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Public transport in Barranquilla: New LRT to supplement current BRT [free access]

March 1, 2018

Barranquilla, also known as the Golden Gate of Colombia, is the fourth largest city in the country, capital of the Atlántico Department, and an important port. It is located on the west bank of the Magdalena River, as the river meets the Carribean Sea. The city has a growing population and recorded 1.3 million residents in 2015. Its economy is based on industry, tourism, finance, services, fishing and education.


Because of its importance in the national economy, the municipality of Barranquilla was granted the status of Special District, Industrial and Port in 1993. The existing transport infrastructure is unable to cater to the increasing travel demand of the growing population; therefore, the government has announced plans to develop a well-organised public transport network.


The Area Metropolitana de Barranquilla (AMB) has undertaken a study of the Integrated Transport System (SITP) to review the different mobility options to cater to the city’s transportation needs. The study is expected to be completed by August 2018. Box 1 describes AMB’s roles and responsibilities.


Box 1: AMB role and responsibilities


AMB is the planning, coordinating and executing agency for the projects and policies of the infrastructure sector, including housing and transportation, in Colombia. It performs the following tasks:


  • Formulate and adopt long-term comprehensive metropolitan development plan in accordance with the legal provisions as well as the national and territorial developmental plans.
  • Formulate and adopt metropolitan strategic plans for land use planning. These plans provide framework for all agencies adopting territorial plans.
  • Adopt policies for the development of metropolitan housing programmes.
  • Participate in the creation of real estate banks for land management in the municipalities.
  • Dispose of the properties necessary for the execution of metropolitan works.
  • Formulate the regional mobility policy, within the framework of the strategic metropolitan plan for territorial planning.
  • Formulate, adopt and implement plans for the location, preservation and adequate use of free spaces for parks and public green areas.


Source: AMB


Figure 1 indicates the growth trend in city population.


Figure 1: Barranquilla population growth (thousand residents)


Source: Global Mass Transit Research


Existing transport system


The Barranquilla public transport system is operated by 26 transport companies, which together operate a fleet of 2,980 buses, including 775 mini buses. The Transmetro BRT system commenced operations in 2010. Informal public transport options such as motorcycles taxis (commonly known as mototaxismo) provide service as per demand but they also cause congestion and road accidents.


In a mobility study carried out by the AMB, the average weekday ridership was estimated at 2.11 million trips in 2016. The modal share of non-mechanised modes of transport was 32 per cent and that of mechanised modes was 68 per cent.


Key players


In Colombia, the development of transport networks is undertaken by public authorities along with the participation of private players. Citizens and private companies also assist in developing the strategic mobility plans, prioritising the main corridors and implementing projects.


AMB is the planning and coordinating agency for Barranquilla transport system. A total of 26 transport companies operate the bus system. Transmetro operates the BRT system and manages urban bus services that are integrated with the BRT.


Reorganisation in the transport sector


In August 2017, AMB announced plans to reorganise the existing transport companies in two large operators.


Operator 1 would include 15 companies, namely, Coolitoral, Sobusa, Coochofal, Cootrántico, Transmecar, Transurbar, Cooasoatlán, Cootransco, Cootrab, Cootransnorte, Embusa, Flota Angulo, Transp Atlántico, Cootransporcar and Transoledad.


Operator 2 would include 11 companies, namely, Sodetrans, Transdiaz, Lolaya, Monterrey, Cootracolsur, La Carolina, Trasalfa, Flota Roja, Cootrasol, Cootratántico and Trasalianco.  


Integrated transport network – RITMO


The Nippon Koei Lac-TPD-Selfinver consortium is currently conducting a study for the National Development Finance Bank to design and implement an Integrated Metropolitan Transport Network/ Red Integrada de Transporte Metropolitano (RITMO). The consortium is expected to prepare a technical, legal and financial structuring plan of the system by mid-2018. RITMO is expected to serve about 900,000 passengers per day.


The integration of existing public transport services would create opportunities in construction of routes, stops, terminals, etc. and services such as bus monitoring to optimise the operations. A total of 700-800 buses are planned to be replaced within the first three years of the start of service. The oldest buses will be replaced first and the process will continue till all buses are replaced.


At present, 3,000 drivers work in the 26 transport companies that are responsible for providing the service. Ritmo would need about 2,500 new drivers, given that each driver will be required to work for maximum 8 hours.


As of August 2017, AMB had approved the reorganisation of routes in different areas, collection of fares electronically, control of fleet, provision of free Wi-Fi, video surveillance and business collaboration agreements with transporters.


Transmetro BRT


Construction of the BRT system commenced in 2005 and commercial operations began in 2010. The BRT spans 18 km and covers 14 stops. It provides trunk services (stopping at all stops), express services (faster services stopping at fewer stops) and feeder services (operated in low-demand corridors).


In 2017, ridership on the network was estimated to be 29.92 million passengers. Figure 2 shows the increase in ridership during 2016-17.


Figure 2: Increase in ridership during 2016-17


Source: Transmetro


As of 2017, the city operates a fleet of 242 buses, including 72 articulated buses. Passengers can plan their journey effectively using the moovit mobile application (app), which provides real-time location of the bus, expected time of arrival as well as road and station closure. 


The system deploys contactless smartcards, bank cards (Mastercard) and recently launched near field communication (NFC)-enabled bracelets to pay fares. Recaudos SIT Barranquilla is the company responsible for distributing and recharging the smartcards. Ticket validation machines are installed at all the stations.


Transmetro launched the NFC-based payment bracelets in November 2017 in collaboration with Columbian Bank and Banco AV Villas. The bracelets allow passengers to pay fares and make retail purchases. The charge is reflected on the selected bank debit/credit card.


Upcoming Light Rail system


Ministerio de Transporte de Colombia/ Ministry of Transportation of Colombia has announced plans to launch a light rail transit (LRT) line on public private partnership (PPP) basis. The LRT project will receive majority of the funding from private investors and banks.


A Todo Tren (ATT) and Cointer Concesiones S.L. are the project developers. AMB, through it´s local agency Puerta de Oro, is the project regulator. In December 2017, the local government approved start of the technical feasibility study for Stage 1 of the LRT project. Construction is expected to take two years.


The LRT line will span 12 km (fully elevated) and cover 15 stations. It will connect Barranquillita to the Ernesto Cortissoz airport in the Soledad municipality. The distance between stations will be around 800 meters. 


By 2020, the ridership on the system is expected to be 10,552 passengers during peak hours and 111,943 passengers daily. Figure 3 illustrates the forecast of ridership growth.


Figure 3: Ridership growth forecast for LRT


Source: ATT


Table 1 provides the operational parameters of the system.


Table 1: Operational parameters of Baranquilla LRT



Rolling stock supplier



22 Stadler V3 light rail vehicles (LRVs)

Length of LRV

32 metres

Width of LRV

6.65 metres

LRV platform

100-per-cent low-floor


306 passengers

Operating speed

70-80 km/hr

Service frequency

5 minutes

End-to-end journey time

45 minutes


International Union of Railways (UIC)


750 V DC

Fare system

Contactless smartcards, fare system will be integrated with that of the BRT

Source: ATT


The LRT system is planned to be integrated with the operational Transmetro BRT. The project involves urban renovation to improve sidewalks and urban landscape. Route and demand analysis for LRT Phase II are currently underway.


We respectfully acknowledge the support of Mr. Andrés Londoño, a consultant to the ATT, in the preparation of this feature. His inputs and guidance were vital in the presentation of this information.