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The Rio Olympics Public Transport Legacy

Much ink was spilt in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on a range of organisational deficiencies around the games. While this is an Olympic staple – bored sports journalists drumming up stories in advance of the kick-off about whether the host city is in fact ready for the event – the coverage has been particularly virulent around the 2016 Summer Olympics.

One central tenet of this coverage has been the purported focus on public transport investment in the relatively affluent Zona Sul (South Zone) of the city to the detriment of the much poorer Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone). This narrative focuses on the Olympic legacy being conflated with Line 4 of the Metrô do Rio (Rio Metro) from Ipanema to Barra de Tijuca, a fast growing affluent part of the city.

But does this hype about the undoubted inequalities in Rio de Janeiro being mirrored in the transport investment for the games and the 2014 World Cup match the reality? Unlike most non-Brazilian sports journalists, I speak Portuguese so I thought I would dig a little deeper into this question.

But to kick off, here’s a quick primer on Rio de Janeiro’s public transport system. The ridership backbone of the system, as in most cities, is the humble bus, operated under the umbrella of Rio Ônibus, whose four constituent private consortia are contracted by the city to provide bus service.  And the backbone of this backbone is the so-called Quentão (big hottie) non-air-conditioned bus – pictured below.

Quentão Rio
Typical Rio de Janeiro Quentão bus. By court degree all buses have to be air-conditioned by December 2016 but it remains to be seen if all of Rio’s 8,266 buses are air-conditioned by this date. Photo credit: Guilherme Pinto

The 440 municipal bus lines carry 6,671,000 passengers daily or roughly two billion trips annually. 29.52% of all main mode trips in Rio de Janeiro are on municipal buses, with an additional 7.88% (1,781,000 passengers) on intermunicipal buses.

The Metrô do Rio (Rio Metro) carries 625,205 passengers daily or 228.2 million annual trips on a 58 kilometre network. The Metro is the main mode for 2.94% of trips.

Metrô do Rio train. Photo credit: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz. Creative Commons 3.0 licence.

Supervia is the commuter rail network connecting Rio de Janeiro to the outlying communities of the Baixada Fluminense. It carries 620,000 passengers daily or 152 million annual trips on a 252 kilometre network. 2.51% of main mode trips are by commuter rail.

Supervia train. Photo credit: Clarice Castro. Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

Ferries, operated by CCR Barcas, provide transport to Niterói as well as to the island of Paquetá and Cocotá on the Ilha do Governador. They carry 105,000 passengers per day or 29 million annual rides. 0.46% of main mode trips are by ferry.

Estação das Barcas, Niterói. Photo credit: Rafael Max. Creative Commons 3.0 licence.

Now back to the reason for this post: What was promised in public transport investment for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics? What was actually delivered? And what difference did it make to the mobility of the average Carioca (resident of Rio)?

Rio de Janeiro Rapid Transit Network. Map source: Maximilian Dörrbecker. Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

There were six major public transport projects intended to be delivered as part of the legacy public transport infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics with an extensive Bus Rapid Transit network, known as the High Performance Transportation Ring, made up of four corridors at its core, covering 150 route-kilometres and able to transport 1.7 million daily passengers. These projects are:

  • Metrô Line 4.
  • TransCarioca BRT.
  • TransBrasil BRT.
  • TransOlímpica BRT.
  • TransOeste BRT.
  • Light rail network.

Metrô Line 4 links estação General Osório, in Ipanema in the Zona Sul (South Zone) (where it connects with Line 1 of the Metrô), to estação Jardim Oceânico in Barra da Tijuca in the Zona Oeste (West Zone) of the city. It opened on the 30th of July 2016 for Olympic-related travel only and is scheduled to open to the public only after the completion of the Paralympic Games on the 17th of September 2016. In future, it is planned to extend the line eastward to the city centre  with intermediate stations in Jardim BotânicoHumaitá  and Laranjeiras and westward to Recreio dos Bandeirantes. It cost R$ 8.5 billion ($US2.66 billion) to construct.

The four Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors below each either run or are planned to run in dedicated right-of-ways separated from traffic with a pattern of all-stops and express services fed by a extensive network of feeder buses. Fares are pre-paid off board through the use of smart cards.

TransCarioca BRT runs between Terminal Alvorada in Barra da Tijuca and the international airport in Galeão. Its route covers 39 kilometres with 45 stations.  It opened just before the World Cup in 2014 and carries 230,000 passenger per day. End-to-end public transport travel times dropped by 60%. It cost R$ 1.833 billion ($US574 million) to construct.

TransBrasil BRT began construction in 2015 and is planned to connect Deodoro via Avenida Brasil with the city centre and onwards to Santos Dumont Airport with 28 stations. Its estimated budget is R$1.3 billion ($US407 million).

TransOlímpica BRT links Barra da Tijuca and Recreio dos Bandeirantes to Magalhães Bastos and Deodoro covering 26km with 18 stations. It opened on the 9th of July 2016 for Olympic-related travel only and is scheduled to open to the public after the Olympics on the 22nd of August 2016. It cost R$2.2 billion ($US689 million) to construct.

TransOeste BRT links estação Jardim Oceânico in Barra da Tijuca (where it connects to Line 4 of the Metro) to Santa Cruz and Campo Grande. It opened in 2012 and carries 200,000 passengers per day. End-to-end public transport travel times were reduced by 50 per cent – and a whopping 65 per cent for the express service pattern – with an average trip reduction of 40 minutes per passenger. At peak, it is carrying 17,000 passengers per hour, above its design maximum of 15,000 passengers per hour and is struggling with capacity issues at peak times. It cost R$900 million ($US282 million) to construct.

The Light Rail Network‘s first stage opened on the 5th of June 2016. Its primary function is internal circulation in the city centre, linking the Zona Portuária (Port Zone), financial district and cultural corridor, and to connect the various transport terminals – Santos Dumont Airport, the ferry terminal at Praça XV, the Central do Brasil commuter rail station and the Rodovíaria Novo Rio intermunicipal and interstate  bus terminal – to one another and to the Rio Metro. It cost R$ 1.167 billion ($US365 million) to construct.

Inaugural run of Rio de Janeiro’s LRT system. Photo credit: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil. Creative Commons 3.0 licence.

Complexo do Alemão gondola

While not directly a World Cup or Olympics legacy project, the Complexo do Alemão gondola, modelled on Metrocable in Medellín, is noteworthy as an attempt to integrate a favela into the wider city.

The Complexo do Alemão favela – in reality a compilation of many favelas – had a population of 69,143 at the 2010 Census and a Human Development Index that was the lowest of any neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. In late 2010, control was wrested from drug dealers when the police and army invaded the favela and “pacified” it.

The gondola opened for service on 8th of June 2011. It is 3.5 kilometres long, has six stations and links at its Bonsucesso terminus to the Supervia commuter rail network. Favela residents are entitled to two free daily trips on the gondola. It cost R$210 million ($US 66 million) to construct.

Complexo do Alemão gondola: Photo credit: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz. Creative Commons 3.0 licence.

In terms of overall mobility, the High Performance Transportation Ring and other World Cup and Olympics legacy public transport investments will, when all projects including the under construction TransBrasil BRT project are complete, increase the proportion of Rio’s residents with access to rapid transit from 18% to 63%.

World Cup and Olympics legacy public transport investments will …increase the proportion of Rio’s residents with access to rapid transit from 18% to 63%.

While much of the BRT network hubs around affluent Barra de Tijuca, its predominant service area are in the poorer Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone) of the city, where they have led to very significant reductions in public transport travel times over pre-existing on-street bus services operating in mixed traffic.

The minimum wage in the state of Rio de Janeiro starts at R$ 1,052.34 ($US330) per month for domestic and unskilled workers. An integrated fare within Rio de Janeiro city limits is R$3.80 ($US1.19) with one transfer and for services crossing city limits, the fare is R$6.50 ($US2.04), also with one transfer. For 21 working days per month, commuting to and from work within city limits costs R$159.60 (15.1% of minimum wage) and R$273 for trips crossing city limits or 26% of the minimum wage. Fortunately, under Brazilian labour law, it is the employer’s responsibility – with some exceptions – to meet the costs of their employees’ public transport travel. This is known as the Vale-transporte. However, public transport affordability remains a significant challenge for people not in employment. While Rio’s complex system of public transport smart cards offer discounts for journeys involving connections, they are not true integrated fares.

Rio de Janeiro weekday mode share.png
Main trip mode share for weekday trips in Rio de Janeiro: Source: Plano Diretor da Regiao Metropolitana do Rio de Janeiro

Public transport operations are not subsidised in Rio de Janeiro although fares are regulated by the public sector. For example, when the Flumitrens commuter rail was privatised in 1998, the rights to operate the service were auctioned. The successful bidder, Supervia, paid the Rio de Janeiro state government R$30 million and undertook to invest a further R$250 million of its own funds in service and infrastructure improvements. Similarly, bus services are unsubsidised and in fact the four consortia making up Rio Ônibus collectively made R$70 million in profit in 2013.

While there is public sector capital expenditure on public transport, this principally benefits rail and bus rapid transit projects, with some relatively limited investment in bus lanes on major arterial bus routes, for example in Copacabana, Ipanema and the city centre.

Of significance is the complete dominance of the bus mode making up 42.82 per cent of all main mode journeys with rail modes – Metro and commuter rail – making up just 5.45 per cent of such journeys. Public transport in total, including ferries, makes up 48.76 per cent of all trips, dwarfing the private motorised mode share of 19.47 per cent.

Of the six key public transport projects, two – TransCarioca and TransOeste – have been in service since at least 2014. The light rail network has only been in service since June 2016 and two projects – Metro Line 4 and TransOlímpica – will only enter public service after the Olympic games. One project – TransBrasil – is still under construction. Clearly delivering and opening all six projects to passenger service prior to the Olympics did not happen.

Early evidence from the BRT projects is that they have delivered considerable travel time benefits to bus customers. In the case of TransOeste, this equals 14 full days in travel time savings for an annual commuter. However, they have been less successful at achieving mode shift. A survey of TransOeste customers carried out showed that 84.6 per cent of customers formerly used conventional buses; 6.8 per cent used jitneys and just 2.4 per cent were former car drivers.

Rio Transport Axes and Density
Transport corridors and population density. Source: Plano Diretor de Transporte da Região Metropolitana do Rio de Janeiro.

While the conventional postcard image of Rio de Janeiro is of high-rise apartments in Copacabana and Ipanema in the Zona Sul (South Zone), this density and that of the Centro (City centre) is confined to a relatively narrow coastal strip,  This area is served by the Metrô do Rio, the highest capacity and most frequent public transport mode, including the just-opened Metrô Line 4 to Barra de Tijuca. Meanwhile, high levels of density, albeit at lower heights, is widespread across the poorer Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone) which are only served by buses and commuter rail, as shown on the map above.

At the risk of over-simplification, the four BRT projects serve the poorer Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone) while the two rail projects – light rail and Metrô Line 4 – serve the more affluent Centro (City centre) and Zona Sul (South Zone).

Of the six big Olympic legacy projects, the two rail projects serving better off parts of the city absorbed the lion’s share of the public expenditure at 61% while the four BRT projects serving poorer parts of the city make up the remaining 39%. However, what is missing from this is the lack of focus on the 8 million daily bus customers not on the BRT network. A small proportion of these will be will served by the two remaining BRT projects, TransOlímpica and TransBrasil, but the vast majority will not.

While the BRT projects have been useful, a key characteristic of Rio de Janeiro is intense tidal commuter flows from the Baixada Fluminense and Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone) to the City Centre. Only the under-construction TransBrasil BRT will directly connect to the city centre with the other projects providing connections to commuter rail and the Metro in order to access the city centre.

So while the public transport investments considered as legacy projects for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics are useful to a greater or lesser degree, they make only a modest contribution to the challenges of a city where the private vehicle fleet is growing by 5% per year and where public transport capacity, speed, frequency and reliability are key to enabling accessibility in a city marked by particularly pronounced extremes of wealth and poverty. The Plano Diretor de Transportes has a long shopping list of projects needed to keep Rio de Janeiro moving. Here’s hoping that Rio de Janeiro builds on the useful building block of the Olympic legacy projects and focuses its investments where the need is, not where the money is.

[Note: This piece is by necessity based on reading and interpretation of publicly available information in Portuguese and English from a distance. It is a potted summary of a range of very complex transport and urban issues that defy easy solution and digestion into a single blog post. Comments welcome.]

Disclaimer: The author of the above post is an employee of Auckland Transport, however, the views, or opinions expressed in this post are personal to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Auckland Transport, its management or employees. Auckland Transport is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of the article.





Halifax: It really is more than buses

Halifax waterfront_with logo

By Darren Davis.

I was recently approached by the good folks at It’s More than Buses, a transit advocacy group in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada asking me to offer insights from Auckland’s public transit transformation known as the New Network that might be of benefit to Halifax as it proceeds to implement its Moving Forward Together plan to transform its transit system.

Much official, public and stakeholder attention and money is focused on the shiny baubles of rail transit while the humble bus, often the workhorse or even sole mode of transit systems, gets the crumbs left over. [Why buses and bus network planning deserves much more attention will be the subject of a future post.]

And Halifax just has the humble bus. A commuter rail system was studied a few years back but it was concluded that a system that delivered customers far from their final destinations might not be best, a mistake that took Auckland, New Zealand 73 years to fix once first identified.

Halifax also has many of the things that make transit and overall transport planning in Auckland, New Zealand such a challenge. The MacDonald and MacKay bridges over the Halifax Harbour are obvious pinch points. Others geographic barriers include Nova Scotia’s 100-series expressway network around Halifax and the complete absence of a street grid outside of the Halifax Peninsula and Dartmouth on the Eastern Shore. This means that key arterial roads are often the only viable links between communities and have to provide for all modes.

Auckland, New Zealand, has been through a journey similar to Halifax’s – aiming to transform public transit while recognizing the unlikelihood of significant boosts in funding. This means that more needs to be done to make the best of what is available. In the 1990s, Auckland had a breathtakingly huge 511 different routes and route variants in our system. The sheer number and complexity of the system meant transit riders only understood the particular trips they used, not the routes in their area, let alone the whole network. Through ongoing “routicide” we are down to 360 routes and will end up with 120 routes in our New Network without any significant changes in coverage but very significant improvements in frequency, simplicity, legibility and, most importantly, usability.

We are confident from our past experience that the changes will yield positive results for transit riders . When Auckland implemented the New Network in Green Bay and Titirangi in 2014, as a test and phased implementation, we reduced route numbers from 24 to 9 and achieved a 35% increase in ridership within a year due to the New Network’s simple structure and consistent bus frequency. The network, route structure, and frequency of service meant buses pass each stop at the same times every hour (e.g., 10 minutes past the hour, 25 minutes past, and so on) every day of the week. Put simply, customers will use a network that they can simply grasp, and not one that causes them to scratch their heads.

The way we achieved these successes is in part due to the size of the public transit fleet and how much of that fleet is used all-day and how much is just used in the peak. In industry parlance, this is known as the peak-to-base ratio and the closer you get to one, the more efficient your fleet utilization is. While that might sound dry and technical, the simple impact of a peak-to-base ratio nearer to one is more all-day service, which is useful for a range of trip purposes and not just the journey to work or school. And this means fewer buses spending large portions of their days sleeping at bus garages and more buses delivering service to customers. This has an obvious impact on operating costs – typically in Auckland it costs three times as much to run peak service as it does to run non-peak service. Effectively, non-peak service can be run at marginal cost because the cost of the bus is covered by the requirement to use it in the peak.

Auckland’s transformation to a simple all-day network has been a long one and I have unflatteringly described our legacy bus network as spaghetti thrown at a map as you can see in the figure illustrating our legacy network.

North Shore legacy network

Figure 1: Auckland’s legacy North Shore bus network.
Map courtesy Auckland Transport

The legacy network shown is the current North Shore network and is focused on doing one thing and it does it well. It gets commuters to and from Downtown Auckland in the peak with 10,000 bus passengers crossing the Auckland Harbour Bridge in around 200 buses. However, this network sucks at doing everything else such as providing local service within the North Shore and non-peak service to Downtown Auckland. The peak-to-base ratio is up to four to one, meaning that three-quarters of the North Shore’s bus fleet spend their day at their depots, rather than providing service to customers.

The alternative to the direct service approach is a connective network approach. The graphic below shows how connective networks can deliver up to 15 times the accessibility of direct service networks. This is because the connective network option in the example below gives access to five times as many destinations at three times the frequency (10 minute versus 30 minute frequency) for the same number of buses. On random arrival at stops, trips are nearly always faster on a connective network than on a direct service network, even where connections are involved. This is a powerful argument – for a similar amount of public money, you can get a vast improvement in mobility if people are prepared to connect. It puts the apparently intuitive logic of the one-seat ride to the test. If the only goal of your transit system is to get people to work downtown during the peak, then by all means the one-seat ride system is the way to go. But, if the aim of the transit system is to enable access to the whole of the city for a whole range of different purposes, then a connective network is the way to go.

Auckland connective network

Figure 2 : Direct Service vs Connective Service Model.
Graphic courtesy Auckland Transport

When thinking about the right service model for transit in a community, there are some key questions:

  • Who are your current customers? It is crucial to understand your current customers and their needs.
  • Who are your potential customers (if the network worked better)?
  • What are the key travel patterns of current and potential customers? Often downtowns and universities are the key focus of current networks but travel patterns and destinations are much more diverse than this.
  • What is the mode share target for transit to reach? Transit is competing in a mobility marketplace for market share and should think like a business. How do we work to transit’s inherent strengths to make it work as best as possible?
  • What are the key pinch points for transit service and how do bus priority measures relate to these pinch points? Our experience in Auckland is that giving buses priority at pinch points where lots of traffic is stuck self-markets the benefits of public transit. For example, when Auckland implemented 4km of peak period bus lanes in 1998 on Dominion Road, one of our busiest bus routes, we achieved 20% year on year growth each year for four years for the price of paint and signs.
  • What is the coverage/ridership trade-off? This needs to be made explicit and requires an open conversation with the community. While ridership is a key goal of transit, transit also provides essential mobility for people who cannot or choose not to use other modes to access their homes, jobs, school, businesses, and all the places we travel to.

As a rule of thumb, service frequencies on the core routes in a network need to be high to generate all-day, every day ridership (at least every 15 minutes but preferably 10 minutes or better particularly on key corridors in the  urban core) of the region – in the case of Halifax, the Halifax Peninsula and Dartmouth. Dedicating a lot of bus resources to express services to Downtown reduces the ability to focus resources on the high-ridership routes that generate the bulk of all-day ridership and allows better utilization of the bus fleet throughout the day.

In Auckland, we are converting the “spaghetti thrown at a map” North Shore network to a rapid transit model shown below where much more local service feeds the Northern Busway with one-seat rides replaced by the busway rapid transit services doing the heavy lifting for the trip to Downtown Auckland. This strengthens both the busway and local service while using roughly the same amount of buses. Local communities benefit from much more frequent service than would otherwise have been possible and Downtown benefits by more frequent rapid transit service on the busway spine.

2018 new vs legacy frequent networkFigure 3: 2018 frequent network vs status quo network.
Graphic courtesy Auckland Transport

The figure of the New Network shows the difference between the amount of frequent service that Auckland can provide on a connective network (on the left) – with services at least every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7 days a week – and the level of frequent service we would have been able to provide if we had continued the status quo of the one-seat ride network (on the right). Clearly this is a significant increase in the size and geographical reach of the frequent transit network.

One key element of this frequent transit grid is a strong network of cross-town connections to fill it out, particularly to meet key cross-regional travel flows that don’t pass through downtown.

Transit agencies use metrics to assess their performance and should be related to their service goals; however, transit metrics can either drive you the right way or the wrong way. For example, there may be a metric measuring the percentage of people within 500 metres of a bus stop. This bus stop may only have one or two trips a day whereas other bus stops may have frequent service 18 hours a day. Hence, it’s a metric of some extremely basic (& highly variable) level of transit accessibility. A better metric is to measure how much of the city or how many destinations a person has access to within a certain number of minutes travel time (e.g., 15 minutes or 30 minutes including walking and connections).

Clearly, transit planning is not, as might be the case in the popular imagination, drawing lines on maps. It is a exercise of very considerable complexity carried out in a framework of principles that should be as simple as they are intuitive.

There are crucial choices and trade-offs to be made as funding is limited and it is crucial when making these choices to be explicit about what you are trading off and what the benefits of the choices are. And it is important to realize that if you are choosing one thing – for example one-seat rides as a priority – then you are choosing to miss out on the power of connective networks to deliver the freedom of the city to all transit customers, including those on the coverage network.

Halifax has many of the key prerequisites already in place to make transit work even better.  Here’s hoping Halifax grasps the opportunity presented by Moving Forward Together to make a transformational shift in its public transit network, delivering much better service to customers and much better value for the money invested in supporting transit service.

Disclaimer: The author of the above post is an employee of Auckland Transport, however, the views, or opinions expressed in this post are personal to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Auckland Transport, its management or employees. Auckland Transport is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of the article.


Auckland Perspective: Darren Davis on the chicken-and-eggs of road tolling

Price Tags

Via Architect This City

Guest Post: For whom the road tolls?


For those of who were following Architect This City during the Gardiner Expressway East debate here in Toronto, you might remember that Darren Davis (transport planner with Auckland Transport) wrote a guest post called, Three minutes that rule the world – Will demolishing the Gardiner East actually make traffic worse?

It was an incredibly popular post at the time, so I’m thrilled that Darren volunteered to do another one on road tolls. This is a topic that I’m very interested in and have written about a few times. Road pricing, as you’ll see below, puts us in a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. But sooner or later I think we will need to get our head around it, as will many other cities.

(Edited version.  Full article here.)

In a world where time is money, we…

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Post-Motordom in New Zealand: A Change in the Chart

My piece on the Pricetags blog on some innovative work commissioned by the New Zealand Ministry of Transport questioning whether traffic growth is every likely to resume.

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From our Auckland correrspondent Darren Davis:


New Zealand’s Ministry of Transport has done a bunch of work on future demand which, as far as I know, is the first time a Government has been prepared to fundamentally challenge the view that traffic growth will continue unabated indefinitely.

It included the following typical graph beloved of urbanists showing how traffic projections have been proven wrong only to be recalibrated form the new base to show that the resumption of traffic growth is just around the corner. The difference this time is that the Ministry of Transport is using this graph to demonstrate how wrong past predictions have been, rather than the usual “traffic growth is just around the corner” scenario. Of note, since its peak in 2004, light passenger vehicle kilometres travelled per person (VKT per capita) in New Zealand has fallen by 8%, whereas in other western countries…

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