Bus Rapid Transit: The Incremental Answer
The Mineta Transportation Institute has released a study of bus rapid tranist as practiced in California, Oregon and Ontario. The prime element identified in "From Buses to BRT: Case Studies of Incremental BRT Projects in North America" is the flexible nature of the beast.
"This latitude provides transit agencies with many benefits, including the ability to match physical infrastructure with operating requirements," the report notes. "For example, a BRT service can combine operations serving free flowing arterial roads in the fringes of the downtown with dedicated lanes in areas closer to city center where congestion is greatest. Moreover, unlike rail transit, bus transit vehicles can operate both on and off the guide way, extending the corridors in which passengers are offered a one-seat ride with no transfer required. Transit agencies also can select specific BRT components and strategies, such as traffic signal priority and increased stop spacing, and apply them to existing local bus operations as a way to increase bus speeds and reduce operating costs."
But the variations in service -- from simple signal priority buses traveling in traffic to grade-separated buses that look more like trains on rubber wheels -- begs the question, "What is bus rapid transit?"
As the report points out, in Latin America and Asia bus rapid transit is uniformly rail-like rapid transit system with fully dedicated lanes and trunk and feeder operations. To help alleviate American confusion, the study classifies traditional bus rapid transit as "heavy BRT" and systems were buses mosly operate in mixed traffic as "light BRT."
The researches conclude that the flexibility of bus rapid transit and the ability of transit agencies to roll out BRT in stages makes BRT the ideal approach for maximizing transit's role in reducing the growth of greenhouse gasses.
"Bus performance improvement offers quick results at a reasonable public cost," the report notes. "For example, as shown by the case studies, the 26 bus lines of the Los Angeles Metro Rapid network were implemented far more quickly and for billions of dollars less than the four L.A. rail lines, yet these enhanced buses are serving 78 percent as many passenger trips as the entire rail system. All of the Metro Rapid lines even cost less to put in place than the single Orange Line BRT line in the same city, and yet the Metro Rapid is providing over three times the gain in daily boardings. These examples suggest that incremental improvements, applied widely to regional bus networks, may be able to achieve significant benefits at a lower cost than substantial infrastructure investments focused upon just one or a few corridors."
The report has been added to the Best Practices.