Annex 5 Case Studies and Lessons

BRT, Kunming (China): The First BRT system in the People’s Republic of China

Source: China Academy of Urban Planning and Design

The First Modern Busway in China opened in 1999

Capital Cost of Only US US$0.3–0.5 Million per km

Operating at 7,500 passengers/hour per direction

1.2 Million Passengers Per Day

Summary of the System
Capacity 7,500 passengers per hour per direction
Users (whole system) 1,200,000 passengers per day
Segregated busways on trunk roads 40 km (2006)
Headway -
Number of Buses -
Bus vehicle capacity per unit -
Infrastructure cost US$0.3–0.5 million/km
Ticket price Common Bus: US$ 0.15
Deluxe Bus: US$ 0.30

City Characteristics


  • Kunming has a population of 3,740,000 including 1,055,000 in the urban area.
  • Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan Province.
  • Currently, the city has been growing and spreading rapidly.
  • China’s GDP per capita (2006) is US$7,700.

The ‘Before’ Situation

Source: Zhang ZhenGuo

  • The mixed traffic lane was moving only about 2,000 passengers/h per direction before the busway was implemented.
  • Bus speed was only 10kph.
  • Average waiting time was 2.5 times greater than after the busway’s opening.
  • Public transit mode share was only 6% but increased to 13% (2006).

BRT Scheme Characteristics:

Kunming launched the first modern busway in China in 1999 with technical support through the Kunming-Zurich Sister City partnership. As of 2006, Kunming has a 40km network of 6 centerline at-grade open busways with several private operators and low or no physical separation for most of the alignment. The final goal of the system is a 70 km busway network with a feeder system. The Kunming Urban Traffic Research Institute (KUTRI) is leading a team to plan the system and outline necessary upgrades.

Scheme Cost: The average cost is around US$0.3–0.5million/km. However, the cost is different among roads as follows: Beijing Road (5km): US$0.19/km; Renmin Road (9.9km): US$0.53/km; and Jinbi Road (4.6km): US$0.67/km. (Exchange Rate Used: RMB1= US$0.13337)

Initially planned busways of 40km Future plan of 70km busway Trunk and feeder system for the future

Busways with Low Capital Cost: The main parts of the system newly developed for the BRT in Kunming were simple busways and bus shelters. There was no substantial change from the existing bus routing system; they only maximized the usability of the existing bus network. This quite simple system enabled BRT implementation with a capital cost of only US$0.3–0.5 million/km. However, there is a problem of private motorists occupying the non-physically separated bus lane. Stronger political support for the system is required.

Traffic Research Institute for the Planning: The Kunming Urban Traffic Research Institute (KUTRI) is leading a team to develop a comprehensive BRT network development plan and is outlining necessary upgrades. To date, the team has completed several studies including “Guidelines for the Planning and Design of Dedicated Bus Lanes” and “Using BRT as a Backbone to Planning Bus Routes, Transportation Integration, and Operation”. The team also assisted the municipal government in elevating the status of BRT in the government’s urban development work plan and identified the necessary steps to adopt BRT systems. Several upgrades of the BRT system have been undertaken based on their studies to improve system carrying capacity and service level.

Technical Support from Zurich: The city partnership between Zurich and Kunming was initiated in 1982. As a part of the partnership, Zurich supported public transport development of Kunming. A training and research project was operated by the Institute of National, Regional, and Local Planning of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ORT-ETH) including a demonstration of a high-capacity bus line. This technical support from Zurich played a significant role in BRT development in Kunming.

Significant Transport Capacity Increase: The bus lane is now moving 7,500 passengers/h per direction while the mixed traffic lane was moving only about 2,000 passengers/h per direction before the busway was implemented.

Speedy and On-Time Bus Service: Due to development of BRT in Kunming, average bus speed increased from 10kph to 15–18kph. In addition, average passenger waiting time decreased by 59% because the bus operation became speedier and more timely. As a result, the mode share of buses has increased from 6% to 13%.

Revenue from Bus Shelter Advertisements: Half of the system implementation cost was paid by revenues from bus shelter advertising along the Beijing Road route, which was the system’s first line.

Free Transfer and Different Grades of Bus Vehicles: Transfer is free in the bus network in Kunming. There are two grades of bus vehicles: “common bus” and “deluxe bus”. The fare for “common bus” is 1 yuan while that of “deluxe bus” costs 2 yuan.

Existing Problems: Although Kunming increased transport capacity and improved its bus service level dramatically through BRT development, there are still some problems with the current system. For example, during peak hours the busway becomes very congested and bus speeds drop significantly. In addition, a large numbers of buses are less than fully occupied and the bus numbers should be adjusted accordingly. Private motorists occupying the bus lanes are also a problem.

Future Development: BRT in Kunming is still on the way to improving carrying capacity and service level. In addition, while developing the existing system, Kunming is planning to develop bus lanes to complete a trunk busway network of 70km. These future development plans include a new electronic free-transfer ticket system, installation of high capacity bus vehicle, construction of new bus terminals, and development of a trunk and feeder system.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

Bus stop Bus lane


The simple BRT system enabled a transport capacity increase and bus service level improvement with low capital cost. Although the average capital cost of Kunming BRT was only US$0.3–0.5 million/km, the system increased carrying capacity to 7,500 persons per lane per direction from 2,000, while increasing bus speed and reducing waiting times.

Advertising revenue funded half of the system implementation cost. One half of the system implementation cost of the first bus lane was paid by revenue from advertisements on the bus shelters.

The establishment of a study team in BRT planning and improvement is significant for system development. A team to develop a comprehensive BRT network was set up in Kunming Urban Traffic Research Institute (KUTRI). The team’s studies have played an essential role in development of BRT in Kunming.

Technical support by a planning institute in a developed country successfully guided the introduction of Kunming BRT system. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ORT-ETH) provided training and research in transport development to Kunming. This technical support led the successful introduction of the first BRT in China.

A lack of controls on the number of buses and a lack of high capacity buses limits system capacity. Although system capacity has more than trebled through the introduction of BRT in Kunming, it is still much less than that of BRT systems elsewhere such as in Bogota and Curitiba, due to the lack of controls on bus numbers and the lack of high-capacity buses. However, KUTRI is planning to install high capacity buses to in crease system capacity.

Kunming Urban Traffic Research Institute, Kunming BRT System Study, 2004; U.S. Department of Transportation, Bus Rapid Transit Developments in China, 2006; Dr. Walter Hook, Institutional and Regulatory Options for Bus Rapid Transit in Developing Countries – Lessons from International Experience, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, 2005; Jacques P. Feiner, Planning Sustainability: The Kunming Urban Region Development Project; China Transportation Program, China Transportation Program Strategy, 2004; China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, BRT Development Policies and Experiences in China, 2005; and Zhang ZhenGuo, Practice, Review, and Strategy – BRT Development in Kunming, 2004

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