While the pro-rail crowd in North America still often points to Europe to show the success of rail operations, São Paulo has quietly turned the bus into something even more successful.
"People won't ride smelly buses" and "Rail attracts the riders" are just a few of the comments made by the pro-rail crowd however, they become silent when São Paulo is brought up. Why? Perhaps it is because São Paulo has turned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) into a low tech as well as low cost art form that works extremely well in a city of over 18 million people.
While there are problems with the São Paulo BRT operation, it really is no different than what one can easily experience in the US and Canada. It doesn't matter if we're talking bus or rail, the problems are the same and can even be found in Europe. Outmoded equipment, facilities that need expanded and/or improved, better speed to move riders, etc. effect every mode of transit. The big difference is the cost, both short term and long term.
While São Paulo does have rail operations as well, which are larger than the dedicated BRT operation, it's the buses that do the vast bulk of the passenger hauling. Plans are in the works to expand both bus and rail in the city with emphasis being placed on the less costly bus operation.
The BRT operations in the US and Canada are a joke compared to what is in place in São Paulo. Here, everyone and their uncle are trying to hop on the rail bandwagon which drains money out of bus operations when all is said and done. BRT is often times the last resort when a city can't even meet the relatively easy Federal standards to get a rail line. São Paulo views BRT completely different and that attitude is paying off.
Granted that São Paulo and North American cities are totally different in terms of transit usage, the fact remains that bus operations are not overlooked in São Paulo and are treated as an important part of the cities transportation infrastructure.
A few quick facts on São Paulo's operation.
- Population: 18.3 million
- Number of buses: 26,391
- Daily bus passengers: 10.5 million
- Bus: 1,908 routes & 34 transfer stations
- BRT length: 146.5 km
- Rail length: 270 km
- Subway length : 60 km