A loss on the field, but still the champions of Bus Rapid Transit

Shannon Tracey Headshot

Soccer Team Bus Battle - Brazil Bus Rapid Transit

Here in the United States, we often make comparisons to Europe and Asia when looking for examples of world-class public transportation. But like the World Cup, we shouldn’t overlook the superstars in the global south.

Over the past few weeks, we at TransForm have enviously followed our colleague Chris Lepe’s Facebook feed as he traveled through South America, with the dual purpose of checking out the continent’s sustainability and watching a lot of soccer. 

Chris’s ingenious vacation itinerary wound through Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, where he has watched World Cup matches and rode transit with the locals – and experienced some of the best of both in South American cities.

We’re particularly jealous of his visit to Curitiba, the capital of Brazil’s largest state, whose model Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system has earned the city an international reputation.

June 28: “Just got to our hostel in Curitiba after taking the city’s world renowned bus system. I can’t believe I’m here in the sustainable city of the Americas! Scarcely a male in sight on the buses BTW... everyone is taking the day off here apparently to watch the Brazil vs Chile game!”

As the Senior Community Planner for Silicon Valley, Chris has worked tirelessly for over a decade to bring BRT to San Jose and surrounding cities. Earlier this year, the Silicon Valley reached a huge milestone with the groundbreaking of the very first Bay Area Bus Rapid Transit project on the Santa Clara-Alum Rock corridor.

In contrast, Curitiba pioneered the first BRT system 40 years ago, in 1974. With approximately 75% of commuters using the system daily, its impact on city streets, sustainability, and quality of life is remarkable – something Chris got to experience first-hand.

July 7: “Update from Brazil…Curitiba is as well planned, safe, and clean of a city as you may have heard about. I felt like it was closer to a Scandinavian city than a Latin American one. People were out late at night walking around even in places you would not see in the US such as the botanical gardens. The Bus Rapid Transit system that has helped make the city famous in the transportation planning world, is fast, very well used, and incredibly frequent, even on the weekends.”

Today, at least eight other Brazilian cities have BRT, including São Paolo, South America’s biggest city. Several more are slated to open in 2014. 

Curitiba’s fast, efficient system also inspired cities around the world to create Bus Rapid Transit. Johannesburg, Lahore, Istanbul – these are some of the far-reaching places where Curitiba’s innovative transportation planning inspired BRT systems that serve their diverse needs.

Now, the Bay Area is on the cusp of bringing BRT to our region. Projects like Santa Clara-Alum Rock, Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, and International Boulevard in Oakland are based on the Curitiba concept, offering affordable, frequent bus service scaled to the needs of local communities.

By yesterday, Chris was in São Paolo, close to the end of his adventure and the World Cup. After Brazil’s astonishing loss to Germany in the semi-finals, the mood on the bus must have been less than chipper.

Being the champions of BRT may be a small consolation for Brazil today, but we’re still inspired. At least Brazileños are less likely to be stuck in traffic on the way home from the stadium, work, or school – a benefit we eagerly anticipate as BRT becomes reality in the Bay Area.

We look forward to having Chris back so that by the next World Cup, we too can enjoy BRT – and maybe even make it to the semis – just like Brazil.

Image credit: Still from "Soccer Team Bus Battle - World Cup Brazil 2014" by LunaGames

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.