Jaime Lerner wants to give the bus a makeover. The former mayor of the Brazilian city of Curitiba, population 1.7 million, beats the drum worldwide for BRT (“bus rapid transit”) systems, which transform dowdy bus lines into sleek transportation networks. All it takes, Lerner says, are a few relatively simple modifications—dedicated lanes in the center of the street where transit vehicles run unimpeded, “boarding tubes” where passengers pay fares before their bus arrives, and curb-level entries so they board and exit quickly—and a hefty dose of political will. Today more than 60 cities worldwide—including Seoul, South Korea, with 10.3 million residents—have some version of a BRT. Sierra sat down with Lerner to talk about his experience in Curitiba, the future of public transportation, and the health of cities that depend on it.
Sierra: What about light rail, which many U.S. cities are considering?
Lerner: Light rail is sometimes 10 to 20 times more expensive than a BRT, and it takes more time to implement. But it’s much better than a subway. When you have time and money and are able to subsidize the system, light rail is OK. But when you have to subsidize every ticket, you’re taking money from other social investments. That’s the main issue. You can have a BRT system that’s as good as an underground or light rail, and it pays for itself.
BRT is a fascinating concept, and the interview is well worth reading. There’s more on the site of the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center.