Thursday, June 9, 2011

Five Mysteries about Transmilenio


TM buses in San Victorino. Why can't it be better?

Bogotá's Transmilenio is a pretty good system. Cheaper and faster to build than a subway, bus rapid transit is also more flexible to operate. Today, TM covers much more of Bogotá than would an underground alternative. And - soon, hopefully - Bogotá will have two more TM lines, along Calle 26 and Carrera 10.

Here, however, are several perplexing, infuriating aspects of TM, which I've never comprehended:
(Thanks to Alex Hutchinson for suggestions)

Why doesn't TM operate on natural gas?

Not for Bogotá buses?
Bogotá has a pollution problem and Colombia has lots of clean-burning natural gas. The city is even encouraging private vehicles to convert to natural gas, which also happens to be cheaper. So, why don't TM buses use natural gas?

I've heard various rationalizations for the use of diesel, none of which sound very convincing. Someone suggested that the very large gas tanks might lend themselves to terrorist attacks. But I've never heard of this happening anywhere, and the diesel buses' tanks, which are pretty big, have never been used that way.

Natural gas engines also have less power than diesel ones do. But TM's routes are pretty flat. And Medellin is incorporating natural gas buses - despite its hills.

But, as long as TM continues to use diesel, can't they at least enforce pollution laws, pretty please?

A belching TM bus along Jimenez Ave. gases pedestrians. 


Directing traffic while trying not to breathe along polluted and chaotic Carrera 10, which will soon have a TM line. But how much cleaner will it be?

Why don't they put bike racks at every station?

What's so hard about this?
A bike rack at a train station
in Stevenage, England.
A few TM stations have huge bicycle parking lots, which are great. Others have expensive parking lots which are barely used. Why not have a simple, practical bike parking rack at every station? This is particularly inexplicable because Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who started the express bus system, is a bicyclist.

Sure, there'd be a danger of theft. But bicyclists would understand that they were parking at their own risk.


A sophisticated, expensive and little-used bike parking building  near Las Aguas TM station. 
No place to park. A cyclist pases San Victorino TM station, which has no bicycle parking.
Why don't they put route maps on the walls inside buses?

It's on the Internet. Why not inside buses, too?¿
Wouldn't this simple convenience be a big help for passengers planning their journeys?

Why don't they sell multiple tickets at a discount?

Faster by the dozen? Passengers
line up to by tickets, many one at a time.
All over the world, just about anything you buy, from eggs to airplanes, is cheaper by the dozen - except for TM tickets! The long lines outside stations would be lots shorter, saving passengers time and TM labor costs, if tickets were cheaper when bought in large quantities.

I once asked a TM official this question. He told me they'd tried it, but as a result people had bought the multiple tickets and resold them individually for a small profit (Similar to the minuto sellers all over Colombia). And so what? These resellers were doing a service for TM and for its passengers.

Why don't TM buses get priority at intersections?

TM buses waiting at a light on Caracas Ave. 
The basic principle of an express bus is that, thanks to dedicated lanes, it doesn't have to stop...except at intersections. In many other cities, buses also receive priority at intersections, where the lights might turn green for an oncoming bus a few seconds earlier, or remain green a few seconds longer for a bus to pass thru. This means lots of time savings for lots of people for a relatively low cost.

Green light means go? Not for these TM buses blocked at Carrera 10.
And, while they're at it, why don't they also fine vehicles which stop inside intersections, just as is done all over the world.

While planners debate expensive issues like what do on on Ave. Septima and whether or not to build a metro system, some cheap, quick changes could do lots to make Bogotá's mass transit faster and more convenient.


Not in Bogotá?
And, while we're on the subject of transit and traffic jams, can anybody explain why Bogotá doesn't have a car pooling program, with car pool lanes?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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