A good investment for both urban and rural communities, BRT accelerates to popular status
Bus rapid transit, an affordable alternative to rail transit, is more efficient than traditional buses, eases traffic congestion and is adaptable for transit corridors or an existing running way. And, for a growing number of communities, that's cool.
Permanent, affordable solutionAs communities grow and residents seek more mobility options, conventional, fixed-route bus transit may not always be the best alternative. If transit planners hope to better serve existing riders and persuade more solo motorists to leave their cars at home, they must find viable ways to enhance the ridership experience by getting passengers to their destinations more efficiently. One permanent, affordable solution is bus rapid transit.
BRT is a smart investment for nearly any community seeking permanent, low-threshold solutions that provide transportation choice and have a positive impact on congestion. Many communities are adopting it, including:
• MAX Bus Rapid Transit, Kansas City, Mo.
• Johnson County Transit, Kansas
• Pace, Chicago
• Metro Transit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.
• VelociRFTA, Aspen, Colo.
An affordable alternative to fixed-guideway, rail-based systems, BRT combines the flexibility and cost-savings of buses with the efficiency, speed, reliability and amenities of a rail system – often without the expense of adding significant infrastructure. According to a 2013 HNTB America THINKS survey, nearly three in four (73 percent) of those who don’t currently have a bus rapid transit system where they live would support this type of transit.
BRT system components include:
• Enhanced running ways
• Rail-like stations with enhanced passenger amenities
• Easy-to-board, low-floor buses
• Transit signal priority, allowing buses to stay on schedule
• Exclusive travel lanes
• Real-time arrival signs at stations or via mobile applications
• Off-board fare collection or proof of payment systems
• Up to 20 hours of service per day
• The ability to spur economic development
• Off-board fare collection to reduce dwell times at stations
• “Next bus in 3 minutes” real-time communication
• Dedicated bus lanes, set apart by pavement markings or physical barriers
• Traffic signals and queue jumps that give buses priority over regular traffic
• Multimodal lanes that can improve trip times by allowing buses to use free-flowing high-occupancy vehicle lanes or express toll lanes.
• Highway shoulders that can be used when speeds decrease to a certain threshold on the highway mainline.
Living up to the word “rapid” is critical. When the customer experience matches the promise, BRT will be a success.
By choosing BRT, transit agencies can create a system that is:
Fast to implement, economical
• Adaptable to virtually any transit corridor or existing running way.
• Responsive to traffic or economic development pattern changes.
• Economical, as BRT does not require large capital improvements beyond stations and signage.
• Faster to implement than a rail system.
BRT, which can be implemented from planning to opening in four years or fewer, can cost as little as $3 million per mile, using existing running ways. To operate in dedicated lanes, BRT may cost up to $60 million per mile – still less than rail. Comparing BRT with an average range of $60-$100 million per mile for a new light rail transit system, many cash-strapped municipalities will be more likely to seriously consider BRT.
Economic developmentFinally, BRT has been shown to spur economic redevelopment along many corridors across the country, including Cleveland’s Euclid corridor, where more than $4 billion in redevelopment has occurred, and along Boston’s Silver Line BRT, where the private sector has invested more than $700 million.
Multiple funding sourcesBecause of its relatively low implementation cost, BRT can be constructed using a variety of funding sources. BRT projects have used FTA New Starts, Small Starts and Very Small Starts funding as well as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. The increased cost-effectiveness of BRT programs makes it easier for municipalities and transit agencies to “overmatch” federal funding – thereby increasing the likelihood of receiving federal funding.
Southeast• Florida's Jacksonville Transportation Authority is preparing preliminary plans for the First Coast Flyer - Southwest BRT. Plans include 26 stations, intersection improvements with queue-jump lanes at three locations and one mid-route layover point.
• Miami-Dade Transit and the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization have completed a feasibility study on three BRT corridors under consideration in Miami-Dade County along Northwest 27th Avenue, Flagler Street and Kendall Drive.
Midwest• The Interurban Transit Partnership in Grand Rapids, Mich., is constructing the Silver Line, its first BRT line, and planning a second line. A total of 33 stations will be built along the Silver Line, spanning the three cities of Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming. Service began in August 2014.
• Des Moines’ DART is planning a loop system, curb-lane-running arterial BRT service of 7 miles that will include approximately 20 stations to connect to downtown, major universities and health care providers and many urban neighborhoods.
• Greater Chicago’s Pace Suburban Bus System is planning at least seven arterial BRT corridors as well as enhanced express bus service operating in bus-on-shoulder and managed lane facilities in the region.
• The Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, in partnership with IndyGO (the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp.) and the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, is conducting two alternatives analysis studies for the region’s initial BRT corridors under the IndyConnect plan.
• The Northwest Area Mobility Study (NAMS) is a 13-month effort to develop a prioritized list of mobility improvements for the northwest area of the Denver Regional Transportation District’s service area. It includes a feasibility study of new arterial BRT lines.
West• The San Diego Association of Governments and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System are adding eight more stations with improved passenger amenities, such as electronic “next-bus” message signs, to their SuperLoop rapid bus service. According to its website, the SuperLoop calls for up to 26 stations, 17 of which have been built to date. SuperLoop includes priority traffic treatments, such as signal prioritization, traffic signal synchronization, traffic signal priority and roadway improvements that allow vehicles to move through traffic efficiently to maintain the service schedule.
• In Seattle, the Washington State Department of Transportation and partnering agencies are moving toward a BRT system with the implementation of a price managed lanes system on I-405. In 2015, Seattle residents passed the $1 billion Move Seattle transportation levy that will fund up to seven bus rapid transit corridors in the city.
• The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in California is planning a BART line that would extend from De Anza College to the Berryessa BART station. The opening is planned for fall 2017. In the interim, the VTA is working to implement a rapid bus service as a near-term implementation and early deliverable of the Stevens Creek BRT project.
• Improvements to the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project in Los Angeles are currently underway. The system operates along one of the most congested urban corridors in California, yet improvements are projected to improve current travel times by an average of 24 percent.
• LA Metro Orange Line Extension will offer improvements to north-south mobility in the western portion of the San Fernando Valley by linking frequently populated areas along the corridor and connecting the existing Metro Orange Line with other forms of transit.
• LA Metro also is moving forward with corridor studies for the proposed Vermont Avenue and North Hollywood-to-Pasadena BRT routes.
Lives and breathes efficiencyBRT is more than having clear, simple routes and limited stops. It’s about creating a product that is both efficient and unique. Distinctive architecture, catchy names and graphic images create a consistent look and feel throughout the system for quick identification. For example, Colorado’s Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) branded its new BRT service the “VelociRFTA” accompanied by colorful eye-catching images of a dinosaur, known for its speed.
The nation’s first “rural” BRT system, VelociRFTA, began revenue service in Aspen, Colorado, in September 2013, after a commuter rail system was deemed too expensive. The new VelociRFTA BRT line was $46 million, about one-tenth the cost of commuter rail service. Just like their urban cousins, rural BRT systems increase mobility when existing corridors can no longer be expanded. They also link people to job centers and shorten travel times for residents who live 30 miles or more outside of a major job center.
According to HNTB’s America THINKS survey, dependability is key among 82 percent of those who generally would be interested in using a BRT system. More than six in 10 (63 percent) said they would want the buses to run on reliable, frequent schedules – and 45 percent could be swayed by real-time departure and arrival information.
Is BRT right for your community?Consider BRT when:
• Seeking permanent, low-threshold solutions to traffic congestion
• Responding to traffic or economic development patterns is important
• Capital budgets are tight.
• Fast implementation is a priority.
• Existing corridors can no longer be expanded.
• Cities need to link people to job centers and shorten travel times.