Curitiba, Brazil’s famous pre-subway alternative

If your city doesn’t quite have the critical mass for a subway system (~1 million people), the City of Curitiba, Brazil literally invented a world-renowned alternative at a time when their population was 750,000. It’s been so successful, they’re still a model for BRT even at their present city population of 1.75 million, 3.25 million in the metro, though its phenomenal growth is finally leaning towards building a subway. The award-winning folks at Streetfilms masterfully captures Curitiba’s system in their video above, Curitiba’s BRT: Inspired Bus Rapid Transit Around the World.

What are its measures of success?
– It’s 2,300,000 daily riders is the same number as the subway system of nearby San Paulo, which is six times the size (city population of 11 million, metro of 22 million).
– 75% of the people commute by the BRT, while 1% do so by bus in Phoenix (that had no light rail system at the time the statistic was provided).
– The BRTs allow four times the normal number of passengers per day of regular bus systems.
– One Curitiba BRT at its normal 36,000 passengers/second rate = subway capacity.

How do they do it?
– An extraordinary leader, former Mayor Jamie Lerner, who is featured in the video above, established the system and the progressive culture that is the hallmark of Curitiba today.
– Double-articulated buses hold up to 300 people.
– Dedicated lanes are strictly for BRT only.
– Passengers pay before entering the bus (see the waiting tube in the image above, the icon of Curitiba’s BRT).
– Passengers boarding at the same level (the waiting tube is raised to match the height of the bus platform).
– Smart traffic lights which prioritize the BRT are to be added.

So what does the future have in store for Curitiba? They realize that more cars in the city is creating congestion and slowing the system down, so there’s a movement to add dedicated bicycle lanes and focus on how to reduce the number of cars in the city instead, something New York City and San Francisco are leading the way on in the U.S.

Who says BRT can’t look cool as well? The one is in Clermont, Australia.

  • Unfortunately it isn’t all roses. Old Curtiba staff involved with BRT implementation have toured the world and made a mint telling municipalities that BRT can be just as efficient as LRT, and and be cheaper. Yet it is far more complex then that, and doesn’t translate well into our North American setting, landuse patterns, and stigma of buses.

    Notably, Curtiba will be building a rail line now too:

    “The upcoming World Cup will help drive this project. Curitiba is the only large capital city in Brazil that does not have a subway system. There is a whole network of people calling for the construction of this subway,” Bottarelli said.

    The rest of this article and more discussion on it can be found at: