March 11, 2024

The Dakar BRT System’s Pioneering Journey Towards Inclusive Electrification in Africa

The city of Dakar recently launched the anticipated 18.3km fully electric BRT system, a first in the Africa region. The e-BRT system is expected to carry 300,000 passengers a day and reduce travel journey time from 95 to 45 minutes. The system is set to operate a robust fleet of 144 articulated e-buses, spearheading a transformative shift towards zero emission urban transport, a mode shift from private vehicle uses through better quality urban transport as well as encouraging renewable energy sources in the Africa region. 


The BRT system incorporates quality inclusive designs on the stations and pedestrian facilities, ensuring accessibility for all including women, children and persons with disabilities. Key design attributes include level boarding, at-grade pedestrian crossings, walkways, cycle tracks, inclusive bus designs and adequate street lighting to improve safety, especially for women and other vulnerable groups. One of the most exciting aspects of the BRT system is the shift to fully electric buses using solar-generated renewable energy. Buses are equipped with a robust battery capacity of 560 kWh, enabling sustained operations. With a charging power of 120 kW, they require approximately 6 hours to achieve a full charge. Real-time bus monitoring has been incorporated, to ensure the buses are charged based on passenger demand. 

Dakar was arguably the first city in the Africa region that attempted to formalise the informal bus system and also involve the private sector in the overall renewal of the bus fleets. Like many African cities, Dakar has a long history of using informal transport known as car rapides and Ndiaga Ndayes. The city also has a formal bus service referred to as the Dakar Dem Dik (DDD). Over the years, the city through the Conseil Exécutif des Transports Urbains de Dakar (CETUD) has been working to address the declining quality of public transport services, first with the fleet renewal and bus services upgrading initiative in early 2005. Informal operators participating in the project were required to form cooperatives known as Association de financement des professionnels du transport urbain de Dakar (AFTU) which would be responsible for loan repayments for the new fleet, initially financed and guaranteed by the government with credit from the World Bank. The government regulated services through concession agreements which enabled government oversight in the quality of services. Key changes included scraping old and dilapidated vehicles, specified routes and fares, strict pick-up and drop-off points and use of ticketing slips to show proof of payment. The system led to public transport improvements with the renewed fleet although enforcement of the set conditions to improve the service quality became slow and minimal over the years. The BRT system whose planning also started at the same time offered improved service delivery through larger buses improving economies of scale, better system monitoring through intelligent transport systems (ITS) and dedicated median lanes to improve time savings. 

Dakar began to explore BRT after some preliminary presentations by ITDP to CETUD and other local decision-makers. ITDP sent Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogotá, and other experts to Dakar to hold workshops as part of the “Building a New City” tour. President Abdoulaye Wade and several top officials expressed great interest in replicating many of Bogotá’s experiences. ITDP also prepared the first BRT feasibility study with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The study focused on identifying the travel patterns in the city and identifying BRT routes based on congestion levels and travel demand, minimal land acquisition, under-utilised road capacity and strategic ongoing road upgrading opportunities. The study also identified the projected demand by evaluating existing commute frequencies, origin and destination patterns, city density and evaluation of mode shift patterns and trends among other factors. The data was used to model future scenarios for the different corridors. The highest demand identified was from Guediawaye/ Pikine, Camberene to Plateau. The recommended operations also focused on prioritising the key high-demand corridors and the use of a trunk and feeder system to increase the capacity of the BRT, especially given the limited road space in the city. In addition, bus driver behaviour would be more easily enforced in a trunk feeder system, solving the key challenges in the bus service formalisation process. Once the BRT system planning was in place, ITDP also contributed to the design process ensuring universal standards and key BRT basics such as fully dedicated right-of-way, busway alignment, platform-level boarding, off-board fare collection and proper intersection treatments were incorporated. The operations model also incorporated inter-modal connectivity with the Train Express Regional (TER) as well as having each terminus serving the 32 feeder bus routes that are part of the BRT system.

The World Bank and the European Investment Bank financed the construction of the 18.3 km Dakar BRT corridor. On the other hand, the BRT bus fleet is financed, procured, and operated by the private sector through a 15-year concession agreement signed in Mar 2021. The private sector partner, Dakar Mobilité, constitutes Meridiam and Fonds d’ Investissement du Sénégal (Senegal Investment Fund, or FONSIS) have a 70/30 shareholding agreement. FONSIS shares, which are essentially government shares, are expected to be sold back to local operators within two years. The consortium has an operator service agreement with Keolis. The overall private sector investment amounts to USD 144 million, with an additional USD 22 million financed by the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). 

The risks to the private sector are mitigated through clearly outlined risk and role allocation in the operating agreement, including a minimum revenue guarantee, minimum passenger guarantee set at 100,000 passengers per day, and automatic fare revision of +1.9 percent per annum. The operator is expected to collect revenues as well as maintain the necessary infrastructure. The government, on the other hand, will ensure adequate operations and passenger volumes on feeder services. The BRT fares are zone-based and were set based on affordability through preference surveys and existing fares as well as the financial viability of the concession. To accommodate vulnerable groups, estimated to constitute 17 percent of potential riders, the system will charge a reduced fare of 50 percent of the normal rate. The government will pay USD 17 million to the concessionaire over the 15-year period to offset the revenue loss due to the reduced fare. It is also worth noting that since the project is deemed financially viable with an economic internal rate of return (EIRR) of 18.9 percent, the concessionaire is expected to pay a concession fee to the government. 

To ensure improved ridership and inclusive operations, CETUD is working with other stakeholders on campaigns which also involve opportunities for women. Out of the 1000 jobs created, 35% will be allocated to women. The BRT system already has one female driver, which is not very common in Dakar. In addition, gender-based violence mechanisms are being set up to ensure safety for women and girls as well as ensure responsive reporting mechanisms. 

The Dakar BRT system is a great example of how cities can reduce urban transport emissions through the shift-avoid-improve model, which through ITDP’s compact cities modelling, has shown the greatest benefits in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping warming below the 1.5 degrees threshold. By advocating for walking and cycling, creating dense mixed-use neighbourhoods as well as implementing efficient and accessible electric mass rapid transit systems, African cities can ensure more sustainable commutes. 


All photos credited to CETUD


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