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Transit guru: My life in the bus lane

Elected as Curitiba's (Brazil) mayor three times Jaime Lerner implemented a "Master Plan" to transform the city. Curitiba's Bus Rapid Transit system is one of the most admired public transportation systems on the planet, garnering accolades and spawning spin-off systems in cities like Bogotá and Los Angeles. Curitiba's six dedicated fast-lane bus lines traverse the city, carrying 36,000 passengers per hour and 2.3 million overall every day. It's affordable too - a single fare costs $1.25 and will take you 20 kilometres outside downtown.

Working fast is what got Lerner elected as Curitiba's mayor three times, and later twice-elected as governor of the Brazilian State of Parana. He and his young fellow architects conceived Curitiba's Master Plan in the mid 1960s, which soon resulted in the bus system as well as pedestrian-only streets, more parks, and later, a unique trash-for-cash recycling program that encouraged people to turn in garbage and reusable materials in exchange for food and other goods. Word soon spread throughout Brazil and then the world about Curitiba's progressive and environmentally-friendly initiatives, earning it a reputation as one of the "greenest" cities on earth. Lerner now spends much of his time travelling the world and sharing his vision with others. "Every city can improve its quality of life in less than three years. No matter the scale of the city, no matter the financial conditions," Lerner said. "When we realize that 75 percent of carbon emissions are related to the cities, it is the cities where we can be most effective."

Brazil's booming economy means more cars on the roads these days, but that only seems to increase many Curitibans' love for the bus. Lerner left politics in 2002 and now dedicates his time to his architecture firm, which has worked on urban planning projects for cities including Shanghai in China, Perm in Russia, Mazatlan in Mexico and Luanda in Angola. He is also designing an electric mini-car, the Dock Dock that he hopes will clear congested roads and reduce carbon emissions. Lerner says he is proud of his accomplishments, but there's still much for him and others to do.

"There are three major issues now that are becoming important, not only for cities, but for all mankind: Mobility, sustainability - which is linked to mobility - and social diversity."

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