The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bus Rapid Transit - Americas: Benefits, Features & Credentials

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a broad term given to a variety of transportation systems that, through improvements to infrastructure, vehicles and scheduling, attempt to use buses to provide a service that is of a higher quality than an ordinary bus line. Each BRT system uses different improvements, although many improvements are shared by many BRT systems. The goal of such systems is to at least approach the service quality of rail transit while still enjoying the cost savings of bus transit. The expression "BRT" is mainly used in North America; elsewhere, one may speak of Quality Bus or simply bus service while raising the quality.

Main BRT features

These bus systems can come in a variety of forms, from dedicated busways that have their own rights-of-way (e.g., Ottawa's Transitway or the Pittsburgh MLK East Busway) to bus services that utilize HOV lanes and dedicated freeway lanes (e.g., Honolulu's CityExpress) to limited stop buses on pre-existing routes.

An ideal Bus Rapid Transit service would be expected to include most of the following features:

* Bus only, grade-separated (or at-grade exclusive) right-of-way : The main feature of a BRT system is having dedicated bus lanes which operate separate from all other traffic modes. This allows buses to operate at a very high level of reliability since only professional motorists are allowed on the busway. A side benefit of this are lower construction costs since busways can be engineered to tighter standards and still remain safe compared to a roadway open to non-professional drivers.
o Such a right of way may be elevated; on rare occasions, the right of way may be a modified rail right of way,
o A bus street or transit mall can be created in an urban center by dedicating all lanes of a city street to the exclusive use of buses,
o Low-cost infrastructure elements that can increase the speed and reliability of bus service include bus turnouts, bus boarding islands, and curb realignments.
* Comprehensive Coverage : In addition to using dedicated busways, BRTs can also take advantage of existing roadways in cities that already have a comprehensive road network for private automobiles. Service can be made more time efficient and reliable than a standard bus system by taking advantage of bus priority methods.
* Serves a diverse market with high-frequency all day service : A BRT network with comprehensive coverage can serve a diverse market (all income ranges) by moving people from their current location to their destination with high frequency and reliability while maintaining a high level of customer experience. As with any transit system, if any of these benefits are taken out of the equation, or do not provide better service than other modes of transit, the network will not be able to serve as diverse a market or offer high-frequency service without heavy subsidy.
* Bus priority / Bus lanes : Preferential treatment of buses at intersections can involve the extension of green time or actuation of the green light at signalized intersections upon detection of an approaching bus. Intersection priority can be particularly helpful when implemented in conjunction with bus lanes or streets, because general-purpose traffic does not intervene between buses and traffic signals.
* Vehicles with Tram-like characteristics : Recent technological developments such as bi-articulated buses and guided buses have benefited the set up of BRT systems. The main developments are:
o Improved riding quality (guided buses, electronic drivetrain control smoothing the operation),
o Increased capacity (bi-articulated or double decker),
o Reduced operating costs (hybrid electric power train).
* A specific image with a Brand name : (Viva, Max, TransMilenio...) and specific stations with state of the art features, automatic vending machines...
* Off-bus fare collection : Conventional on board collection of fares slows the boarding process, particularly when a variety of fares is collected for different destinations and/or classes of passengers. An alternative would be the collection of fares upon entering an enclosed bus station or shelter area prior to bus arrivals (similar to how fares are collected at a kiosk before entering a subway system). This system would allow passengers to board through all doors of a stopped bus.
* Level boarding : Many BRT systems also use low floor buses (or high level platforms with high floor buses) to speed up passenger boardings and enhance accessibility.

One could argue however that for the expense of building all these features, one may as well build light rail line but overall operating costs are better for buses, especially if commercially operated.


Opponents of Bus Rapid Transit initiatives argue that BRT is not an effective replacement for light rail or subway services. They argue that in order for BRT to have greatest effect, it must have its own right-of-way requiring space and often construction costs. A regular bus service would share the road with cars; a BRT service operating in mixed traffic would be subject to the same congestion, delays, and jarring and swaying rides as do ordinary city buses. Furthermore, signal priority systems, which are often the sole factor differentiating BRT from regular limited-stop bus service (most notably in Los Angeles' extensive "Rapid" system), might cause severe disruptions to traffic flow on major cross streets. Opponents argued that this merely redistributes, rather than reduces, the traffic congestion problems that BRT systems are designed to alleviate.

Comparison with other forms of mass transit

BRT attempts to combine the advantages of a metro system (exclusive right-of-way to improve punctuality and frequency) with the advantages of a bus system (low construction and maintenance costs, does not require exclusive right-of-way for entire length, at least at the beginning).

Compared to standard bus service, BRT systems with dedicated right-of-way and thus an increased average transport speed can provide more passenger-miles with the same number of rolling stock and personnel. They also offer the prospect of a more fluent ride than a normal bus immersed in stop-and-go traffic.

It is simplistic to use calculations to predict the capacity of BRT and normal buses and say typical buses are 12 metres (40 feet) long, articulated buses 18 metres (60 feet). The maximum length for a street-running tram consist (in Germany) is 75 metres (about 250 feet). Light rail systems running in-street are limited to one city block in length, unless, as in Sacramento, CA, they are allowed to obstruct intersections when stopped. Metro trains can be 240 m (about 800 feet) long.

With similar dwell times in stations the capacity of rail systems would scale with the length of the train. For instance, a light rail system running on two-minute headways with 200-passenger cars operating as single units could carry 6,000 passengers per hour. It should theoretically therefore carry 12,000 passengers per hour with two-car trains, and 24,000 per hour with four-car trains. In practice real world delays multiply and headways become disrupted causing a practical limitation of around 12 to 19,000[2]

Maximum Observed Peak Hour Bus Flows, Capacities, and Passenger Flows at Peak Load Points on Transitways

Measured Peak Hour Passenger Flow (Passengers / Hour)

Designated Lane: Ankara, Istanbul, Abidjan 7,300 – 19,500

Designated Lanes with Feeders Curitiba, Brazil 13,900 – 24,100

Designated Lanes with Bus Ordering (Travelling in Clusters) Porto Alegre 17,500 – 18,300

Designated Lanes with Overlapping Routes,Passing at Stations and Express Routes

Belo Horizonte, São Paulo 15,800-20,300

However, many BRT systems such as OC Transpo Transitway, Ottawa and South-East Busway, Brisbane are based on multiple bus routes sharing a common dedicated busway to bypass congestion, especially to/from a central business district. In this form, the BRT system passenger capacity is limited by vehicle capacity times vehicle headway of the busway. As buses can operate at headways as low as 10 seconds between vehicles (compared to at least one minute headways for rail vehicles), actual busway capacity can reach passenger rail capacities. At the high end, the Lincoln Tunnel XBL bus lane carries 62,000 commuters in the 4 hour morning peak, more than any Light Rail Line. However, this lane has no stops in it. Stops increase the headway and limit a BRT lane to about 10,000 passengers per hour, even with passing lanes in the stations. Note that this is still five times the number carried in the automobiles in a congested freeway lane.

Many agencies make a clear distinction between a pure BRT, which is in exclusive lanes, and a more compromised form in mixed traffic. For example, the Los Angeles Orange Line runs entirely in an exclusive lane and therefore achieves speed and reliability comparable to rail. Because it is functionally equivalent to rail, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority presents this line as part of its rail transit system, distinct from its "Rapid" lines, which run in mixed traffic.

The typical diesel engine on the bus causes noticeable levels of air pollution, noise and vibrations. Through developing buses as hybrid vehicles and the use of new forms of trolleybus BRT designers hope to increase ride quality and decrease pollution. As the energy use for acceleration is proportional to the vehicle mass, electric traction allows lighter vehicles, faster acceleration and energy that can be fed back into batteries or the grid through regenerative brakes. Regenerative braking is standard on modern rail systems.

In contrast to BRT, Light Rail requires the placement of rails for the whole line. The tram usually avoids the high additional costs for the engineering structures like tunnels that need to be built for metros. Rail tends to provide a smoother ride and is known to attract significantly higher passenger numbers than road-based systems.

Many BRT designers have used the need to construct power conduit systems as an argument against Light Rail, but a new proposal, known as ultra light rail, would have trams carry their own power, much like a bus, at a significant energy savings due to lack of rolling resistance.

In larger towns and cities, such as Essen, Germany and Pittsburgh, USA, it is common for a right of way exclusive to public transport to be used by both light rail and buses.

A special issue arises in the use of bus vehicles in metro structures. Since the areas where the demand for an exclusive bus right-of-way is apt to be in dense downtown areas where an above-ground structure may be unacceptable on historic, logistic, or environmental grounds, use of BRT in fully underground tunnels may not be avoidable.

Since buses are almost universally operated by internal combustion engines, bus metros raise ventilation issues similar to those of tunnels. In the case of tunnels, powerful fans typically exchange air through ventilation structures on the surface, but are usually placed in a location as remote as possible from occupied areas to minimize the effects of noise and concentrated pollution.

A straightforward way to deal with this is to use electrical propulsion in tunnels and, in fact, Seattle in its Metro Bus Tunnel and Boston in Phase II of its Silver Line are using this method in their respective BRTs. In the case of Seattle, dual-mode (electric/diesel electric) buses manufactured by Breda were used until 2004, with the center axle driven by electric motors obtaining power from trolley wire in the subway, and with the rear axle driven by a conventional diesel powertrain on freeways and streets. Boston is using a similar approach, after initially using electric trolleybuses to provide service pending delivery of the dual mode vehicles in 2005. In 2004, Seattle replaced its "Transit Tunnel" fleet with diesel-electric hybrid buses, which operate similarly to hybrid cars outside the tunnel and in a low-noise, low-emissions "hush mode" (in which the diesel engine operates but does not exceed idle speed) when underground.

The necessity for providing electric power in these environments brings the capital and maintenance costs of such routes closer to Light Rail and raises the question of building light rail instead. In Seattle, the downtown transit tunnel retrofitted for conversion to a shared hybrid-bus and light-rail facility in preparation for Seattle's Central Link Light Rail line to be operating in 2009.

Implementation in South America

* Brazil
o Curitiba's pioneering BRT system (which influenced the construction of the Metro Orange Line BRT in Los Angeles and the Bogota's TransMilenio), Rede Integrada de Transporte (RIT), has seen ridership fall since the mid-1990s as its city's middle class has burgeoned, with cars more readily available resulting in increases in traffic congestion, and discussion now abounds on converting some of it to subway in the mid-term. In the meantime, capacity will be upgraded in the main corridors by dislocating the tube station to allow the buses to overtake, as Transmilenio does. Maximum peak-load capacity attained under the present configuration is 22,500 passenger per hour in the South Axis.
o Goiania : BRT system with segregated bus lanes,
o São Paulo, mindful of how traffic has choked commerce in the city, has begun expansion of its subway system to complement bus services.
* Colombia
o Bogotá has opened in 2000 a successful segregated four-lane BRT system, the TransMilenio. Maximum peak-load capacity reported is 40000 passenger per hour.
o Pereira, Megabús opened August 26, 2006 and is followed by 5 other similar systemes which will be inaugurated soon (Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cartagena).
.* Mexico
o Leon : is the first BRT system in Mexico even if some dedicated bus lanes exist in some of the biggest cities.
o Mexico City: Metrobús was officially opened to the public on 19 June 2005. The first line covers a distance of some 20 kilometres, running in a dedicated bus-lane built against the central reservation of Avenida de los Insurgentes. Avenida Insurgentes is the city's main north-to-south arterial route, constitutes a section of the Pan-American Highway, and is reputed to be the longest urban avenue in the world.
* Guatemala
o Guatemala City: Transmetro first line finished (Villa Nueva to Guatemala City), second line (Mixco to Guatemala City) will be constructed in 2008.
* Chile
o Santiago:The Transantiago is a system based in Bogota's Transmilenio and it has replaced the traditional bus system in the city since February 2007.

Implementation in the United States
* Albuquerque, New Mexico: Rapid Ride
* Austin, Texas: Capital Metrorapid (originally planned to open in 2008; now shelved)
* Baltimore, Maryland: QuickBus
* Boston, Massachusetts: MBTA Silver Line (currently 2 independent segments with a total of 4 branches),
* Chicago, Illinois: McCormick Place Busway (connecting convention center with downtown for private buses since 2002)
* Cleveland, Ohio: Euclid Corridor
* Denver, Colorado: Downtown Express (I-25 HOV),
* Des Moines, Iowa: Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority Rapid Transit Corridor study
* Eugene, Oregon: Emerald Express (EmX)
* Kansas City, Missouri: Metro Area Express (MAX)
* Las Vegas, Nevada: Metropolitan Area Express ("MAX", a Veolia Transportation subsidiary)
* Los Angeles, California: El Monte Busway
* Los Angeles, California: LACMTA Orange Line
* Los Angeles, California: Harbor Freeway Transitway
* Los Angeles, California: Metro Rapid system
* Miami, Florida: South Miami-Dade Busway
* Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota: University of Minnesota transit
* Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota: Metro Transit
* Oakland, California: AC Transit 72R Rapid Bus
* Orange County, California: Orange County Transportation Authority Bus Rapid Transit
* Orlando, Florida: Lynx Lymmo,
* Phoenix, Arizona: City of Phoenix BRT
* Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Port Authority's East Busway, South Busway, and West Busway lines
* Providence, Rhode Island: East Side Bus Tunnel
* San Diego, California: Super Loop (under construction-set to open in 2008),
* San Jose, California: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority Rapid 522
* Santa Monica, California: Big Blue Bus Rapid 3
* Seattle, Washington: Metro Bus Tunnel
* Tampa, Florida: HART BRT Project (Two routes operational in 2010)

US Development
Before it even had the name, Bus Rapid Transit first got major backing in the United States with the rise of federal funding for urban mass transportation during the 1960s. The first exclusive busway in the United States was the El Monte Busway, an exclusive bus lane between El Monte and Los Angeles, California. It opened in 1973. Today, American BRT initiatives receive a great deal of support from the Federal Transit Administration. Planned BRT lines are now eligible to be included in the FTA's New Starts program, which was formerly reserved only for rail projects.

That notwithstanding, the FTA, in announcing its New Starts for 2005, has rated the New Britain-Hartford Busway (Connecticut) "Recommended" but Phase III of the MBTA's Silver Line BRT project (referenced below) "Not Recommended" based on "MBTA's unreasonable operating cost assumptions." This implies that BRT will be subject to the same scrutiny as rail projects, though (also as with rail projects) the FTA will work with the localities to see if projects can be brought into compliance with requirements.

A BRT system is to opened in 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio along Euclid Avenue, known as the Euclid Corridor.

Implementation in Canada

* Calgary, Alberta Calgary Transit
* Gatineau STO Rapibus
* Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia Metro Transit's MetroLink [5]
* Mississauga, Ontario Mississauga Transit (Pending government funding approval)
* Montreal, Quebec STM BRT R-BUS 505 Pie-IX
* Ottawa, Ontario OC Transpo Transitway
* Saint John, New Brunswick ComeX [6]
* Vancouver, British Columbia 97 B-Line, 98 B-Line and 99 B-Line
* Waterloo Region, Ontario Grand River Transit iXpress
* York Region, Ontario Viva [7]

* Calgary with Calgary Transit has operated one BRT route since 2004 but ridership has exceeded expectations, and as of 2007 the city was considering converting the west leg of the route to LRT as soon as possible. Calgary Transit operates the most successful LRT system in North America at over 230,000 riders per day, and states "LRT is considerably cheaper to operate when there is high passenger demand." It has estimated its LRT operating costs at 25 cents per ride, versus 89 cents for BRT. Calgary also has a severe labor shortage that makes it very difficult to hire bus drivers - in fact, in late 2006 the privately operated Calgary Airport service ceased operation because it could not find bus drivers, and hundreds of taxis were out of service due to lack of drivers.

* Ottawa, Ontario operates one of the largest BRT systems in North America, with over 200,000 daily riders on the Ottawa Transitway, achieving peak capacities of 10,000 passengers per hour per direction. This has been cited as an example of the efficiency of BRT systems. However, by early 2007 the Ottawa Transitway is operating over capacity with nearly 200 diesel buses per hour per direction traveling on its downtown section. This has caused numerous complaints from residents and businesses about traffic disruption, noise, and air pollution from diesel engines. No solution is in sight because even though the system was designed for conversion to light rail, the downtown portion is not, due to the fact that it is one bus-only lane per direction on public roads, and even if it were converted many other bus routes use the transitway, and building an underground busway through downtown Ottawa would be prohibitively expensive.

The cost savings of BRT have proven to be somewhat illusionary in Ottawa. The Transitway was estimated to cost $97 million when it was first proposed in 1976. However it experienced severe cost overruns and eventually escalated to $440 million. This is almost as much as it cost to build the Calgary C-Train, which is about the same size. Ottawa’s costs were about $14 million/km for BRT, while Calgary spent about $15 million/km for LRT. The Transitway was not significantly cheaper because the majority of it was cut in rock 9 metres below grade with the stations below grade, whereas most of the C-Train system was built at grade with stations at grade. Planners also assumed that BRT stations would be as cheap as LRT stations, but discovered that they needed additional passing lanes for the large number of buses, and overhead walkways for passenger safety. However, it should be noted that on large portions of the busway the service provided is almost equivalent to a light rail or rapid transit system, while providing significantly more flexibility. Ottawa is the only major Canadian city trying to handle such a large number of riders on a BRT system.

* Vancouver with TransLink operates three BRT lines, the 97 B-Line, 98 B-Line, and 99 B-Line. All three have been successful, but Vancouver estimates its Skytrain costs about 75 cents per ride compared to $1.04 to $2.22 on its BRT routes. As a result, Vancouver plans to convert all three to light rail or light rapid transit as funding permits. Having exceeded the capacity that can be handled efficiently on buses, the 98 B-Line will be replaced by a rail transit project, the Canada Line, in 2009.
* York Region, Ontario, a region apart of the Greater Toronto Area has operated a BRT route since 2005. In response to escalating congestion on the region's roads, York Region's transit plan included a provision for a bus rapid transit (BRT) system along the Yonge Street and Highway 7 arterial corridors. This service, known as Viva.

Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the largest cities, have also metros and commuter rail systems in addition to BRT. Calgary, Edmonton, other large Canadian cities, have LRT systems in addition to BRT systems, Toronto also operates the largest remaining streetcar system in North America. As of 2007 the Calgary C-Train and Vancouver SkyTrain are carrying more riders than the Ottawa BRT system, with more capacity for growth, and users in these cities have shown a definite preference for LRT or Metro due to its more comfortable ride, speed and frequency of service. They operate BRT routes to build ridership to high enough levels to justify converting them to LRT. However, Ottawa's system was designed so that it could be converted to light rail when the city's population hit 1 million, although this has not yet happened.

Operating and maintenance costs

It is difficult to find operating and maintenance costs for Ottawa, but Calgary and Vancouver indicate that at high passenger volumes, their per-passenger LRT operating costs are much lower than their BRT costs. BRT requires one driver per bus (40 to 60 passengers), while the Calgary C-Train operates with one driver per 600-passenger train, and the Vancouver Skytrain is fully automated with no drivers at all. As a result of the oil price increases of 2004-2006 and the low cost of electricity in Western Canada, diesel fuel costs about three times as much as electric power. Both Calgary and Vancouver get their power from non-polluting sources - the Calgary C-Train gets all its electricity from wind generators, while Vancouver is supplied by hydro-electric power.

Benefits analysis

A study [3] of the 98 B-Line BRT in Vancouver, British Columbia, conducted by TransLink, Transport Canada and the IBI Group confirmed many benefits of that BRT system including increased ridership, reduced vehicle emissions, improved reliability, improved customer satisfaction. Analysis of the transit supportive signal timing and the transit signal priority system that supports the service confirmed a slight improvement in travel times and reliability for all vehicles in the corridor with negligible impact to traffic crossing the corridor.

Note that Canadian statistics are not necessarily comparable to other countries. Canadian cities have transit riderships two or three times that of comparable American cities, while their subsidies from national governments are much lower than American or European cities. As a result, they have to recover most of their operating costs out of the fare box.

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