By Franz Gastler
One of the first general reminder that I left the “little boxes made of ticky tacky” of suburban Minnesota and arrived somewhere outside of the U.S. or western Europe is the traffic. One is greeted immediately with a liberal mix of chaos and charm.
The dismissive ambivalence that sometimes tends to cloud us Westerners ability to learn lessons from the developing world might react by calling into question the wisdom of allowing any old painted up, gas-guzzling rust bucket to haul a load of passengers. But any criticism from us in the West would find itself on shaky footing (literally) in the case of transit. Some of the most interesting experiments in urban transport are now happening in the developing world. Including the debates on how to deal with Karachi’s burgeoning traffic (also see earlier ATP post).
On hears now that Karachi along with Bangalore, Bogota and Dhaka are beginning to take the Brazilian city of Curitiba’s lead in exploring ingenious options like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Like rail, this version of BRT that I came to appreciate when I lived in Bogota gives buses a dedicated lane to speed past traffic. The aim is to maximize the movement of people rather than cars!
What could be particularly relevant to the congested roadways of PakistanÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s major cities where the Pakistan EPA and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have pegged pollution levels at 30 to 44 times WHO Guidelines is that BRT cleaner fuel options can cut ?the emissions of particles to the air by up to 43 [percent].
So while some of us OECD countries are busy launching the past full-throttle into the future, the developing world, in some cases, is experimenting. And what is surprising to visitors is that there are lessons you in Pakistan or Brazil or Colombia can teach us in New York, Minneapolis or Boston about mass transit.
At least one lesson I have learnt is that delegating the decorating to owner-drivers tends to turn out more interesting designs than, say, the standardized adverts with SpongeBob SquarePants that adorn the buses in my neighborhood.
Franz Gastler, from Minnesota is a citizen of the world who has travelled, lived and worked in various countries across the globe. The photographs of bus art are from Colombia, Pakistan, Haiti and USA, respectively. All photographs are from Flickr.com.