Does Access to Public Transportation Increase
Student researcher examines bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Bogota, Colombia
By Ramon Munoz-Raskin, urban planning graduate student, Columbia University
My research analyzes whether the implementation of a bus rapid transit system (BRT) has effects on residential property values. In other words: If your property falls within the proximity of a mass transit solution, is it worth more?
The case study is the Transmilenio BRT in Bogota, Colombia. This system has worldwide recognition as a best practical example of BRT implementation. Its outstanding operational performance is attracting municipal governments from numerous cities on many other countries of the world.
Since Transmilenio is being used as a reference for exporting the BRT idea to other cities in the world, it is crucial to understand the indirect effects (also known as secondary effects) as a means to expand the knowledge of the full potential of this urban transportation and urban development model. However, little research has been done to quantitatively analyze its indirect effects on the city of Bogota.
In a non-industrialized country, gathering the appropriate data for the research is a great challenge and the real bottle neck for the research. It is highly recommended to have good native contacts in the field and to begin working with them on what kind of data sources exist in the country long before starting the research.
In my case, I had never visited Colombia, so I had to spend a lot of effort trying to understand its political and managerial idiosyncrasies. It is important to try to think in advance about what you can offer to the local and national government, NGOs or private sector actors who could benefit from your research, and what they can offer you in return. This approach must be very respectful and must keep in mind that there is a good chance that you may not get what you want.
Bottom line: As an official at the Colombian National Department of Planning told me: "Ramon, you must learn the way research is done here, which is that you do not select your research topic and expect that there will be data about it. The way things work here is that when you find data, you analyze it and see what research you can do with it." In my case, I found six available data sources, but due to incomplete data, unfulfilled promises from officials, and interminable bureaucratic processes, I had to choose a suboptimal data source for my research.
Thanks to a grant from the Earth Institute, I had the opportunity to visit the areas surrounding the system and become familiar with their attributes. I also had very fruitful meetings with officials at the National Department of Planning and Transmilenio, among other organizations, that provided very valuable insights on my preliminary findings and that helped me with the econometric interpretation.
The field experience was also a fascinating opportunity to talk with people of all socio-economic strata. I adopted the strategy to ask them about the BRT system without initially telling them anything about my interest in it, and, to my satisfaction, one after another of the taxi drivers, waiters, new friends and citizens in general showed me how important Transmilenio is for Bogota. The system is the "jewel" of the city with its modernity and has renovated large urban areas. It brought employment to marginalized slums in the outskirts, safety, dignity to public transport users, environmental improvements, sense of ownership, pride and a better quality of life to many city dwellers.
As an anecdote on my flight to Bogota, I was listening to two people sitting next to me who did not know each other. One of them said that he had not been to Bogota in 11 years, and that he remembered it as a city in which the worst problem was congestion. The other one added: "No, but now it is different, because we have Transmilenio!"
I am very grateful to the Earth Institute for its important support to this research. Other contributors were the Columbia University Institute of Latin American Studies, the Colombia National Department of Planning and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
About The Earth Institute
The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world's leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world's poor. For more information, visit www.earth.columbia.edu.