(This is the second post from Douglas Sharp about Bogotá’s BRT system; to read the first post visit here)

Regardless of Bogotá’s success with its BRT system, San Francisco’s transit needs demand a slightly different approach. For instance, just take a look at San Francisco and Bogotá’s populations:

  • San Francisco: 800,000+ citizens.
  • Bogotá: 7,500,000+ citizens.

Bogotá’s population size and density put it in a different league than San Francisco. While a full-featured BRT system worked well for Bogotá, it may not make sense for many of the current Muni corridors in San Francisco. (That said, we will likely see SF’s first BRT project launch along the Geary Corridor in 2019.)

Still, we would be smart to “borrow” three concepts from Bogotá’s TransMilenio in order to improve San Francisco’s conventional Muni bus system in a meaningful way:

First, the San Francisco Muni could create painted dedicated lanes for the buses. This creates a permanence for the bus spaces that are currently protected only in bus stops by red curbs and white traffic lines, reducing the too-common private automobile invasion of Muni space. Transit times would be reduced as Muni buses, as in Bogotá, would not be subject to the same traffic congestion that private vehicles (and current Muni buses) face. While full curbs are necessary to separate lanes in Bogotá, San Francisco could use the less-costly painted solution.

Curbs separate two TransMilenio bus lanes from automobile and local bus traffic in Bogotá.

Second, the San Francisco Muni could transition to low-floor buses. These buses cost more, but they would reduce station dwell times in that passengers do not have to climb a set of stairs to board the bus, and descend a set of stairs to leave the bus. As seen in Bogotá, reducing dwell times is critical to reducing total transit times. These buses also increase ease of accessibility for elderly and handicapped riders. San Francisco will be using low floor buses on the Geary Street Corridor, but a widespread implementation would benefits for all riders.

A bi-articulated TransMilenio bus unloads at a station. Note how the bus’s floor height matches the station’s floor height.

Third, electronic fare collection could be shifted from the Muni buses to the bus stops. Off-bus fare collection remains critical in Bogotá to further reducing dwell times, and moving the Clipper card readers from the buses to the stations would create a similar effect. Fare evasion would not be significantly impacted in that the Muni system already uses a proof of payment system (versus the TransMilenio’s closed station system, which can create long queues).

A TransMilenio bus arrives at a station. Note the turnstiles and fencing facilitating off-bus fare collection.

Together, these three changes could reduce the transit times for the conventional Muni bus system. This would benefit riders socially, economically, and environmentally in ways that parallel to what the TransMilenio has done for Bogotá.

For more details, view my report in its entirety here.