Solving Cities

U.S. cities reinventing buses with bus rapid transit

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Five U.S. cities are reinventing what it means to ride the bus. They're using a system called bus rapid transit. It's gaining in popularity because it's quick and reliable, but for a fraction of the cost of rail. Find out what cities are leading the way.

With buses accounting for about half of transit rides in the U.S., how can cities make their bus systems quicker and more reliable?

A new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy identifies five U.S. cities that are trying to do just that.

The five cities cited as the best cities in the U.S. for bus-based transportation include: Los Angeles, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Eugene, Ore., and Pittsburgh.

But what sets these cities apart from the average city bus service in the U.S.? The answer: bus rapid transit (BRT).

BRT reinvents what buses can do for transit riders by making buses more like light rail, but at a fraction of the costs.

BRT does that by using exclusive lanes that remove the buses from traffic congestion. The boarding process is also more efficient with BRT because it uses stations at each bus stop. You pay upon entering the stations rather than on the bus. (Check out this video to see BRT in action.)

Unfortunately, compared with other BRT systems around the world, even the best systems in the U.S. can't compete. The report develops a rating system that evaluates bus services and gives the best cities gold, silver, or bronze rating. The best cities in the U.S. only received a bronze rating.

But the report does identifies three BRT systems in the planning stage -- in San Francisco, Chicago, and Montgomery County, Maryland -- that could set the bar even higher for BRT in the U.S. and could reach the gold rating standard.

“These systems are poised to redefine how Americans see and use buses, critical at a time of increasingly scarce transportation funding,” says Walter Hook, ITDP Executive Director. “But based on what we’ve seen in our work in cities around the world, we think there’s still more that could be done. Getting at least one truly world-class BRT system built in the U.S. could inspire cities around the country to rethink the way they use buses in the fight against increasing traffic congestion and rising fuel prices.”

Photo: NYC DOT

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure