Mongolia Rapid-Bus System Set to Begin in 2017, ADB Says

  • Project to tackle pollution and gridlock in Ulaanbaatar
  • Asian Development Bank to provide $218 million in funding

A modern bus system aimed at tackling traffic and air pollution problems in Mongolia’s capital could begin operating as soon as 2017, according to the Asian Development Bank. 

The Manila-based lender will provide $218 million over the next six to nine years for roads and bridges along several Bus Rapid Transit corridors in Ulaanbaatar, Ki-Joon Kim, a senior transport specialist at the Asian Development Bank’s East Asia Department, said in an e-mail Tuesday. The money will fund 64.5 kilometers (41 miles) of bus corridors, he said.

A rapid-bus system works like a surface subway, operating on dedicated lanes and making stops at platforms raised to the height of the bus floor. Their cost has made them popular alternatives to subways in developing countries such as Indonesia, India and Colombia.  

A detailed design for the system will be ready by the end of 2016 under the projected timeline, according to Kim. Construction will start in spring 2017, with one corridor to be completed by October 2017, he said.

Downtown Access

Taking cars off the road both eases traffic and can help reduce air pollution in a city already facing high levels of smog. Tailpipe emissions and dust kicked up by cars account for as much as 25 percent of Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution, Kim said. 

Pollution is especially bad in winter, when many of the 180,000 families living in slum areas called ger districts heat their homes with raw or semi-processed coal. In the city’s northern neighborhoods, daily average levels of particulate matter below 2.5 microns can exceed 270, according to agaar.mn, a pollution monitoring website. Levels over 200 are considered very unhealthy by most international standards. 

The rapid bus system can reduce transportation pollutants by 18%, at a construction cost of $1 million to $5 million per kilometer, the ADB said.

Kim said he expects 10 percent to 20 percent of drivers who live or work along the planned route to switch to the bus system. That could make a difference in a city where the number of registered vehicles had reached 480,000 at the end of May from 80,000 in 2006, according to ADB figures.

The ADB approved an initial loan of $60 million in May to begin construction while the government provided $10 million. An additional $1.5 million in grants will come from the Global Environment Fund for improving emission standards. 

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