Curitiba is a prime example of how a city can address the challenges of suddenly increasing burdens on its urban systems. A wave of internal migration from the poor, rural northeast in the 1950s and 60s caught authorities unawares. The city experienced some of the highest population growth in Brazil. Services, particularly urban transport, went into a tail spin.
Curitiba came up with innovative solutions, including an urban Master Plan, incorporating a consolidated public transportation system. City planning and transport went hand-in-hand. Straight avenues linking the suburbs to the centre were designed to attract dense residential and commercial areas, served by frequent buses.
Today Curitiba has the highest rate of public transport use in Brazil, at 45 per cent of all journeys. The bus system, cheaper and more flexible than rail, remains at the heart of the Curitiba ideal. Express bus lanes parallel two local roads and the system carries an average of 2.4 million passengers every day. There is only one price no matter how far you travel and you pay at the bus stop. This is a novelty in Brazil where most cities use a turnstile within the bus itself. Private companies run the system with a flat charge of R$2.20 (about 82p) – the fifth most expensive system in Brazil - with subsidies from the government.
The layout and positioning of the most dense urban areas close to the bus network and the business district mean metropolitan Curitiba has a low annual average carbon dioxide (CO2) emission of 4.2 tonnes per light vehicle. More sprawling Brasilia, Brazil’s other great planned city, emits 6.2 tonnes per light vehicle, according to Fernanda Magalhaes at the Inter-American Development Bank. Overall, she says the Federal District emits 46 per cent more CO2 emissions than denser, more transit oriented Curitiba.
Curitiba has other plans in development. The Green Line, inaugurated in 2009, provides dedicated bus lanes, enabling buses to operate efficiently even in peak hours, as well as cycle and pedestrian lanes. So far, just 9.2 kilometres have been completed as the overall project needs to be properly licensed. The city is also working to modernise its fleet of buses so that vehicles will use only soy-based fuel and a subway is scheduled to open ahead of the 2014 World Cup, when Curitiba is a host city although critics say the system is limited.
Despite these innovations, Curitiba is suffering from the same growing demand for cars as the rest of Brazil. Today, the city has more cars per head than any other Brazilian state capital, according to Algaci Túlio, a city councilor and former deputy for the state of Paraná.
In 2008, Curitiba had an index of 606.92 cars per 1,000 inhabitants compared to Brasilia’s 402.51, for example. That is partly because the city is one of Brazil’s wealthiest.
THE CHALLENGE CONTINUES
Streets are starting to get badly clogged, slowing down buses, and the city needs to find ways to prioritize buses through the traffic, believes Tulio. “The Green Line needs to have proper access via pedestrian crossings”, he adds. In a recent study by the Federal University of Paraná, a full 75 per cent of users of the articulated buses believed the system was poor or average with just 23 per cent approving of it, he says. “There has been a loss of innovation in public management and the municipal administration is resigned,” he believes.
Rapid bus transport is a cheap and revolutionary way of improving transport in clogged Latin cities and has caught the eye of urban planners everywhere. The system is the source of inspiration for the famous TransMilenio in Bogotá, the best-known scheme. It is also being used in Ecuador’s second city Guayaquil, as well as in Guatemala City, Los Angeles and Panama City.
Indeed, the Latin American Association for Bus Rapid Transit and Integrated Transport Systems was held for the first time last year and no prizes for guessing in which pioneering Brazilian city.