»Every City Can Improve its Quality of Life.«

Jaime Lerner, the famous father of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, talks about its global success.


Jaime Lerner, the famous father of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, talks about its global success.


Mr. Lerner, how do you get around in your hometown of Curitiba?
I am lucky, since I live right in front of my office, so I have a seven-meter commute. The house where my institute is in used to be my own house, which I built in the 1950s. When I retired from politics, my late wife wanted to live in a place with a view, so we moved into an apartment building across the street. But I do travel a lot to give speeches and advise other cities – next week, for example, I am going to Montreal, London, and New York.

You laid the groundwork for the BRT system. Have people in Curitiba changed their mobility patterns because of this network?
About 45 years ago, Curitiba had around 600,000 people. Today there are 1.75 million inhabitants. Common wisdom held that when a city approaches one million people, it should have a subway system. But we didn’t have money, nor could we get loans, so we started to think what else we could do in terms of modern mass transport: something that runs fast, with fewer stops and very frequently. The quality of the system was key – not having to wait for the next ride. We realized we should try to build such a system on the surface. There were many options: build dedicated lanes or have the buses stop less often, not every 400 meters. The boarding had to be fast and you should have to wait no more than one minute. So why not build boarding tubes that made it look and feel more like a subway ride and made getting on and off the bus fast and easy? That idea was the seed for the bus system we began debating in 1968, and it was officially launched in 1974. We had 25,000 passengers a day back then, but through all those years we have improved and expanded it. Today, Curitiba’s BRT system transports 2.5 million passengers a day and it pays for itself – no subsidies!

Jaime Lerner and Mercedes-Benz next author Steffan Heuer in the Brazilian city of Curitiba.

Why do you think this concept took off around the world so that there are 120 BRT systems in operation?
It’s helpful to compare such a bus network to the oldest subway system in world, the Tube in London, which was built in the 1850s. The city of London is much, much bigger and the system is much more evolved, but it transports only three million people a day. That means a lot when a city today thinks about how to build a public transport system. Being successful is not about the money, but how to transform a problem into a solution: to build a good equation of co-responsibility. The bus system here was designed to be a public-private initiative, since we needed 300 million dollars for the fleet. They city would invest in the routes, the private companies would invest in the fleet, and the city would pay them by the kilometer. That concept must look attractive, since there are now 120 cities around the world with a BRT system, including Mexico City, Seoul, Istanbul, Bogotá, and Guangzhou.

Many cities in Brazil are trying to get funding for new subway lines for the crowds expected for the World Cup in 2014.
That’s honestly a stupid idea. It doesn’t help if you have just one or half a subway line. You need a good complete system. There are few subway systems in the world that can offer what a BRT system does: quick boarding, high frequency. The secret of mobility is to never have different systems compete in the same space. They have to be complementary. A subway system, for example, is only useful if it is integrated with a good surface system. In some cases, you don’t need to build a subway, since it’s 50 to 100 times more expensive and takes a lot of time. A BRT system can be built in three or five years instead of spending 20 years on one single line. Let’s take New York. They have been discussing adding a Second Avenue line for 50 years. If they finally start construction, it will take 20 years to be ready. That’s 70 years and four billion dollars, and this line will not transport more passengers than a busy express bus line on our system. You can have a surface line in three years and with one percent of the investment.

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What do you think about BRT systems in other cities, for instance the ones in Nantes and Istanbul?
I naturally have not seen all other BRT systems around the world, since there are so many. Some have a good concept and are well operated, like Mexico City, others like the one in São Paulo don’t work that well. The key thing is to realize that transportation is not an expertise in itself, it’s part of city planning. If you try to build a city just for optimized transport, its not going to be a good city. A living city is not the sum of its roads and tracks.

CURRICULUM VITAE


Jaime Lerner

+++ Brazilian architect and urban planner, born in 1937 +++ lives and works in Curitiba, capital of the state of Paraná +++ served as the city’s mayor for three terms and state governor for two terms +++ father of the world’s first Bus Rapid Transit or BRT system (Rede Integrada de Transporte/RIT) introduced in 1974 +++ has been recognized with numerous awards, most recently the Leadership in Transport Award by the International Transport Forum at the OECD in 2011 and the Globe Sustainable City Award in 2010 +++ founder and director of the Instituto Jaime Lerner and Jaime Lerner Associated Architects, an architecture and urban planning firm with 20 employees that advises clients worldwide +++ participated in the Symposium of China Bus Rapid Transit Initiative in Shanghai in 2005 to promote BRT systems in China +++ author of several books, among them Acupuntura Urbana (2003) +++

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InterviewSteffan HEUER

PhotographyRafael DABUL

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Published
6. January 2012

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Comments

1 Comment for “»Every City Can Improve its Quality of Life.«


Neo Lekutle


To who it may concern,
The article “Every city can improve its quality of life” is an absolutely brilliant one. It offers lessons that are applicable at global level.

Thank you.

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