Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Eco-friendly bus rides for Mexico

We’ve all ridden traditional city busses at one time or another. Passengers board them from the sidewalk. One-by-one passengers climb three or four steps to get on board, and then remember “Oh yes, I have to pay for this ride” and search for the proper change. Upon alighting they get off equally slow, one-by-one.

All that time the expensive piece of transportation equipment — the bus — is standing still at a bus stop creating traffic congestion.

The Brazilian city of Curitiba, famous for its environmental innovations, came up with a better – and counter-intuitive — idea. Why have buses travel in the curbside lane when with equal ease the left-hand lane of boulevards could be the designated bus lane?

Furthermore, why not have passengers board from platforms the same height of the floor of the bus so they can just step on board? Since access to the platform can be controlled, collect the passengers’ bus fare on the ramp leading to the platform before the bus even arrives. Since the driver does not need to see if people pay, the whole side of the bus can open up as on a subway car.

Mexico City is one of the cities that copied Curidiba’s innovation, naming the transportation system with fire-engine-red busses the Metrobus. Now entering its tenth year of operation, the first Metrobus line was built during the Lopez Obrador administration (2000-2006) to run the length of Insurgentes Avenue.

In Mexico, buses and taxis give the impression of being owned by a company since they are identically painted. In reality they are usually independently owned, though often affiliated to “routes”. It was a major breakthrough by López Obrador’s administration to remove and scrap hundreds of privately owned buses running on Insurgentes Avenue and replace them with the new environmentally-friendly buses owned by a government controlled company.

To do so without conflict, the city carried out a census of those whose economic livelihood was dependent on bus transportation on Insurgentes Avenue.

Drivers were offered retraining and mechanics were offered technical school studies to learn how to repair the brand new diesel engines. With the city holding 51% of the shares, owners of buses that had plied Insurgentes were offered the opportunity to purchase the 49% of shares that would remain private – paying for some of the value of the shares with the proceeds from bonuses for their scrapped buses.

The Insurgentes Avenue line reduces carbon monoxide emissions along that corridor by 60,000 to 80,000 tons a year. This is from replacing older, more polluting busses, reducing traffic congestions, and encouraging city residents to leave their cars at home and ride a clean, efficient, and dependable bus system.

With four additional lines added under Marcelo Ebrard’s administration (2006-2012), the Metrobus now reduces carbon emissions by 110,000 tons per year.

Under the Kyoto Protocol rules, countries that measurably reduce pollution that benefit all of humanity are due some compensation and can sell carbon reduction credits on international markets. Mexico receives financial compensation for reducing pollution with the Metrobús.

The Curidiba-type bus lines — now classified world-wide as BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) systems — are much more appropriate for developing economies than underground subway systems. Not only can they be built for a fraction of the cost of subways, their planning-to-completion times is less than five years compared to ten to fifteen for a subway. Even U.S. cities like Cleveland, Ohio are implementing BRT lines.

Metrobúses travel in a designated lane. Don’t get caught driving in it—you’ll pay a hefty fine and lose your car overnight.

By pacing the buses four to five minutes apart there is no reason for buses to pull out into other lanes to overtake a slow bus ahead. To double passenger capacity each bus tows a second car. To increase capacity even more they experimented with each bus pulling two trailers but instead settled on having two busses, each with a trailer, occupying a time slot.

Metrobús’ fare of 6 pesos per ride is paid with a card the size of a credit card — purchased from a vending machine.

With card in hand passengers may add as many fares as they wish to their card. By holding the card up to an electronic-reader they gain access to the boarding platform.

The card’s memory allows for free transfers to other lines within two hours of initiating a ride.

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