Bogota and the work is continuing on laying further network.

Though Bogota’s population is moving up by three per cent every year, the mobility is going up by four to five per cent annually. This happens when living standards rise. Since 2007, the authorities have begun introducing Euro-4 buses and eventually plan to replace the fleet with diesel and electric-run buses.

The system operates from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and uses an electronic fare payment system. This is different from others systems around the world. Riders purchase a specific number of trips from a person staffing each location. This creates backups during heavy travel times as many people attempt to purchase trip cards. These cards are then used until the last trip when the card is inserted into the turnstile and recycled for later use.

What does it mean for India?

Bogota is worth emulating. Colombian planners have come to India to work with local planners. The BRTS in Ahmedabad was put in place in coordination with Colombian advice. Other Gujarat cities such as Surat and Rajkot are also replicating the example. Bhopal and Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Hubli-Dharwad BRTS corridor in Karnataka are also being designed after the Colombian experiment. We are also working with the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation.

However, they need to adapt to local context. Indian roads are very constricted. Lane discipline is a huge issue here. Traffic comprises a wide variety of vehicles. Safety of pedestrians too needs to be addressed with due urgency.

Why did the Colombians cities ignore Metro?

One kilometre of BRTS can be put in place at a cost of $ 15 million. Light Rail costs $ 40 million per km. But Metro costs vary from $ 75 to 150 million per km in different conditions depending on the land value, soil condition and cost of material and labour. We were mainly guided by the financial considerations.

How have the pedestrians’ interests been taken care of in the Colombian experiment?

We have built continuous, uninterrupted walkways for pedestrians. We have even put in place 300 km of permanent cycle tracks. We have introduced a public bikeshare system (PBS) on a trial basis in Bogota.

What about last mile connectivity?

Well-lit and well-designed pathways allow and encourage people to walk on feeder routes. Feeder buses provide link to main trunk ways served by BRTS. Cycle parking stands have been provided in terminal stations. In Curitiba, it is very prudent land use that has ensured optimum density for continuous flow of passenger for the BRTS.