Conversations about mass transit frequently dissolve into a debate about “bus vs. train.” Jared Walker from Human Transit talks extensively about this problem here. He also talks about specific differences between bus and rail transit and provides easy to read charts here.
To give a very brief summary of his posts, the perception of rail is generally better only because most rail stops by our house more often (frequency), does not have to share space with cars (designated right of way) and does not stop too often, moving faster. The point he makes is that all of these elements can be a part of a bus network!
Bus rapid transit (BRT) is a new term for a new, but rapidly growing, type of transit system.
If you have never heard of bus rapid transit, or you are not sure how it works, you should watch the video below. It will change your whole perception of bus transportation:
Bus Rapid Transit in Guangzhou, China from Streetfilms on Vimeo.
This video demonstrates that rapid bus networks can work like modern subway train networks. For this reason, bus rapid transit is sometimes called a “surface subway”.
It can be hard to envision a system like this working in places such as Tucson or Albuquerque. However, the use of this technology is growing rapidly. One of the primary reasons is lower cost.
Average cost per mile – Light Rail transit: $34.8 million
Average cost per mile – Bus Rapid transit: $13.5 million
(Source: US General Accounting Office, p. 4 – PDF)
A good example of a mid size American city with BRT is Eugene, OR. Learn more about their successful network here.
In an era with limited funds and growing transit needs, Bus Rapid Transit has much potential. Making our busy commercial car corridors into places where someone can walk will be difficult. Bus Rapid Transit can be a strong step in the right direction.
This post is Post #50 on this blog. I will try to continue posting frequently. I have recently learned that for a portion of this summer, I will be working for NM Senator Jeff Bingaman in Washington DC. I am excited to spend time exploring the new DC bike sharing network, as well as the wonderful mass transit system in the area. I have continued working with the Living Streets Alliance; it has been fun and rewarding. I look forward to the bright future.
2 thoughts on “Understanding Bus Rapid Transit”
Congrats, Dan! What an amazing experience that'll be. Question: What's your take on BRT in cities like Albuquerque and Tucson? Are they the cheap solution they are being billed as? How do they compare to grade-separated rail systems in the long term?
Thanks! I'm excited to live in a true urban environment for a little while.Honestly, it really depends. Over a long period of time, the operational costs for BRT can become higher (fuel, new vehicles, etc.). However, other than that, the only real advantage light rail has over BRT is capacity. Basically, it's easier to add another car to the train vs. adding another bus. For market such as Tucson and Albuquerque, capacity is not a huge issue. The transit ridership is relatively low and the density is lower as well. This means that BRT might make more sense in these markets, especially if a lower cost to build creates larger political support for transit. However, all this is context dependent so it's really hard to say. For example, the Central corridor in Albuquerque might really need light rail off the bat; it's hard to say. If you're curious about these kinds of things, read more stuff from Human Transit, specifically the two articles I linked in the first paragraph. He frequently talks about these kinds of things. Thanks for commenting!