The Curitiba BRT Model and the case for Baguio City and La Trinidad

The bus rapid transport system of Curitiba, a city in Brazil, is the first case study my class in Urban Services and Infrastructures was introduced to. Its unprecedented success has led cities (including this country although not quite well-cooked) the world over to design their BRT systems using the Curitiba model.

The transport system of Curitiba, developed and progressively modified over a 30-year period beginning 1966 when the city’s master plan was approved, is an example of directing urban growth around an integrated public transport system. The city’s planners opted to use buses because it was the city’s choice of transport in the past apart from it being the most cost effective mode of public transport.

The transport system runs on a triple road system of five arterial structural roads that form the city’s structural growth corridors. Of the 1,100 km road dedicated for the network, 60 km is for buses. The busway system features 1,902 articulated, bi-articulated, and “padron” buses providing daily services to 1.9 commuters on integrated express, feeder, and inter-district lines that are connected by 221 tube stops and 25 transfer terminals. In all, there are 340 routes not including the 28 routes for special education and disabled passengers. Fares are prepaid at tube stations and terminals. Buses are color-coded according to their routes and passengers such as those as school buses and those for the disabled.

The question raised by our professor, a woman Engineer from NEDA-CAR who has lectured internationally, is, will the Curitiba experience work in the Baguio-La Trinidad areas, how, and why. The question is tricky, tempting one into taking an extreme side, that is, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. But those with the complexity of development know that often it is neither. Rather it is about creating scenarios based on local context using the model while keeping the lessons from the model in mind and “see” what emerges. Of course that’s just one among several steps until the emergent local model is finally working. Curitiba did it over a period of several years.

1. For Baguio and La Trinidad, comparatively maturing urban areas, adopting the Curritiba experience in toto entails massive redevelopment that could prove more costly than helpful. Curritiba experience exemplifies what long-term urban planning should be, in that the strategy (i.e. integration of transportation and land use) was conceived and implemented when the city was still young (60s) and relatively unburdened with population-and-development issues. Challenges relative to the current system in Baguio-LT are:

a) One major challenging aspect is the road network as a vital component of the busway system. The Curritiba model works because it is an efficient system, that is, its road network (except for feeder lines) is solely dedicated for buses hence are able to transport commuters to and from their destinations without contesting with other vehicles for road space especially at rush hours. The city of Curitiba does not allow automobiles within the CBD except the buses but only at designated stops on the perimeter of the CBD. Efficiency is excellent customer service from transport systems. In Metro Manila where the BRT is employed to an extent, city buses congest with other vehicles and so buses instead of being the efficient transport it was intended to be (i.e. capacity for mass passenger load, low cost per passenger, fast transport) is suddenly not. (Incidentally, from an urban planner’s and manager’s point of view, traffic in Metro Manila is not the fault of buses but the lack of a busway system and overall a road network design considering the different vehicles (private, mass public transport, etc.), growth of vehicles, and growth areas. The current road design of the metropolitan did not factor in these and with commercial as well as residential infrastructures hugging the roads, expansion has been inadvertently ruled out. What a legacy into the future! Unfortunately, it is the same in Baguio-LT areas and is beginning in the countryside unless land use is planned and regulated starting now.) The current Baguio-LT road network is not exactly supportive of a BRT;

b) Another major challenge is economic in nature. The introduction of buses implies significant reduction or even a total phase out of jeepneys (Baguio and LT roads can’t accommodate the same numerous jeepneys at the same time the buses) that in turn would mean many workers would be without a source of income (the Curitiba model itself was initially met with violent reaction from locals but was resolved partly from residents’ witness of good results) not to mention affecting a secondary industry which is the manufacturers of jeepneys, mechanics, etc. (The issue emerging from this is, has the ubiqutous jeepney a place in economic progress? Well, unless jeepneys are transformed into articulated and bi-articulated “buses” perhaps they would.) In the short term, the challenge especially the economic backlash from “taking away” established economic sources (i.e. jeepneys, school “buses”) from those reliant on these hovers unless the two city governments make compensatory plans for them. This shows that ‘integrated’ include groups and entities affected by the change, and who need to be in there at the discussion table;

c) Another major challenge has to do with local culture. When I was in Cambodia for a short-term project, I noticed buses are absent in bustling urban areas (e.g. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap) and asked my hosts why. Purportedly, the cities’ governments had introduced buses at some point (note: without parallel upgrade in support infrastructures although major roads in these cities are wide, three- to four-laners) but no one got into them because “people could get to where they want to go so much quicker in their bikes and motorbikes.” Eventually the buses were withdrawn from the roads. In Cambodia, apparently, locals travel everywhere in their bikes and motorbikes, grocery bags and even toddlers securely strapped onto the baskets. Applying that here, it is uncertain (without a study about it) if Baguio and La Trinidad residents are keen for buses as daily mode of transport.
 
2. Without significant infrastructure development in the current public transport system, certain features of the Curitiba experience could be replicated locally, such as:

a) Transport from suburbs to strategic points in Baguio-LT CBDs. Texas Instruments utilize a couple of buses (50-seater, clean, quiet ones) to transport its workers to and from Baguio CBD which is the only case of bus transport here apart from the buses of the PMA which are used to transport its workers daily and cadets (Saturdays). The TI buses do not enter the CBD but pick up/drop off passengers on certain points along the city perimeter. Expanding on this, public transport buses could be used for transporting certain groups of commuters particularly workers and students since together these groups make up a significant portion of the city’s commuting public. These buses if going to LT CBD would have to take the longer circumferential route since the shorter route (i.e. via Magsaysay or Bokawkan) is so narrow (makes the public wonder how the road plan was actually approved) and congested all the time. Still, a certain number of other public transport (jeepneys, taxis) would have to be trimmed down (perhaps beginning with franchise owners of smoke belching vehicles who have a consistent or consecutive record with the government transport agency.);

b) Baguio CBD (impossible in the case of LT) particularly Session and Harrison Roads permanently closed to vehicular traffic. Bikes are welcomed. Current traffic on these could be routed onto the perimeter roads (e.g. Kisad, Legarda) and downtown Baguio reverting to the walkable area it once was and still is;

c) Parking on the CBD roads permanently banned, to free up the already very narrow road lanes and clear up the downtown clutter so to speak. This implies the city administrators to work out the long overdue solution to the city parking.

3. With significant infrastructure development in the current public transport system: The BRT in the fullest sense is implementable given a wider geographical area. For Baguio-LT areas, this means the Metro BLISTT area (Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tublay, and Tuba) if the metropolitization pushes through.

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