In Conversation: C40’s Gunjan Parik speaks to Johannesburg and Buenos Aires, newly appointed leads of the C40 Bus Rapid Transit Network

The C40 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Network is working with 13 cities around the world to support them in introducing, improving and transforming their cities’ BRT systems. By bringing cities together, and convening and collaborating with key stakeholders, the network acts as a catalyst for action, accelerating the implementation and improvement of BRT systems.

The two lead cities will play a crucial role as thought leaders and communicators, helping to drive the uptake of BRT best practices in cities around the world. The efforts of both cities have been recognized globally – Buenos Aires won the Citizen’s Choice Award at last year’s C40 & Siemens City Climate Leadership Awards for its Plan for Sustainable Mobility, of which the BRT is a key component, and Johannesburg is one of the finalists in the Transportation category at this year’s Awards for Rea Vaya, its BRT system.

Gunjan Parik, Head of C40’s Transportation Initiative, spoke with city representatives Lisa Seftel and Jeff Ngcobo (Johannesburg) and Juanjo Mendez and Manuela Lopez Menendez (Buenos Aires) to find out more about their cities’ motivation and vision for leading the network.

Could you tell us a bit about why your cities joined the C40 BRT Network, first as members and now as leadership cities?

Buenos Aires: Buenos Aires joined the C40 BRT Network to share our experiences, and to learn from other cities that are part of the network. Under the leadership of Mayor Mauricio Macri and Guillermo Dietrich, our Undersecretary of Transportation, we are committed to enhancing discussions about what needs to be done to promote more – and better – BRT systems around the world.

Johannesburg: Similarly, the City of Johannesburg is committed to sharing its experiences, learning from other cities and where necessary acting together in the international arena to promote the cause of sustainability and carbon emissions reductions – for us and our future generations.

Both your cities demonstrate strong leadership in implementing well-planned BRT solutions. What are key experiences you would like to share with other cities?

Buenos Aires: From our standpoint, the critical components of a good system are the importance of political will and support, flexibility (not all BRT corridors are the same) and an open mind in listening to the points of view of all stakeholders involved.

Johannesburg: Political will has definitely been key to the success of our BRT roll-out. Strong political leadership has assisted us in bringing key stakeholders, such as the mini-bus and taxi industry, to become our partners in the transformation of Joburg’s public transport system. Political will has also been key for us in enabling behavioural change across the city. Building institutional memory and constantly reflecting on lessons learned has also been another key success factor for us.

Ambitious BRT targets across the two cities (combined) for 2020

At present what are the key ambitions and targets for your BRT system?

Buenos Aires: Across the city of Buenos Aires, we are working to increase the number of routes equipped with BRT corridors, to reduce travel times and increase comfort and safety for more people. This also includes agreements with other local governments to expand the BRT to neighbouring cities.

Our target is to have four more corridors in 2015, reaching 1.2 millon passengers every day over a distance of 56 kilometers, and a reduction of 49,000 tons of CO2e per year.

Johannesburg: In general, we want to move from a city that is car-oriented and unfriendly for cyclists and pedestrians to a public transport-, walking- and cycling-oriented city. The City of Johannesburg would also like to move away from the current urban sprawl, with housing far from jobs, to a compact city where people can live, work, learn and play in mixed use modes. The roll out of the BRT along the ‘corridors of freedom’ is seen as critical to achieve this.

Some of our key BRT targets are to move 200,000 passengers per average week day by 2018 and to construct a total of 86.9 km of BRT corridors by 2017. All our buses will also be low carbon emitters and preferably use alternative fuels. Our goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 1.6 million tons by 2020, and to have set up at least three bus operating companies that are majority-owned by previously disadvantaged public transport operators.

Which other cities have inspired you in your thinking about BRT?

Buenos Aires: We were inspired by the experiences of a number of Latin American cities, especially Curitiba and Bogotá. We also learned lessons from the implementation of BRT in Mexico City.  We look forward to continuing to share lessons with other cities in the BRT network, and learning from them as well!

Johannesburg: The City of Johannesburg was initially inspired and very influenced by the roll out of Transmilenio in Bogotá. Other Latin American cities including Medellín and Curitiba have also influenced our thinking and the design of our system. More recently we have been looking at cities – New York, for example – that are integrating their BRT systems with walking and cycling. We are hoping to continue to build on this excellent exchange of ideas and tactics through the BRT network!

Ms. Lisa Seftel is the Executive Director of Transport for the City of Johannesburg, and Mr. Jeff Ngcobo is the Head of the Scheduled Services Management Agency for the Rea Vaya BRT.

Mr. Juanjo Mendez is the Chief of Staff to Guillermo Dietrich, the Undersecretary of Transportation for the City of Buenos Aires, and Ms. Manuela Lopez Menendez is the BRT Unit Coordinator for Metrobus.