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?