Getting around the city by rail, bus and rickshaw

"This article was published in our March 2018 newsletter". Sign up here.

Anyone wishing to get around in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, is spoilt for choice: the city’s eight million inhabitants can use public express buses, underground trains, trams and cable cars, not to mention bicycle taxis and public and private taxicabs. Public transport in Colombia has developed at an extraordinary speed over the past 25 years. By contrast, this development began well over a century ago in Germany and other European countries with the advent of the horse-drawn omnibus.

Nonetheless, Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, face similar traffic problems as large cities in Germany do: the streets are congested, large numbers of cars compete for a small number of parking spaces, and commuters find themselves stuck in traffic jams. It is worth looking around the world when seeking solutions to today’s transport problems.

German-Colombian network of transport experts

In the MoviCi network (Movilidad urbana en ciudades inteligentes/Urban mobility in smart cities), German and Colombian transport experts hope to learn from each other how best to tackle the problems that face expanding cities. MoviCi is one of ten networks that have been travelling around the world since February 2017 as part of the "Shaping the future – Building the City of Tomorrow" campaign. Since the campaign was launched by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), scientists and transport experts from Germany and Colombia have already met at several workshops, most recently in November 2017 in Cali, the third-largest city in Colombia. In April 2018, the network will be teaming up with the Universidad Nacional de Colombia to stage a symposium on "Urban Mobility in the Smart City" in Medellín.

Colombian cities as research lab

For transport researchers from Germany, it is above all the dynamism of public transport in Colombia that is fascinating. For them, the country’s major cities with their different modes of public and private, formal and informal transport are like a laboratory in which transport trends can be studied under different conditions than in Germany. This is because German laws dictate precisely who is allowed to transport passengers under which conditions. This can also restrict the diversity of public transport modes.

The "last mile"

Commuters benefit from the wide variety of transport options that is typically on offer in large Colombian cities. Passengers travelling by express bus in Bogotá for instance can switch to a bicycle rickshaw at certain stops. The rickshaw drivers, who offer their services on a private basis and without any official permit, ferry passengers all the way to their front door or workplace. This saves time, and makes the local public transport system more attractive.

Digital tools for smooth-flowing and sustainable traffic

Collaboration in the MoviCi network benefits the Colombian partners in a different way. Scientists at the Institute of Transportation Systems at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin have developed software tools that will also allow traffic in Colombia to be better monitored and simulated.

One such tool is an open source software by the name of SUMO (Simulation of Urban Mobility). It allows city and transport planners to simulate how widening a street or building a new road will affect traffic – enabling them to make a decision. "Of course, we also use our network to share experience about the solutions we have developed", says MoviCi director Mirko Goletz. This kind of IT-based forward-looking planning can ensure smooth-flowing traffic, reduce the use of resources and thus make life easier for city-dwellers in Colombia – something bicycle rickshaws are already doing today.


Institute of Transportation Systems

Around 170 engineers, computer scientists and psychologists pursue research at the Institute of Transportation Systems in Braunschweig and Berlin. Their objective is to increase the safety and efficiency of road and railway traffic. To this end, they work in three departments: Automotive, Railway Systems and Traffic Management. The Institute of Transportation Systems is one of the institutions affiliated with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). > Institute of Transportation Systems