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Switching to bus rapid transit

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Light rail or automobile—which do you prefer? Overlooked in the transportation debate is bus rapid transit (BRT). When Dave Van Hattum of MoveMN mentioned the BRT concept in his Environment Minnesota presentation on March 18, 2014, some people may have wondered why it should be considered part of the mix of the Twin Cities transportation options. After all, bus service here as a portion of public transit reached an all-time high of 94 million riders in 2013.

But BRT is viewed not as an add-on but a complement to the Metro Council’s evaluation of the Twin Cities’ long-range transportation needs. With the Metro area’s population expected to grow between nine and ten per cent per decade between now and 2040 to 3.674 million people, transportation congestion can be expected to be an even greater problem in the years ahead.

Bus rapid transit can step in to help alleviate this problem. Originating with Cuntiba, Brazil’s Rede Integrada de Transporte (RIT—Integrated Transportation Network) in 1974, BRT is defined by the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority as "a flexible, integrated, high performance transit system with a quality image and a strong identity." And unlike the stereotype of ordinary bus systems with slow arrival times, frequent stops, and limited seating, bus rapid transit offers the following ridership features:

  • A fully dedicated right of way (busway)
  • Alignment in the center of the road to avoid typical curb-side delays
  • Stations with off-board fare collection to reduce boarding and alighting delay related to paying the driver
  • Station platforms level with the bus floor to reduce boarding and alighting delay caused by steps
  • Priority at intersections to avoid intersection signal delay
  • High-capacity vehicles such as bi-articulated or double-decker buses
  • High-frequency, all-day service
  • Quality stations with staffed ticket booths and other amenities
  • Prominent brand identity with identifiable buses and route schedules

The initial costs for bus rapid transit are not as high as they are for light rail transportation, though advocates for the latter champion LRT’s lower labor costs and larger capacity vehicles. The estimated time savings of the Met Council’s proposed BRT lines range from only four to 33 per cent when compared with existing route times. Transit planner Dan Malouf also cites the problem of “BRT creep” where “there are too many corners you can cut that save a lot of money and only degrade service.” For these reasons, some critics declare that bus rapid transit “will not reduce our dependence on cars nor will it improve the public transportation experience.” Given the Twin Cities’ current traffic congestion, shouldn’t its citizens study the proposed routes and decide for themselves the merits of bus rapid transit option?

BRT corridor
BRT corridor Wikipedia

BRT corridor

This example of a BRT corridor is located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Also known as Janmarg BRTS (People's way), the system has earned several awards and is regarded as the most efficient and the best in India. Its ten lines add up to around 70 km. and all stations except two are wheelchair accessible.

Cuntiba's Integrated Transportation Network
Cuntiba's Integrated Transportation Network Wikipedia

Cuntiba's Integrated Transportation Network

The world's first BRT system, the Rede Integrada de Transporte in Curitiba, Brazil, opened in 1974. Initially just dedicated bus lanes in the center of major arterial roads, the RIT added a feeder bus network and inter-zone connections (1980), off-board fare collection, enclosed stations, and platform-level boarding (1992). 

Bi-articulated bus
Bi-articulated bus Wikipedia

Bi-articulated bus

This example of a bi-articulated bus is one of Curitiba's bi-articulated Volvo B12M under a Neobus body running with 100% biofuel. At 28 metres, it is one of the world's longest buses.

BRT-dedicated lane
BRT-dedicated lane Wikipedia

BRT-dedicated lane

BRT buses use separate lanes to avoid congested roads. Bus-only lanes as this one in the TransJakarta line ensure that buses are not delayed by mixed traffic congestion. Separate rights of way may be elevated, depressed, or in a tunnel, possibly using former rail routes.

Metro bus tunnel, Seattle, WA
Metro bus tunnel, Seattle, WA Wikipedia

Metro bus tunnel, Seattle, WA

Areas where the demand for an exclusive bus right-of-way are apt to be in dense downtown areas where an above-ground structure may be unacceptable, BRT tunnels may be built. Such tunnels use powerful fans to exchange air through ventilation shafts to the surface. Other ways to minimize air quality problems are to use internal combustion engines with lower emissions or electric- powered vehicles.

BRT ticket entrance
BRT ticket entrance Wikipedia

BRT ticket entrance

BRT systems typically feature enclosed stations which may incorporate attractive sliding glass doors, staffed ticket booths, and information booths. They often will include level boarding, using either low-floor buses or higher boarding platforms level, and multiple doors to speed passenger boarding and enhance accessibility to disabled passengers. Ticket validation is done upon entry to the 'station' rather than boarding the bus similar to that used on entry to a subway system.

Transfer station in Curitiba
Transfer station in Curitiba Wikipedia

Transfer station in Curitiba

Separate transfer stations as the one pictured provide comfortable, convenient, and safe connections to local and neighborhood bus, train, and other transport systems.