For Austin, Wheels in Motion for Bus Rapid Transit by 2014

It’s been a little over two years since MetroRail debuted as Austin’s urban rail. Following a trend that started in Latin America and has spread throughout the world, Austin says it is preparing to break ground on a high-capacity rapid bus. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is coming to Austin.

Thanks in large part to Department of Transportation grant that will fund 80% of the project, construction of a two-route, $47.6 million rapid-bus system known as MetroRapid will begin this fall. The FTA’s Very Small Starts program will cover some 80 percent $47.6 million total cost.

Capital Metro says MetroRapid can anticipate at least 20,000 daily boardings after the service opens. Plans include two high-capacity, rapid bus lines that would run north-south across the city for a total of 37.5 miles. The North Lamar Boulevard/South Congress Avenue line will run for a total of 21 miles from Tech Ridge Park and Ride to Southpark Meadows. The Burnet/South Lamar Boulevard will total 16 miles and will run from North Austin Medical Center to Westgate Transit Center.


Like other BRT systems, MetroRapid will feature sleek, modern buses that are more efficient and have greater passenger amenities on the bus and at the station that a standard bus. MetroRapid’s fleet will consists of 60 accordion-style buses is expected to run at intervals of 10-15 minutes from 5am to 1am – much shorter than anything Austinites are used to.

The buses would arrive by 2014, and the lines would open after completion of 70 stations that would be located every mile or so, on both sides of the street. Each of these “Enhanced Bus Stops” with a bench, system map, standard route sign and a real-time digital display of anticipated arrival times.

Austins’s far from the only city in North America looking to BRT. In Texas alone, both San Antonio and El Paso
expect to open their own BRT systems within the next 1-3 years.

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11 Urban Railways in Brazil

South America’s largest country is home to a new crop of projects designed to promote urban mobility in advance of the World Cup in 2014. Indeed, Brazil’s cities have are home to a new generation of subway, commuter rail, light rail and monorail projects.

1. São Paulo – Known simply as the “Metro” to commuters, the Metropolitano São Paulo consists of five lines, 63 stations and carries 3,600,000 passengers a day. The system, opened in 1974, is modern and the largest in South America in terms of ridership, it’s 61km is not considered sufficient for a city of over 16 million. New lines and stations have been built in advance of the World Cup in 2014. Additionally, the Metro connects to a commuter rail known as the the CPTM (Companhi Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (CPTM) that serves the greater São Paulo area that was completed in 1992. Together, the two systems carry 5.2 million people each day.

2. Rio de Janeiro – Founded in 1979, Metrô Rio is a partially underground railway that carries 580,000 commuters each day – or 5% of commuters. The second-largest rail network in Brazil, it covers 47km and is divided into two lines and 25 stations. A condition of being awarded the Olympics, the metro is currently undergoing a massive expansion that aims to increase ridership to 1,100,000 a day by 2016. Additionally, the 8-line commuter rail called SuperVia. which carries an additional 510,000 passengers each day, is being upgraded as well.

3. Belo Horizonte – The Metrô de Belo Horizonte consists of one above-ground line that carries 145,000 passengers. Construction began on its first of 19 stations in 1981 and commercial service in 1986. However, the vast majority of BH’s 5.5 million inhabitants, rely on buses and taxis.

4. Brasília – Commissioned in 2001, the Metrô de Brasília is the two-line and 29-station urban rail system that carries 150,000 passengers daily. Construction began in 2009 on a Light Rail Transit (LRT) extension connecting downtown to the airport in hopes it will be completed by 2014.

5. Porto Alegre – The Metrô de Porto Alegre began operation in 1985. It began as a commuter rail built to serve Porto Alegre’s northern suburbs, and still only consists of one line and 17 stations. Commonly called the “trem,” the system carries some 130,000 commuters daily and covers 33.5km of track.

6. Recife – The Metrô do Recife is a rapid transit system consisting of two lines, 29 stations and serving 210,000 people each day. Recife’s metro began operation in 1985, and will be the second largest metro in Brazil after São Paulo.

7. Teresina – The single-line Metrô de Teresina is the smallest urban rail system in Brazil and has been in operation since 1990. The 9 stations and 13.5 miles of track carry up to 20,000 people on an average day.

8. Cariri – Adjacent to Fortaleza in northeast Brazil, the Metrô do Cariri is an above-ground light rail system that carries 1,000 daily. The single-line system consists of 9 stations and 13.6km of track, and was completed in 2010.

9. Maceió (under construction)The Metropolitano de Maceió is a single-line light rail system that will connect Maceió to its northern suburbs.

10. Fortaleza (under construction) – Currently under construction, the Metrô de Fortaleza is rapid transit system and is expected to be completed in mid-2012. The two-line light rail system will consist of 43 miles of track between the cities of Fortaleza, Caucaia, Marazion and Pacatuba. When all stages are completed after 2014, the “Metrofor” is expected to transport up to 700,000 each day.

11. Salvador (under construction) – Projected to begin operation in 2012, the Metrô de Salvador consists of two lines and 19 stations.

Lima’s New Metro System

Among Latin America’s capital cities, public transportation (or the lack thereof) is by far the worst. The first public transportation system in at least thirty years are up and running now, and change is in the air.

The long-awaited Lima Metro system is now a reality. Known to locals as the “Tren Eléctrico,” it will first connects central Lima to the southern part of the city. Line 1 consists of 16 stations and 22km of mostly elevated rail that, two weeks after opening, carries 140,000 passengers each day. There are plans for 11 more stations and, eventually, four additional lines planned that will supposedly run throughout the city by 2025. While Line 1 is elevated, planners suggest Lines 2-5 will be underground. Construction began President Alan Garcia’s first administration in 1987, but was suspended due to chronic corruption, mismanagement and an enormous $100m budget shortfall.

In addition to rail, Lima also opened a Bus Rapid Transit Construction (BRT) system in 2010 known as the Metropolitano. Inspired by Bogotá’s successful Transmilenio system, it used by 370,000 commuters daily. There are plans to open a east-west line known as Metropolitan II next year.

Both developments are most welcome to Lima, no doubt, but remain limited in scope. The question is what comes next. Because the Metro and Metropolitano are overseen by two different authorities, plans for expansion compete and overlap. What is needed is a single authority that will decide whether the priority should be further BRT lines, or if Lima should build an underground subway system in the spirit of Buenos Aires or Mexico City.

A Note on Vancouver’s Skytrain

Vancouver. Wow. I could write pages about this city, but I wanted to just very briefly mention the public transportation system there – specifically the Skytrain – the rapid light transit system serving Metro Vancouver.

Skytrain of Vancouver

Its name may evoke the 1980s, but the Skytrain is the most effective light rail/monorail system I’ve seen so far:

  • Lines: 3 (Expo, Millennium and Canada); 1 planned
  • Daily Ridership: 406,300
  • Stations and Track Length: 47 Stations; 46.7 km of track
  • Frequency: 2.7 min (peak); 6-8 min (off-peak)
  • Began Operation: Dec., 1, 1985

It’s fully automated trains running on grade-separate tracks, mostly on elevated guideways, except in the downtown area. I would like investigate this in greater detail, as I think there are lessons for other North American cities (ahem, Austin). But for now I will leave you with a few pictures of the Skytrain.