Bogotá’s revolutionary bus rapid transit system (BRT), known as Transmilenio, has been copied throughout the region, significantly reducing commuting times, city traffic and carbon dioxide levels in congested cities such as Mexico City, Lima and Sao Paulo. Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, has gained international recognition for its efficient metro system and network of cable cars connecting the most deprived neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the Valle de Aburrá to the central districts in which most economic activity is concentrated.

CONTROVERSY: However, the country’s good reputation in urban transportation has been tarnished in recent years due to high-profile corruption cases involving the extension of the Transmilenio. Controversy has led to delays in the expansion of the capital city’s mass transportation network and demands for the revision of the ways in which public contracts are awarded. The situation has improved since the city’s new major, Gustavo Petro – who won the 2012 elections largely on his strong track record in fighting corruption – began overseeing the improvement in checks and balances on the city’s financial and project management capacities. Under his administration, significant progress has been made to kick start works on the extension of the Transmilenio towards the city’s new international airport as well as other mass-transit options that had been shelved in recent years.

SUBWAY: One example is the Bogotá subway. After years of stalled discussions between the local and national government, in May of 2013 the contract for studies and design of the first underground line was signed. During this stage, the needs and requirements for operations of a connection of 26.5 km and 28 stations will be determined. There are plans for a 15-km extension shortly afterwards. Upon completion, the construction contracts will be awarded with aims to break ground during the third quarter of 2015. The first line will pave the way for the instalment of three additional lines over the next 30 years targeting a capacity to move some 600,000 passengers daily.

Reactions from the private sector have been encouraging. “Bogotá has some of the most acceptable soil for underground construction; it is consistent throughout the city making it easy for engineers to plan out routes without encountering difficulties,” Juan Fernando Uribe, area manager for Soletanche Bachy Cimas, a French engineering firm, told OBG.

COMMUTER TRAIN: The capital city has also made progress on a commuter train between Bogotá and surrounding municipalities. At the time of writing, Colombian engineering advisory ConCol had been contracted to begin the preliminary designs and structure of the project. Provisional plans envisage an 81. 2-km connection at an estimated value of $2.1bn.

Besides Bogotá, the roll-out and expansion of mass transportation systems features at the top of urban development priorities in medium-sized cities such as Cúcuta, located near the Venezuelan border, which is planning a BRT modelled after the Transmilenio.

The connection is designed to serve the entire metropolitan area, home to some 1.2m people, and pave the way for the establishment of an integrated mass transportation system. Furthermore, according to data from the Ministry of Transportation, eight additional plans for improvements in urban transportation are being studied. These include the construction or expansion of BRTs in cities like Cali, Pereira, Barranquilla, Medellín and Bucaramanga, which together are set to total some 600 km of connections.

Led by examples of both success and controversy, Colombia’s biggest cities, supported by the national government, are making notable progress in the preparation of mass integrated transit systems. The introduction of a new public-private partnership law (see Infrastructure chapter), largely aimed at increasing transparency and standardising public procurement processes, has created momentum for private sector participation, encouraged by sizeable urban populations and decreasing levels of unemployment.