By Tyler Falk
Posting in Transportation
Originating in South America, bus rapid transit systems are fast and efficient. Find out how they work.
"A bus rapid transit system is essentially a way of creating a subway or metro quality service and speed using buses and special stations," said Walter Hook, executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
So how exactly is BRT different from traditional buses?
1. Exclusive lanes that are separated from other traffic.
2. Stations are on platforms that are on the same level as the bus. You pay when you enter the station rather than on the bus.
3. Buses have priority at intersections.
Bus rapid transit originated in South America, and according to Hook, the best BRT systems in the world can still be found in places like Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia.
Watch the video to learn more and see a BRT system in action:
Photo: Edgar Zuniga Jr./Flickr
Mar 8, 2011
I lived in Brazil and now I live in Canada and tried both systems. As told before, BRT are cheap to set but polluutes a lot and have a limited capacity. Also they are likely to have many problems like accidents and subject to strikes; Skytrain althought is expensive to built is pretty sharp on time, reliable, comfortable and not likely to have accidents neither subject to strikes. But both systems needs to have capacity planning as the population grows.
This discussion seems pretty evenly split between those people giving examples from their own experience of working systems, and those that insist it can't work. I'm in the former category, and can second the story from Ottawa Canada (the fact that there's too much ridership now just points to short sighted planning - the real problem with rapid transit implementation, allowing politicians to make decisions they aren't qualified to make). And Dilbert - each truck would have to pay $100,000 for each $1 a car would pay to cover road damage. This is the hidden cost of goods in N. America that killed rail freight - railways have to maintain their own right-of-way, where trucks piggyback on the taxpayer. If these costs were correctly accounted for, rail would be seen to be much cheaper (and a whole lot safer) way to ship freight than trucks.
One point made by PghFree struck me as possibly incorrect. He stated that a full bus weighs far more than a loaded tractor/trailer. That didn't seem right to me, as a former trucker pulling up to 80,000 lbs with a standard 53' tractor/trailer combination. That weight is quite common. I searched briefly for normal loaded city bus weights, and found that 25,000 to 40,000 lbs is common, depending on how loaded it is. Just want that info added to the equation. One other thing . . . big rigs pay a lot in road taxes. They are pulling their weight on the taxes to maintain highways.
In Salt Lake City, Utah there is a very suscessful BRT system. The Utah Transit Authority is working to add other BRT sysytms to its many types of trasit offered.
Each type of people transportation has it's advantages; the most efficient use of people moving is a misture. But, in the U.S. as well as other representative governments, money makes the decisions. Best or most efficient systems often fall victim to special business interests. So, since we're the government here, it follows that we fail to choose representatives who will accept best or most efficient design without concern for short term monetary cost. We voters are the problem here!
BRT is an excuse to make lower investments in transit. You get what you pay for. When you have a cheaper BRT system, you will get less ridership, lower ride quality, higher operating costs, and often much less reliable service. The pressure to cut corners like to have signals at cross streeets and inadequate signal priority is extreme. It is much harder for BRT to maintain consistent headways. Different drivers drive differently. Boarding and disembarking is much slower even on low floor buses. If a passenger in a wheelchair or stroller boards, it can delay the bus by minutes and cause the buses to bunch. The throughput at stations is limited. Obviously in areas where the ridership doesn't justify rail or if that is all the country can afford, bus or BRT may be the right solution. But for a corridor in which rail is justified by current and future ridership, to substitute BRT is penny wise and pound foolish - it is guaranteed to be a significantly poorer transit service and attract fewer riders.
This is a great concept for poor countries whose citizens can't afford cars. In America, people can afford and prefer the independence of cars. Outside of 2 or 3 major US cities, buses run empty for the most part and are very inefficient. Now, if we de-funded the federal highway transportation department and used that money for high quality mass transit, then maybe people would get out of their cars. But, until then, we'd rather have cars on roads.
In Mexico City BRT has change the time that takes to cross the city (65 km - 40 mi) from more than 3 hours in previous bus system or about 2 by car to one and a half with the new system at $0.41 USD the ride.
In the city of Ahmedabad they initiated this system of BRT and it has worked wonders in reducing the private vehicular traffic as also the problems of parking. It also allows a rider the freedom to catch up on reading which may be relaxing in stead of having to concentrating on traffic which can be taxing. I lived in Chicago for 6 years and always preferred the CTA (now RTA) over driving myself. I could either read or catch up on my sleep ! I would rather have a bus with only 10 passengers than 10 gas guzzling autos creating traffic chaos and elevated stress and blood pressure in those 10 drivers.
I live in Istanbul, Turkey. A few years ago they set the BRT runing between asian side and european side of Istanbul. At first I thought it won't make sense neider from ecological nor avoiding the traffic jam. But it seems that it works.
Whichever new or improved system is adopted and expanded, it will eventually be out of necessity. The model of a 150 lb. person using a 3,000 lb. car for commuting is simply not sustainable. It never was.
This system has been operational in most large European cities since about 1960: - separate bus lanes, - priority at intersections, - payment on the platform or at bus stop, - guaranteed departure every 10 minutes or more frequently... Works fine. Day and night.
The character of a community's development whether it is "sprawl" or a more traditional form of development is determined by an array of factors like zoning, economic conditions and the presence or absence of guidlines. Many neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh exemplify the characteristics of traditional communities that planners and developers are trying to create in other metro areas. Yet these neighborhoods are served by buses, including buses operating on the East and West busways. Conversely, the more distant suburbs served by Pittsburgh's rail system and suburban communities in other metro areas served by light rail, heavy rail and commuter rail systems have all of the characteristics of suburban sprawl. The only way that many commuters can access these systems is either through a connecting bus, or by driving to a park-and-ride lot.
In response to PghFree, the Port Authority was created by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1959 and took over the operations of the Pittsburgh Railways and the 30+ other transit companies in 1964. The reason Port Authority was created is that it was a financially marginal operation which experienced bankruptcy and did not have the capital to modernize its system. If Pittsburgh Railways was really a financially viable enterprise, there would have been no need to create Port Authority. As far back as the 1920s, trolley and streetcar lines were abandoned. The first large scale conversion of rail lines to bus service occurred prior to Port Authority assuming the responsibility for operating Allegheny County's transit system. In 1959 all of the West End trolley routes were replaced with bus service. Port Authority continued to replace rail lines with bus service as did transit operators in most of the US. That "bogus" overhead rail system was the Skybus. One cannot credit (or blame, depending on one's perspective) Ed Tennyson for killing the Skybus - a local controversy erupted on about whether to build an automated people mover rapid transit system running on rubber tires or rebuilt the existing South Hills trolley and streetcar system. The controversy even pitted Westinghouse Electric vs. Westinghouse Air Brake. Due to the lack of consensus for the Skybus, the Federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration halted the project until there was local agreement on the type of system for the South Hills. While I feel the existing Light Rail System is more compatable with the community and does not require unsightly overhead structures, the Skybus would have been much cheaper to operate because no one was needed to operate the vehicles and it would have offered faster service. The Vancouver Skytrain is the existing North American system most similar to the proposed Skybus. I rode the Skytrain in 1995 and felt it was a very effective transit system. Although the Skybus never got built in Pittsburgh, a test track was built in South Park and Westinghouse Electric built a plant to manufacture automated people mover systems. The plant, now owned by Bombardier, still manufactures people movers for transit systems all over the world.
BRT is roughly two decades or so old in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Ottawa is characterized by a greenbelt and heavy suburban sprawl outside the greenbelt. The problem at the time was that some form of rapid transit was needed to get people between the core and the suburban ring. While light rail (LRT) was looked at, the infrastructure would have cost a lot right away. With LRT, They would have needed to buy trains, and put in complete train routes all at once. BRT allowed Ottawa to build the system incrementally and thus spread the cost over a very long period of time. A section of "Transitway" would be built between 2 planned stations. Once complete, buses could use it, and then take existing roads to the next planned stations. This meant that riders didn't need to transfer as often to go between home and work. The problem is that Ottawa's BRT is now a victim of its own success. The population growth around Transitway stations has increased significantly. During rush hour, the main bus that runs along the transitway corridor comes every 1.5minutes apart, is usually a series of double-long articulated buses, and all are usually packed to bursting. The result is that the system is now getting overloaded. It's not uncommon to see a bus pass through a station without stopping because there was no more room to let people on and no one wanted off. When it happens a dozen or so times, the rider starts considering alternate forms of transit. (Ottawa has a wonderful network of bike paths in the summer.) So while BRT may seem a solution right now, you need to plan 20 to 30 years ahead to make sure you're not going to cause too many problems for your kids or grandkids.
There is no way bus rapid transit could be implemented in the I-35/I-235 corridor around Oklahoma City. To create dedicated High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes on I-35 and I-235 would require widening of the right-of-ways and total reconstruction of both highways, involving every overpass and underpass. It would be more cost-effective to create a new right of way for light rail, perhaps along the BNSF right of way. I ride the bus every day from Norman to Oklahoma City. Yet again, we had to divert to Shields Blvd because traffic was stalled on I-35, thus adding to our already 1/2 hour non-stop transit time. Amtrak's Heartland Flyer can do Oklahoma City to Norman in 15 to 20 minutes traveling on the BNSF mainline. Similar times should be available by commuter rail or light rail, even if intermediate stops are included. I agree that Bus Rapid Transit would make sense from Shawnee to Oklahoma City because congestion is minimal on I-40. I have maintained that the only construction that would be required for such a service would be boarding lanes along the highway right of way so that buses would not have to exit, and overpasses and walkways from park and rides to those boarding lanes.
It would have been much better if they had trolley poles on them. A lot less smog and they would very quiet too, the loudest sound would be the sound of the tires.
Cheaper does not mean less expensive/more cost efficient. With our "lowest bid wins" culture, we have embarked on monumental cost overruns, time after time, project after project. If this is such a great idea, we should be seeing it implemented all over Europe. I've lived in Paris, Zurich and a plethora of other cities with mass transit systems. There is no mass transit silver bullet. There are successful systems, which integrate different transportation modes. None of the ones that I have traveled on included "Bus Rapid Transit" as described here.
I guess if we say the same lie over and over again, people will start to believe. Buses have many disadvantages. If they stack up, everyone still wants to crowd in the first bus. It takes more labor (bus drivers) for a heavy traveled corridor than a subway or even a light rail line that can carry a lot more passengers. BRT can work in some corridors OK, based on the ridership and traffic and be cost effective. We need an integrated transportation system, sorry, one size does not fit all.
All you have to do is watch traffic cams in the UK where they have dedicated bus lanes to see how many busses actually use those lanes and how many people tend to ride those busses. Yes, inside London, busses are very common, but London also has a very extensive subway system as well for getting from one area of town to the other far more quickly than any surface transport. Here in the US, while busses are a common sight, they aren't nearly as efficient as they should be because they are limited to the speed of surrounding traffic, which becomes almost total gridlock during rush hours when they're most needed. Light rail corridors that go over or under surface transportation is still the most efficient way, though expensive to initiate.
Starting in the 1963, Pittsburgh (Allegheny County to be exact) created a public transit agency which took Pittsburgh Railways, the region's streetcar company, by eminent domain and combined it with 33 local bus companies. Pittsburgh Railways fought it because they were still making a profit running the largest streetcar system existing in the US at the time. The bus companies were either bankrupt or struggling. The new agency began ripping out the rails and eliminating street car service. The intention was to build a new overhead transit system which was bogus and eventually PA Dep. Sec. of Transportation Ed Tennyson killed the project, insisting the money be used to build a light rail line which has been treated more or less as an orphan system. Around the same time a new bogus idea called "busways" was created here, where they take existing railroad rights of way and convert them into exclusive bus highways at a cost of 5 to 10 times what it would cost to reuse them for rail transit. Even with extravagant mismanagement, the rail operations have been more efficient than the bus operations. The rail serves the better off communities to the south of the city while the poorer, urban communities to the east are stuck with buses, even though the busway ridership numbers are double the amount where the FTA says rail would be more efficient. The many disadvantages of buses over rail (e.g., noiser, air polluting, oil dripping runoff, poorer ride, to name a few). One thing that is seldom mentioned is that a fully loaded bus is way over the highway load limits -- if it were a truck with comparable weight on each axle, it would be heavily fined. The result is that buses destroy road surfaces faster than 18 wheelers, adding a hidden cost that is not included in their cost accounting. Add that to the accounting which already shows the various forms of rail to be more efficient than buses, and hands down the notion of bus efficiency is a deceptive illusion that keeps getting projected by those who subscribe to the bus only ideology. (The solution for idiocy is ideology; it doesn't cure it, it just gives them something to do.) There can be a place for buses in a transit mix, such as feeding rail trunk lines. However, when relied upon as the sole component, it's chief claim to superiority, its flexibility and ability to service lower density settlement patterns, actually undermines its own viability by facilitating more and more dispersal to the point that high density, viably serviceable areas have their profitability eroded away and the whole system becomes ineffective. Even though there is a large percentage of the population in the Pittsburgh area who are transit dependent, the result is that their transit service is currently being decimated because it has destroyed its efficiencies.
What is the difference between this type of bus system and the trolleys in Boston? Aside from the trolleys going underground. They have their own above ground lanes throughout the city. Also, compare to the D.C. train system--I don't remember now if those go above ground, but I do recall being very impressed with the system from a cleanliness and vagrant standpoint compared to Boston's.
Bus transit works if they are filled to near capaicy, but if you have big busses hauling just a few people around, they can be much less efficient than individual cars. I see this as the dilema of public transportation, dynamically matching the load with the vehicle. Exclusive lanes have their own added cost, and reduction in flexibility.
In london and other parts of the uk cameras cover bus lanes with a very high fine of ?120 ($200 us) for driving into one at designated times for even a few seconds. some local councils make a fortune from drivers who have as much as one wheel in the lane or drop off passengers.fines are sent automaticly with discount for quick payment & doubling or trebling for very late payment.some busses have camers on front aswell for this & accident reasons.some areas allow motorbikes into bus lanes (cycles do not have number plates so no fine as camera cant get them & some people are mad enough to ride in front of a bus in the rush hour!...)