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Making Buses Cool Again
Joe Romm, 21 Jul 09
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Transportation is responsible for roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means that bold changes in transportation policies—for both the developed and developing world—must be part of solving the climate crisis. The trick is to curb the world’s emissions—from industry as well as transportation—without preventing poor countries from developing and lifting their people out of poverty. The New York Times recently highlighted a promising mass transportation solution that could help make this possible: bus rapid transit, or BRT. This mode of transportation, which works like an above-ground subway, is already helping reduce emissions and fight poverty around the world, and could do even more if it gets a boost from the U.N. treaty in Copenhagen this December.

BRT puts long, sleek buses on exclusive lanes protected by physical barriers. In well-designed systems such as Bogotá’s, the buses stop at enclosed, elevated stations. Passengers pay their fare before boarding. These features—along with clear route maps, feeder buses, and free transfers between lines—allow BRT to achieve the speed, capacity, and reliability of a subway at a fraction of the cost. The idea has been around for decades, but has only gained momentum since the triumph of Bogotá’s TransMilenio. Good planning, rather than novel technology, is the key to a successful BRT.

BRT reduces smog and traffic. Bogotá’s TransMilenio has made Colombia’s sprawling and chaotic capital city much more livable: A 40-percent drop in air pollutants was reported in the first year of the system’s use, and average travel times were 32 percent shorter.

The system also reduces greenhouse gases by introducing fewer, cleaner buses and coaxing people from their cars. By removing 7,000 small private buses, TransMilenio has allowed Bogotٔá to reduce its emissions by more than 59 percent since the system’s opening in 2001. And BRT could cut nearly three times more emissions than light rail powered by coal-based electricity.

It’s cost effective, as well. BRT is much cheaper than subways and faster to install. This makes it an attractive option for booming cities in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East facing massive transportation problems.

Bogotá’s system is a flagship and a model for cities worldwide because of its excellent planning and implementation and its success in helping to lift the city out of poverty. BRT systems are now under construction in all of Colombia’s major cities and around the world: Sixty-three systems are operating on six continents, and 93 more are being planned. Notable BRT cities include Jakarta, Istanbul, Mexico City, Johannesburg, and Beijing.

Massive deployment of BRTs, where appropriate, could be part of the answer to avoiding catastrophe while ending poverty. Globalemissions linked to transportation are set to double by 2030. Eighty percent of this growth will come from the developing world, where major cities are already struggling to provide mobility to their exploding populations. The global climate treaty that will be hammered out in Copenhagen must confront this problem in addition to addressing energy generation, efficiency, and deforestation.

The treaty could finance the massive planning and construction that will be needed to expand BRTs through carbon offsets. In fact, Bogotá’s BRT was recently the first transportation project to receive funding through the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM. Under the CDM, industries in the developing world that manage to reduce their emissions receive credits that they can sell to polluters in industrialized countries looking to reduce their footprint. Bogotá will be selling 250,000 tons of CO2 equivalent to the government of the Netherlands in the coming years. This offset scheme could be a way for developed countries to meet emissions caps, as is currently being proposed to fund anti-deforestation efforts.

Thankfully, China and India—the two major emitters in the developing world—seem to be embracing such a technology. More than 30 projects are being implemented or studied in China alone. Their robust adoption of this and other efficient mass transport solutions will be critical.

But there’s no good reason why industrialized countries shouldn’t also consider BRTs as they look for ways to decarbonize their transportation systems. BRTs are cheap and could be deployed rapidly where appropriate. Most of the barriers to bringing them here are political—unsurprisingly, they face stiff opposition from the car industry. Still, the Obama administration and local communities across the country should take a hard look at this emerging solution. Electric cars are good, but fewer cars are even better.

This article originally appeared in Climate Progress

Photo source AP/Fernando Vergara

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Ah, I thought this might be an article about the Nourish(meant) project. It's causing quite a stir in Charlottesville, VA.
They're refitting a school bus to be biodiesel, putting a green roof on top, fitting a kitchen inside, and travelling the country growing and sharing food. Kind of a nice mix of bright green and dark green I think.

Posted by: Lyle Solla-Yates on 21 Jul 09

Implementation of BRT system in India, where we face a regular traffic jams due to heavy vehicular movement inturn heavy pollutions and emission of hazardous gases, will serve time saving as well as saving in fuel consumption.

We need to have support to implement these projects. Can any body guide us.

Posted by: Narasimham on 21 Jul 09

It is imperative that information like this somehow be placed, broadly, before the American people, and I'm not just speaking of BRT and its established potential for fighting human induced climate change. I submit that the more important aspect of this article to get in front of the average American, at least in terms of potential to motivate, may be its mention that other nations, especially China and India, are well along in their investments in BRT as part of their efforts to address climate change, while the U. S. of A. is largely and, as usual, asleep at the wheel.

My thought is that Americans, in general, simply do not appreciate the seriousness, the potential for harm, of human induced climate change. Attribute it to complacency, self absorption, preference to remain ignorant; whatever the reason, Americans in large part simply aren't concerned, let alone motivated to action.
The question, then, is what can be done to motivate the masses, to get them sufficiently interested to cause their political leaders to do something meaningful, like developing intelligent policy addressing climate change.

The key may be to thoroughly and promptly educate them regarding the measures to combat climate change being taken by other nations, especially those nations perceived as economic competitors or potential enemies. Historically, this technique has been a hugely successful motivator of the American people.

We need look no farther than our so called "space race" with Russia to appreciate the motivational potential of a real, or trumped up, competition with another nation state. This technique is especially likely to succeed if it can be shown that the Chinese, the Indians and, most of all, the Russians, are getting the jump on us Americans. And here is the best part, and the worst. They ARE getting the jump on us, at least in part.

Those wishing to forestall meaningful action against climate change by this country continue tell us that, for the U. S. to adopt serious climate change measures absent similar commitments by China and India, is ill advised. Folks, they are lying to us, in two ways.

First, to effectively address the problem, one of the major offending nations will have to commit. There must be a leader and it is logical that America be that leader. If the U. S. jumps in and gets the edge on the other big emissions offenders, the others will be required to follow. To succeed economically, they simply will not be able to remain uncommitted. So says Tom Friedman and, in this matter, he is right on.

Secondly, and here's what I've been talking about, the truth that the obstructionists conveniently leave out of their pitch is that these nations, especially China, are making genuine progress in addressing climate change. Yes, they continue to emit huge amounts of pollution (still nowhere near our own level of emissions) but they also are establishing progressive policy and taking specific measures to combat atmosheric pollution. All this goes largley unreported by the media and certainly is not mentioned by those wishing to preserve the status quo.

Bottom line, make the American people aware of what the other nations of the world community are doing, especially our real and perceived competitors, and we just may see the American people get motivated to green. Just like Gene Wilder exclaimed after reading his grandfather's journal entitled "How I Did It" in his role as "Young Frankenstein", "It could work!"

Posted by: Austintatious on 22 Jul 09

Actually, here in New York, the biggest opposition to BRT has come from "local communities" - or at least their car-driving leaders, and business owners afraid to lose parking spaces.

Posted by: Cap'n Transit on 22 Jul 09

It's worth noting that there really isn't a complete and fully-realized BRT system in the USA. The Los Angeles Orange Line is close, but mixes with traffic on both ends and has insufficient priority at its many signalized crossings. For "first world" cities, Brisbane, Australia is probably the most advanced and least compromised example. See for example here:

Posted by: Jarrett at on 22 Jul 09

I live in Los Angeles and the Orange Line (our BRT sorta) hasn't been that helpful. I usually just opt for a car since the Orange Line tends to take quite a while. Guess they need to work on the "rapid" part of BRT.

Posted by: Lake on 23 Jul 09

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