The Silly Argument Over BRT and Rail

» Reserving respect for each mode.

As if operating in parallel, Toronto’s Globe and Mail and The Wall Street Journal each published articles last week describing the merits of bus rapid transit, which each newspaper described as the future of urban transportation.

Both noted that BRT was cheaper to construct than rail lines. Each suggested that in an age of government pull backs and general skepticism over the value of public investment, BRT could offer substantial benefits to a transit system at a reasonable price. And each article concluded with a warning by rail proponents that buses wouldn’t be able to attract people out of their cars.

This is a sensationalized opposition between two modes of transportation that should be thought of as complementary. There are advantages to improved bus service in some corridors, reasons to support rail in others.

What is clear is that for the majority of American cities — excluding only a few in the Northeast — buses will remain the predominant mode of public transit for most riders, even after major expansions in train networks planned for cities from Charlotte to Phoenix. So even cities that choose to invest in rail projects must also spend on the improvement of their bus lines.

Nor is the difference in costs between rail lines and BRT nearly as great as some would argue. The Journal article quotes Dennis Hinebaugh, head of a transportation center at the University of South Florida, saying “You can build up to 10 BRT lines for the cost of one light-rail line.” That might be true if you’re comparing a train operating entirely in its own right-of-way with a bus running in a lane painted on the street. But a streetcar is probably cheaper than a busway. Just ask Hartford, whose busway project will cost $60 million a mile to build.

Just as importantly, the argument made in the Journal by Simon Fraser University Professor Anthony Perl Pearl that “Rail has a proven record of being able to take people of their cars; buses don’t,” is quite frankly premised on antiquated views about the differences between buses and trains. A well thought-through BRT line, operating in its own right-of-way, can offer riders most, and sometimes more, of the comfort, convenience, and accessibility of a rail line.

The Globe and Mail notes thatLRT advocates often argue that light rail has better interaction with the streetscape and is a better way of achieving dense, transit-oriented development than BRT,” and indeed, that point is frequently made. But plenty of vibrant neighborhoods in American cities have developed just fine without rail. The City of Seattle, whose first modern light rail line opened in 2009, nevertheless has been densifying for decades, increasing in population from 494,000 in 1980 to 609,000 in 2010 (with no annexation).

The best argument for rail is that it has the ability to provide massive rush-hour passenger-carrying capacity without destroying the city through which it runs. Whether buried in a subway or operating quietly along in grassy medians, trains can be integrated into the public realm without diminishing the pedestrian-friendly qualities all urbanists should hope to encourage. BRT boosters often argue that their mode of choice can carry a similar number of riders, but neglect to mention that this is only possible when buses arrive every 10 seconds along highway-like four-lane corridors. These are conditions that destroy the walking environment.

Fortunately for American cities looking to invest in new public transportation infrastructure, there are few places that demand the passenger-carrying capacity provided by those freeway-based BRT lines in places like Bogotá. In most metropolitan areas, a two-lane busway inserted on an arterial is perfectly appropriate and sometimes even beneficial for a city. Indeed, as we all know, the story that is too complicated for any mainstream paper to explain is that BRT can mean any number of things. The most rudimentary elements of BRT — the nice buses, the well-articulated stops, the traffic signal priority — are basics we should expect from all of our bus lines. Pushing for their implementation along certain corridors shouldn’t arouse much controversy.

But these points are rarely discussed when the argument between modes are made.

The real divisions between bus and rail are political: For those who would fight for improved transit systems in their cities, the truth is that rail projects do certainly have more appeal among members of the public. Thus a billion-dollar rail project may be easier to stomach for a taxpaying and voting member of the citizenry than a quarter-billion BRT line. While the former is qualitatively different than what most car drivers are used to, the latter mode is too easily lumped in with the city bus, which car users have already paid to avoid.

Better transit can come in many forms, but in a country in which the vast majority of people have no contact with public transportation this side of Disney World, making the argument for investments in more buses is difficult, to say the least. BRT is just not sexy until you’ve experienced it. Which is why the considerable success of BRT in South America has not convinced many U.S. cities to abandon their ambitions for more rail.

Articles like those in the Journal and the Globe and Mail, despite their positive assessments of the potential for BRT, nonetheless reinforce the sense that BRT is inferior to rail by putting the two in contrast to one another, rather than focusing on the relative benefits of each. By continuously describing BRT as an economical way to get something like light rail, all that comes across is that it’s cheap.

Image above: BusWay in Nantes, France, from City of Nantes

154 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • It’s not usually the rail advocates who initially present “BRT” as a threat to rail, it’s the “BRT” advocates who consistently argue that we shouldn’t spend all that money on rail when we can get “a surface subway” for a fraction of the cost.

    I would argue that this is inherent in the whole concept of “BRT.” It is a bus line designed as a substitute for a rail line. It usually makes more sense to roll out the improvements in an area or systemwide than on individual lines. The choice to do them on individual lines is a political choice designed to divide the support for rail expansion.

    If you don’t want bus improvements to be presented as competing with rail improvements, Yonah, then don’t buy into the idea of “BRT” at all. Please.

  • Tom West

    Human Transit had a series of posts on the lack of real differences between LRT and BRT. The only real differences are:
    1) LRT runs on (fixed) steel rails, resulting in a smoother ride than BRT; and
    2) There is a limit to how big BRT vehicles can be, while LRT trains can be made as long as you want. This means LRT has higher (potential) capacity.
    Every other aspect of service can be implemented in either mode.

    • Nathanael

      In other words, BRT is more expensive for the same result. :-P

      (Unless, of course, you repurpose existing infrastructure; just like it saves money to run trains on existing tracks, it saves money to run buses on existing asphalt, and there is a lot of asphalt. But that’s taking lanes away from cars, and nobody seems to do that in this continent.)

      • The fundamental difference between rail and bus is that rail is a complete and separate system where BRT is an extension of the bus system, which happens to be the foundation of local transit in nearly all American cities.

        You can’t have rail transit if you don’t have the tracks in where it is supposed to serve. Besides that, rail requires a separate maintenance facility as well as operating and maintenance personnel. If any of these things don’t exist then you can’t operate any rail transit, no matter how small it is supposed to be.

        With BRT you don’t need any of that. You can build separated facilities as long as you can afford and the community accepts.

        Basically in a 20 mile transit corridor, if you can only afford 10 miles of rail, you will build 10 miles of rail, a separate maintenance facility. If it completes, you will have one rail and one bus line, where people will have to transfer. If you can afford 10 miles of BRT, you will build 10 miles of busway and still provide through service on the 20 mile corridor.

        With rail, even if the community does not support a separated ROW, you still have to build tracks on the streets. With bus you won’t need to do anything.

        • But of course if with buses you don’t do anything to separate the ROW, and it runs mixed in traffic, its not really BRT, is it?

          As a sweeping generalization, sweeping generalizations often assume that there is a silver bullet and are aimed at “proving” that some particular technology is that silver bullet.

          That is, rail is easier to electrify, since catenary electric only requires a supply line, with the rail acting as the ground return loop, while trolley buses require both supply and return catenary lines. Whether this means that electric rail is lower capital cost than trolleybus BRT depends on a whole host of other factors.

          And of course, the need for dedicated maintenance facilities for rail vehicles have to be offset against the substantially higher right of way maintenance cost of BRT ~ whether using new right of way or existing, large buses give concrete or asphalt rights of way a pounding that they do not stand up to as well as steel rails normally will do.

          And its not automatically either/or, just because advocates of specific modes argue in either/or terms against advocates of other specific modes. You can, for instance, have a dedicated streetcar lane and share it with buses, since ultra-low floor streetcars and buses can have a common level roll-on platform height and so can share the same stops.

          • Max Wyss

            One thing a dedicated lane BRT system can do is reserve/preserve the right of way for light rail; as stated, low-floor buses and low-floor LRT vehicles can use the same curbs.

            Trolley buses are (at least in some cities) considered to be one step up in capacity than diesel buses. In fact, it is possible to build high-cpacity trolley buses (such as the 25 m Swisstrolley). The advantage of electric traction is that two axles can be driven, and there is simply more traction energy available than can be produced with reasonably compact diesel engines. When going to the next level, Light rail, a lot of the infrastructure for trolleybuses can be reused (not the wires, but the much more expensive substations and their control system).

            So, it is indeed possible to consider BRT as a precursor to light rail.

            • Clark Morris

              Actually, it really can’t reserve the right of way because of the tremendous disruption while you replace pavement with rail or even put rails in the pavement. It will be very interesting to see how the Ottawa light rail proceeds where it is using portions of the existing busway.

              • Max Wyss

                This may be a misunderstanding in terms. Here “reserve” is in the planning sense, meaning that the right of way is defined and can not be taken away any more.

                In the operational sense, when you do the conversion, it can only partly be used (and you will expect a bit of a mess for a few years).

          • A lot of times running in mixed traffic is acceptable. Generally not every segment of the corridor is congested often enough to justify separated ROW, and that a bus running in mixed traffic can run at a higher speed limit and get better traffic priority than some center running separated ROW BRT.

            I am not one of those for BRT or LRT. I am one of those that are OK with either given the context of the local environment. With either technology, you can build something more effective or less effective depending on what you actually design and operate. A low-budget, well designed BRT can do very well, and a high-price, poorly designed LRT can perform very poorly. BRT can do something that LRT can’t, and vice versa.

            • Peter

              Andy, what are your thoughts on the BRT system being developed for VTA?

              I personally get the feeling they’re placing way too much emphasis on how the stations look and less on how the system is supposed to operate.

            • orulz

              The problem here is that usually the segments where BRT is left to run in mixed traffic are not the least congested segments that you suggest. Instead, mixed traffic is usually implemented in the MOST congested segments where it would be most expensive or most controversial to rebuild the street to take space away from cars and give it to buses.

              That is why BRT, as implemented, is usually inferior to light rail. With light rail, there is no choice but to continue the dedicated right-of-way through the congested area. It costs more, and stirs up more controversy, but yields a better result.

    • Carl

      Human Transit understates the practical realities:

      BRT is almost always promoted as being cheaper than rail and it is used to justify reduced investment in exclusive right of way and infrastructure. So it becomes an argument for lower transit investment. Exclusive right of way is as expensive for a busway as for rail.

      Ride quality differences are treated as subjective and are dismissed, but they are real. It is not just that rail is smoother, but overall the vehicles are wider and more spacious – and can be made much bigger while operated by one person – leading to faster boarding and more passenger space. In addition it is much easier to maintain consistent headways with rail because there is much less variation due to operator behavior and station dwell times for boarding. Buses routinely bunch up, that is much more rare with rail.

      • In fairness to Jarrett, he frames the question as x km of LRT vs x+y km of BRT–pointing out that if you choose a technology with a lower price-per-km, you can get a larger, more comprehensive system for the same cost. And at the low end, that’s often BRT; though at the high end, not so much.

        Unfortunately, such debates don’t often play out in practice in that fashion–the choices presented are often BRT and LRT systems with the same geographic scope, and the price differential is used for things other than transit.

  • When even the most cost efficient and sustainable infrastructure projects are being politicized to no end by candidates desparately looking for an edge, I’d say BRT is a risk if used for core transit routes. These systems, without major grassroots support, can easily be changed or even removed completely to fit the political whims of the times. With LRT, once it’s built, it’s pretty much permanent and beyond political BS.

    But yes, BRT and LRT should be thought of as complimentary systems.

    • Tom West

      I think you mean “complementary” :-)

      You seem to be argueing that LRT has more permanence than BRT. However, BRT can require substantial investment in permanent infrastructure (think of a seperated, median-running BRT with fully fleged stations). This means that BRT can potentially be immune from future changes.

    • Federico

      The rail infrastructure may be permanent, but the commitment to operations certainly isn’t. So far there haven’t been rail systems where operations have ceased entirely, but varying levels of service cuts around the country (and the related death spirals of service cuts, fare increases, and ridership losses) have almost always had political roots.

      • Beta Magellan

        Well, not recently…the only post-early-60s example I can think of in the US is Cleveland’s 1996 Waterfront Line, which isn’t completely out of use, but only running trains along it every half-hour on weekends is pretty close to it.

        Generally, though, if you get federal funding you have to fulfill some kind of minimum service standard. The most infamous example is Portland’s WES service, which everyone wishes were shut down but looks likely to be stuck as a low-volume, high-subsidy commuter rail line for the next twenty years.

        • Tcmetro

          Pittsburgh’s Brown Line LRT was shut down in the March 2011 service cuts over there. It was a streetcar line, with only a few trips per day, but it’s gone now.

  • Matt

    For the most part, I don’t buy that BRT is a substitute for LRT, especially along core urban arterials.

    Aside from having a more significant impact on the urban environment, it can be significantly more expensive to operate and maintain. You can’t create a consist of multiple buses, but one driver can operate 3 or 4 LRT vehicles.

    Yonah, you touched on how expensive it can be to engineer roadbeds similar to LRT trackbeds, instead of just painting some special lanes and calling it done.

    Here in MN, roads need maintenance every year, and full replacement every 15-30 years. Actually, on a corner right by my home, the road had such bad potholes that you could see down to the old brick roadbed with streetcar tracks probably 100+ years old!

    The one place BRT seems to make sense is to provide all-day service to freeway corridors with existing HOV lanes, transit stations, and express buses. We’re starting to see that south of Minneapolis on 35W and Cedar Ave freeways, where BRT can excel at providing all-day station-to-station coverage while express buses handle peak operations downtown.

    • Another place they make sense is when several bus routes converge on a common corridor, and the priority and/or dedicated right of way improvements and BRT station improvements yield faster transits on multiple routes, allowing each to increase frequency, yielding a high frequency route on the common corridor.

      Also when sharing a dedicated streetcar right of way with express buses, it may make sense to extend the right of way as a busway beyond the end of the streetcar route or where the bus route and streetcar route diverge.

      And of course, if there is a zone where patronage justifies longer vehicles than BRT can effectively support, that implies that there is likely to be neighboring zones that do not, especially for the circumferential route(s) required to complement a central core hub and spoke system which underserves suburb/suburb commutes.

    • “You can’t create a consist of multiple buses, but one driver can operate 3 or 4 LRT vehicles.”

      Except for the fact that you can. Just like with trucks (youve never see a tractor pulling 3 trailers on the interstate?). Buses in switzerland frequently pull a 2nd bus behind them.

      Just because YOU havent seen it, doesnt mean it cant exist. I mean, just think about it, why cant it be done? The only limitation is the engine capacity, and that’s easily solved with electric power.

      • There are serious operational deficiencies with trains (by which I mean, multiple vehicles connected together) without a fixed guideway. Vehicles in the back are more likely to sway, jackknifing is a possibility with sudden stops, and keeping the vehicles in alignment is a big problem. Triple-trailers are only permitted on interstate highways and designated truck routes, and only under certain conditions. Safely operating such a thing full of passengers in mixed traffic in an urban environment is a difficult challenge–if a train is what you want, it’s far easier to use a fixed guideway.

        • Disney pulls 8 cars loaded with happy families every day with a diesel engine. No tracks involved at all.

          • Henry

            Those things are also open-air and run at 15mph, which isn’t exactly desirable when you’re running a mass transit operation.

          • EngineerScotty

            And at the local farms, they have “cow trains”–long strings of what are essentially metal barrels cut in half lengthwise and filled with seats (two per barrel) each on its own wooden bogey, painted black and white to “resemble” a cow, and the whole thing pulled through the weeds by a farm tractor. Quite fun for kids to ride on, and I’ve never heard of a serious accident involving one of these contractions.

            But that, like the Disney parking lot trams, has very little to do with the idea of entraining several fully-enclosed 10m-long (or longer) vehicles and operating such a thing at normal traffic speeds.

            Disney parking lot trams aren’t very long, despite the high car count, and as noted above run at low speeds and are open-air (and thus not likely to be pushed around by crosswinds, which is a major problem with unguided trains).

      • Max Wyss

        Actually, what you have seen in Switzerland is one trailer coupled to a standard bus. The capacity of such a “train” is comparable to a single articulated bus. The advantage is that a bus with trailer can deal a little bit better with tight curves than an articulated bus.

        There used to be services where a small single-axle trailer for mail was added to such a “train”, but that practice got outlawed almost 20 years ago.

  • Glad to see this article! Thank you. You are correct that BRT and LRT should NOT be pitted against each other, although they are too often considered substitutes. They are not. They work hand in hand, and BRT can be a reasonable precursor to what eventually will be an LRT line.

    It is also important to note that there is a range of bus lines that all fall into a label of BRT. On one extreme for example, buses might always run on dedicated lanes. Other BRT lines run on a mixture of arterials and dedicated lanes.

    In my area, the urbanized area in and around Madison, Wisconsin, we have a population of around 350,000 people. To install LRT right away does not make sense, either financially or politically. (Some people have even proposed heavy rail instead of LRT.) Buses can have all the amenities, such as WiFi, that commuters might want. And yes, they can be developed more quickly (a 4 year turnaround rather than 10+ years).

    In the Madison Area, an environment that includes low density areas, it makes sense to improve on a local bus line by adding BRT BEFORE going to LRT. BRT can be time-competitive with the car, and can attract people to the idea that transit fits into their busy lives. Transit is less expensive than the car by a long shot, provides local jobs, and has social, environmental and public health advantages as well. But time is often the kicker. Who wants to spend 90 minutes on a bus instead of driving a car for 15 minutes?

    A major limitation of BRT is not TOD but capacity. Rail can be much more efficient than the bus when large numbers of passengers are involved. So when demand is set to outstrip supply without adding an inefficient number of operators etc., that is a good time to put in LTR. Doing so will make sense politically too, and we could then see an upward spiral instead of a downward spiral. But trying to skip the intermediary step of adding BRT can be a disaster.

    • Nobody’s ever converted BRT to LRT; and nobody likely ever will due to the very high marginal costs and political problems with investing twice in the same corridor.

      • No Transfer Needed

        Check out Ottawa. BRT has been so successful, they are upgrading their BRT mainline to rail. Dulles Corridor was being designed as BRT, but has now upgraded to a heavy rail extension of the Metro.

        The key issue to remember is “each mode to its best use.” LRT will offer better capacity per vehicle. BRT will offer more frequency and flexiblity in operation. There are places where neither will work, places where both would work, and places where one will be more cost-effective and servie-effective.

        • Nathanael

          Ottawa is generally considered to have made a mistake by not building rail upfront. Especially in Ottawa.

          Likewise for Seattle, which did convert its “bus tunnel” to rail, but would have saved a fortune had it built its initial 70s rail plan instead of waiting.

          • Nathanael

            I want to be clear: buses have a role, and an important one. They are inherently inferior to trains, but for lower-volume applications, a train is expensive overkill; and if you have already miles of wide asphalt, converting a car lane to a bus lane may be a good, cheap investment.

            For some reason, schemes advertised as “BRT” practically *never* involve repurposing existing auto lanes, though. Jarrett Walker’s scheme in Minneapolis for running buses down one street and kicking the cars off is an honorable exception. There are a lot of good schemes like that, but for some reason they don’t go by the *name* BRT (“transit mall”, “bus lane”, “transit lane”, “transitway”, “pedestrian/transit mall”, “bus street”, etc. come to mind).

            • Wad

              Malls are different; think of those as stations where buses stop and pick up and drop off passengers. Lanes and transitways are guideways, which help buses move.

            • Tcmetro

              The Minneapolis lanes on Marquette and 2nd are bus-ony one way, and open to all vehicles the other way. The old design had 3 traffic lanes, and 1 counterflow bus lane (plus a bike lane in between the bus and auto traffic). This was changed to 2 bus lanes and 2 auto lanes.

              Also the Minneapolis example isn’t neccesarily BRT. The project was undertaken to consolidate peak-hour express routes to one corridor through Downtown. BRT service will operate in the future, but these are suburban BRT lines that will use HO/T lanes on 35W, not rail-replacement BRT.

              • Matt

                It’s really cool to see the double contraflow bus lanes in Minneapolis during rush hour. Tens of thousands of people on the sidewalks and the buses hopping around each other. Makes a transit geek happy.

          • Ben Smith

            Likewise, they could have built heavy rail subways instead. Sure it would not have paid off within our lifetimes, but 50 years from now they could be saving themselves a bundle.

            While LRT is generally superior, BRT has a number of advantages for smaller cities. Flexibility allows for branching routes, and adjusting stopping patterns and frequencies so that when the jump to rail is made it is done with more efficiency.

            • Clark Morris

              In Sacramento, California they found that having feeder buses connect with the light rail they also facilitated the feeders at a given station connecting with each other thus making trips using moe than one line more convenient. In Ottawa a few years ago the peak and off peak bus networks differed greatly with there being through routes using the busway to get to downtown in the peak but only feeders to the busway routes in the off peak. By using feed buses to a trunk route, overall costs are reduced.

          • G in Ottawa

            Those in Ottawa who believe that rail should have been built upfront are generally rail fanatics and we hear of every cliche to support their argument. It is clear that we could not have had the degree of rapid transit build out if we had chosen LRT over BRT. Ottawa of the late 1970s when these decisions were being made did not have the population to fund LRT. The only reason why Calgary and Edmonton got LRT was the oil boom of the same era that generated a lot of public royalties.

      • DART in Dallas converted a set of BRT-branded express bus lines to LRT. Of course, since anything better than a normal local bus route can sometimes be branded as BRT, I’m not sure if the original service was truly BRT or not.

    • Wad

      Susan, in practice a major investment project like BRT or rail is “measure twice, cut once.” Only politicians can get away from offering a chit in the form of a conversion later. You really have to get it right the first time.

      As MIEK says, the marginal costs will kill conversions.

      I’ve had to explain this to several people who want to see L.A.’s Orange Line converted to rail. L.A. paid about $400 million to build the current Orange Line; a light rail line would cost $1 billion.

      A do-over would cost $1.4 billion. What had been a choice 2.5 times more expensive when starting from scratch now becomes 3.5 times more expensive.

      The biggest gains came from opening-day ridership, which went from 0 to 20,000. If the cost jumps 3.5 times, a conversion would only be viable if a train could attract 70,000 boardings on the same corridor. It won’t happen under any scenario.

    • Wad

      Susan, here’s another technology that could split the difference between BRT and rail: the San Francisco Muni Swiss Army railcar by Breda.

      It’s a train, but it could act like a bus if it needs to. It has folding stairs for level and step-up boarding.

      San Francisco has three distinct service scenarios: a heavy rail metro under Market Street, light rail service along Third Street and “bus” service outside of West Portal. The streetcars have ordinary curbside boardings, stops every 2-4 blocks, and fares paid into the farebox behind the driver.

      This could work very well in an area like Madison. You have the university and the capital area on the isthmus, which would see the heaviest boardings. You could build the light rail platforms here.

      As for the outer areas, the stairs could come down and the streetcar would serve the same stops as the buses. Pick three bus routes that have/could use 15 minute bus service, and stagger the routes through the isthmus for a trunk service of 5 minutes between downtown and the university. Voila, you have rapid transit, enhanced transit access and minimal degradation to bus service.

      • Max Wyss

        To confuse Susan a bit more… nowadays, if one is free to design the metro part, one would probably aim for low-floor vehicles, making the adjustable steps system obsolete (and the steps are darn steep too).

        • Wad

          Designing one-off vehicles, in this case streetcars, would be very expensive. The theory would be to snap up the Swiss Army railcar secondhand from Muni.

          San Francisco could afford new ones; most other cities can’t for a new project. Muni would also have to buy a similar folding-stair design for its unique operating characteristics. This would then help build a secondary market for used Bredas, and it would bring the unit costs of new ones down for any city that chooses to adopt the cars.

          • Max Wyss

            I can’t follow the logic here… Well, if one can buy from the worldwide marketplace, there are decent vehicles around. In fact, a window for vehicles with adjustable steps may open within the next few years, because Bonn will have to replace their Stadtbahn B cars on the line 66 (between Bonn and Siegburg). And these vehicles require adjustable steps PLUS a push-out step, as several stops have no curb at all, but many other stops on the line have high-level platforms.

            Bonn is already using Bombardier Flexity Swifts (together with Köln, where they are called K5000), but they only have the adjustable steps. So, if that could be an option for Muni, that would work; otherwise, Muni should watch out when Bonn gets ready to order, and team up with Bonn.

            • Wad

              One can’t buy from the worldwide marketplace, at least if it’s the U.S. If Madison has to use a dime of federal money, the feds will put up barriers to importation (likely under the guise of safety). This will mean Americanizing the vehicles by setting up a factory for redundant work, and the possibility of some make-work for the engineering end.

              At least if Madison buys secondhand San Francisco cars, it could build its system at a much lower cost. San Francisco has already been put through the paces to get an OK-for-Americans streetcar, and paid for the depreciation of the cars. Since it has an established ridership base, it could afford to get a new generation of cars. The capital cost of new cars would be onerous for Madison.

              • Max Wyss

                Well, that’s a big USAn problem. And one of the reasons why everything is so much more expensive.

                As reaction to that, it would be really important for the potential buyers of such vehicles to join forces and specify something which makes it worthwile to be built in the US. It still could be a standard vehicle, such as Bombardier’s Flexity, or Alstom’s Citadis; (ok, it it has to be obese, look at the Tram/Train vehicles such as Alstom’s Dualis as a base).

                I somehow missed the Madison context. However, could the Madison customers be satisfied with second-hand vehicles (even well maintained)?

              • Adirondacker12800

                Why would Madison deliberately set out to build a new system that doesn’t use standard vehicles?

              • Wad

                @Max Wyss, not only do Americans pay more, but they also have to deal with regulations that only perpetuate higher costs and inferior quality.

                It’s the only way the U.S. functions.

                Most equipment in Europe and East Asia might be fit to run off-the-shelf in the U.S., but we have policies preventing us from doing so. Why? Jobs and/or national self-esteem.

                Cheaper imports aren’t necessarily cheap. It will require some government money. Then, you get meddlesome elected officials who see this as an opportunity to get a shiny new factory and the associated jobs. Also, elected officials will call into question the design and engineering competence of foreigners and make American engineers essentially trace over European blueprints to customize them to the “unique characteristics of the U.S.”

                I suggested the Swiss Army railcar solution to Susan because it just might be the answer to BRT now/rail later, only cheaper and more effective. I mentioned the Muni Metro Bredas because they have the capacity to run three different types of service with a single vehicle.

                Instead of paying more later to convert an existing service, Madison could go backwards in the process. Lay the track now and have the railcar act like a bus outside of the university and isthmus.

                Here’s an ordinary Muni Metro stop. These are about every 4 blocks apart, similar to a local bus. And here is an elevated platform.

                As for Madison settling for used trains, it would get a system a lot sooner than if it would’ve had to compete for a grant to buy new trains. Figure each train car costs $1 million or more new, Madison could buy a batch of cars at depreciated value while San Francisco could apply for a grant to buy new replacement cars. And because it receives some money from Madison, it could pay less per-unit on the new cars.

              • Wad

                @Adirondacker12800,

                1. Madison has no plans for anything at the present time.

                2. What standard vehicle? Most urban rail cars are one-off jobs and very few can be plugged in among existing systems. Also, most light rail cars are gigantic. The Swiss Army cars are heavy but short.

                3. It’s about establishing a standard from the ground-up, rather than from the federal level on down.

              • Adirondacker12800

                1. Madison has no plans for anything at the present time.

                That doesn’t answer the question. Why would Madison, or any place, build a system from scratch that doesn’t use standard designs?

                2. What standard vehicle?

                The ones that are running on streetcars systems all over the world? Bought from the catalogs a wide selection of vendors.
                Standard streetcars run in the streets of US right now. From PCC cars to the newest brightest stuff the vendors have to offer.

              • Max Wyss

                @Wad: The leading manufacturers have modular designs, available in various lengths and carbody widths, as well as gauge (many systems are standard gauge, but there are important meter-gauge networks around). So, this is essentially checking options from a catalog, with minor customizing. Although, for example, the Citadis allows the customer to customize the front and rear end, which helps making a considerable differentiation (that’s why the Citadis at Marseille look like ocean liners). This modular design keeps cost at a reasonable level. Of course, you can order custom vehicles (you may have to, because of some sprecifc requirements of your network), but even those are nowadays using standard components.

                I guess the Bredas in San Francisco are custom jobs. They may be short, but if they can be run in trains of 3, it provids the needed capacity. And one can also consider them as a result of Zeitgeist. Nowadays, the trend is to longer vehicles, but rarely run them in MU. (although it could be that there are reasons for short vehicles, because of ticket selling issues).

                @Adirondacker 12800: The number of manufacturers working worldwide is not thaaat big, but you still can chose from about a dozen trustworthy products (which is not bad at all), and a typical shortlist consists of 6 to 8.

            • Wad

              @Adriondacker12800,

              That doesn’t answer the question. Why would Madison, or any place, build a system from scratch that doesn’t use standard designs?

              That’s because there is no standard design above the gauge!

              If you look at American urban rail projects, each system has been a one-off job with variations in train widths, platform height and even manufacturing. There is no equivalent of the PCC.

              We would have had far more light rail if there had been an aftermarket and let transit systems build their systems around some of the early-adopter systems.

              Then a standard would emerge.

              It did in commuter rail. FRA rules played a big part, but the big winner turned out to be the Bombardier bilevel car. Commuter rail agencies were able to get a proven Canadian design, and they know there’s a large secondary market for the cars — especially in L.A. Metrolink has for the longest time operated with 0% spares, and it was able to expand/maintain service by leasing cars from Toronto, Miami, Seattle and Stockton, rather than procuring new Bombardiers.

              You don’t have something like this for urban rail. It’s very likely that few light rail cars can be interoperable. There have been some exceptions, like when Salt Lake City took San Jose’s old light rail cars.

              At the very least, a standard could be established by having a non-rail city adopting the designs of an existing rail city and having the standard filter down.

              In this case, I suggested that Madison match San Francisco’s Muni Metro standard. The cars can operate in three different environments, and San Francisco is going to be locked in to the Swiss Army railcar design. It can’t get low floor cars because the Market Street subway will be too expensive to re-do, and platform-level boarding would be too expensive and/or unnecessary for the western stops.

              Madison can buy used cars to gain an entry into rail, and if the system exceeds expectations, it becomes feasible to buy brand new Swiss Army railcars.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Yet PCC cars run up and down Market Street in San Francisco unmolested… The vendors hava a wide selection of cars available. If you are building a new system, which therefore doesn’t have any legacy issues, pick one.

  • rg

    I fully agree that buses are an important part of any transit system and that they will remain the core of most US transit systems. So there is no doubt that we need to invest in buses.

    That said, for me a huge difference between bus and rail is ride quality. I never get motion sickness on the train whereas I almost always feel queasy after riding the bus for more than 10 minutes. Similarly, I can work on a crossword puzzle on even the oldest train but can rarely do so on the bus — maybe for the first month or so after the street the bus runs on has been resurfaced. A friend who recently visited Boston summed it up well: the Red Line is much older than the Silver Line (which is brand new) but it offers a much smoother and quieter ride. Similarly, I hear that the concrete surface for the LA Orange Line is already deteriorating enough to affect ride quality — imagine how much worse it would be in a city with freeze-thaw cycles.

    The quieter part is also an important comparison. My office in downtown DC overlooks a street that hosts several high frequency bus line. Even though my office has windows that open, I never open them — it sounds like the New Jersey Turnpike out there! The comparison to modern streetcars/light rail trains with electric motors is not a favorable one for buses and the roar of their intenral combustion engines. In my experience, modern streetcars/light rail trains are so quiet you an barely hear them go by.

    Bottom line: for almost all of my daily transit trips, I have a choice between a train and a bus. I almost never choose the bus. (Indeed, now that bike sharing is an option for intra-neighborhood trips, my already infrequent bus trips have become nearly extinct.) Simialry, I would gladly live on a street with a streetcar or light rail line but would probably avoid living on a street with a high frequency bus line.

    • this assumes diesel buses, with our system of financing buses biased against electric trolley buses.

      if there was a mode-neutral mechanism to finance capital works for transport electrification, trolleybuses would come back into the picture in a substantial way, especially if it was a formula distribution to all qualifying projects.

  • Matt

    One other operational benefit to BRT is that a particular bus can travel a portion of its route on a well-engineered busway and a portion on regular roadways mixed with vehicles.

    Trains are stuck on tracks.

    This operational benefit seems valid as a way to phase in service, since the busway would not need to be built all at once.

    Yet the flexibility could also used by transit planners to branch out service away from the core. While branching can enable service to more destinations, it reduces frequency which may be counterproductive. It also takes away some of the simplicity of a rail network which, in my opinion, explains part of the psychological advantage rail systems have over bus.

    • But the danger is that the same ‘flexibility’ makes it vulnerable to encroachment by cars. Which then makes it useless.

    • Nathanael

      Buses are stuck on roads. And not just any roads: ones which are wide and have room for wide turns by very large buses.

      In my home town, streetcars would fit in a lot better, because buses are too long for our old, 19th-century layout, and block multiple lanes when turning right. Streetcars can have short individual cars, while having long trains, and by staying on the tracks will keep out of traffic.

      A giant traffic jam was created two days ago by a bus which couldn’t detour past an accident.

      So much for buses’ vaunted “flexibility”. Maybe somewhere: not here.

      • Matt

        Yeah I think you missed my point (which was roughly the same as yours)… even though buses may be “flexible” from an operational perspective, they aren’t so flexible when more factors are considered.

      • Tom West

        “Buses are stuck on roads. And not just any roads: ones which are wide and have room for wide turns by very large buses.”
        I disagree… if you travel on some rural bus routes in the UK, you will go down narrow country lanes that look like they can’t possibly have room for a bus (and yet they do).

        • the issue there is more the corners than the guideways ~ indeed, one of the speed benefits of a dedicated BRT guideway is no need to slowly squeeze past an idiot in a car talking on a cellphone who could not be bothered to stop at the white “stop here” line.

  • I think the whole BRT vs LRT tends to distract from the fact that there are very simple ways to make regular bus travel much more pleasant – frequent service (with branding), bus lanes (even just dedicating parking lanes during rush hour), loor floor buses, arrival displays, fixed interval schedules.

    It comes down to that idea of ‘organization before electronics before concrete’ – regular bus travel allows a lot of better organization and electronics, and it seems with the cries for BRT we found a way to ask for concrete first.

    • Nathanael

      On wide streets with more than one travel lane in each direction, bus lanes should be seriously considered to replace a traffic lane. But they aren’t, not in the US or Canada.

      • Well, at least in Montreal they are putting more of those rush hour-only bus lanes on parking lanes.

        But it seems that North American transit services are slow to play with frequent service branding, and arrival information.

        And fixed interval schedules I only hear from Europe.

      • MikeL25517

        Washington DC is implementing multiple Priority Bus Corridors that are BRT “lite” (with apologies to Budweiser). They will include some dedicated lanes, stations and transit signal priority. This includes not just DC but Maryland and Virginia cities in the metroplex. Check it out – it does not have to be all or nothing, which is the big deal with BRT. As for being able to operate in mixed traffic in the burbs and on the guideway in the congested parts of the city, check out the Pittsburgh system of busways. It works and has fostered TOD. And Pittsburgh has an LRT system AND a joint bus/rail tunnel. It’s all about designing a system that fits the circumstances.

  • BrianTH

    I agree that selling high-end BRT as a low-cost alternative to LRT is a mistake. But it is also mistake to claim that is the only argument for BRT.

    Pittsburgh is a U.S. city which uses both LRT and high-end BRT to good effect. Specifically, its Busways are two-lane, bus-only highways (they only widen to four lanes at stations and exits). It also has the T, a light rail system mostly using dedicated ROW, including a subway section Downtown.

    To make the case for Busways, in essence the nice thing about them is that you can use them only where you need to use them. The East Busway in Pittsburgh, for example, bypasses the congested routes that lead to and from Downtown Pittsburgh from the east. But a given bus route can use ordinary streets to go through a nearby neighborhood, then hop on the Busway for its express run Downtown. Other bus routes can start by using ordinary highways for express service, then hop on the Busway to avoid congestion as they approach the central area. Of course you can do something equivalent by running shuttle buses to a train station, then have the passengers transfer to a train to complete their express run. But transfers are a ridership killer.

    And in Pittsburgh, it has worked. Just to give some numbers, the T is about 25 miles in length, and it has about the same number of daily riders as the East Busway alone, which is about 9 miles in length. That is possible because the true extent of the East Busway system is not just the Busway itself, but also all the routes which feed into the Busway without the need for transfers. An equivalent number of riders for less than 40% of the dedicated infrastructure isn’t a bad deal–but note that is possible not because the East Busway is duplicating the T at a lower cost, but rather because the East Busway is doing something it is particularly well-suited for (collecting a lot of contributing routes without the need for transfers).

    Finally, I might note the Busways also provide a congestion bypass for emergency vehicles.

    None of this is to suggest Busways are always and everywhere the right solution. If your potential ridership along the one route itself is high enough, the considerably higher operating efficiencies of LRT might make it worth it. And in fact you can potentially have BRT and LRT share a right of way, which happens for a short stretch in Pittsburgh.

    But in cases where most of your rapid transit time gains would come from passing congestion on only one part of many routes, and in general your potential riders are somewhat spread out (Pittsburgh’s topography encouraged many small pockets of fairly dense neighborhoods which can’t be easily strung together), the Busway approach may well be a good idea.

    • Nathanael

      Pittsburgh’s Busways were astoundingly overpriced — they *tore out rail routes* to build the East one, you know. And they’re wearing out fast.

      The East Busway in particular should have been a rail route — it’s the best natural rail route in the region, much better than the “T” routes, and the god ridership is simply due to it going to the right places — and people would have been fine with the transfer from bus to rail; the rail would probably have got it more customers than the existing east Busway. It is actually a pretty good example of why BRT as implemented in the US is a disaster; it costs a fortune while taking up extra space and driving out good rail routes.

      • BrianTH

        First, there is still a very active rail line along the East Busway route–I’m not sure why you think otherwise. It is used by NS for freight and Amtrak for intercity passenger service. There is also periodic talk of using it for commuter rail.

        Conversely, the East Busway actually doesn’t follow a great route for local rail. The biggest problem is that past Shadyside, it is basically running in a gorge or alongside cliffs all the way into Downtown. The opportunities for TOD on that stretch are therefore highly limited.

        Finally, I think you are quite wrong about transfers. I have done it both ways (I once used a shuttle to train, and I currently use one of the aforementioned local-to-express East Busway routes), and doing it without the transfer is far, far preferable. I have absolutely no doubt that routes like mine are adding to the ridership in part because they eliminate transfers.

      • Burgher

        The East Busway was built over two of four standard US gauge tracks in the early 80’s. Pittsburgh’s “T” system is a wider 5′ 2.5″ gauge. This made using the existing infrastructure from the standard gauge railroad impossible. They would basically be laying track and physical plant as though the tracks below were never there. As a result they went with the “cheaper” busway.

        For Pittsburgh, the East Busway works well. In fact, Pittsburgh’s transit issues are not a matter of BRT vs. LRT, but more that the two of them together don’t form any kind of coherent system. We’ve got a bunch of busways that don’t connect with each other and to say transfers between LRT and BRT are difficult would be an understatement.

    • Wad

      @BrianTH, if you don’t go big with BRT, then you get to the point where the term means everything and nothing, and cash-starved transit agencies see it as another grant to win.

      L.A.’s Rapid buses are bus rapid transit. Operationally, they’re limited-stop buses with branding.

    • Tcmetro

      The South Busway parallels the light rail as well. It would have been far cheaper to have shuttle buses that connected to the LRT line instead of building a busway and duplicating services.

      • BrianTH

        If I was designing the Pittsburgh transit network from the ground up with the same amount of capital that has been spent to date, I probably wouldn’t have both the T and the South Busway in that corridor. Interestingly, though, the South Busway still gets about 9000 weekday riders. The fact that it isn’t dominated by the parallel T line provides evidence in support of the view that Busways are not merely inferior light rail lines, but rather that they can serve a different purpose.

  • Beta Magellan

    Looking at all the above comments, my first inclination is always to reply with “what do you mean by BRT?” The term’s so widely applied that in includes everything from limited stop services in Kansas City to the separated bus lanes in Paris to the guided busways in Adelaide. There’s a world of difference in the types of investments to be made.

    Pace, Chicago’s suburban bus operator, has started calling its proposals for improved bus services (limited-stop mixed traffic service entailing signal priority, improved shelters and better frequencies) has started using the term “Arterial BRT” or just “Arterial Rapid Transit”—maybe this term warrants wider circulation for the low end of what’s now termed Bus Rapid Transit. On the other end, Allan Hoffman and Alasdair Cain suggested calling services like those in Adelaide and Brisbane “Quickways”—although the branding’s a bit overt, at least it’s a term intended specifically for grade-separated, high-capacity developed world busways.

    • Nathanael

      BRT is simply a branding designed to pretend that buses can provide “rapid transit”, which is a phrase everyone associates with high-quality urban rail service since at least the Interborough Rapid Transit in 1904.

      Except buses can’t and they don’t. It’s a branding scheme by the asphalt lobby to try to get rail money.

      I never see the name “BRT” used for the good bus schemes, oddly. Even the ones which provide rapid, reliable transit. It’s only used for schemes which involve lots of asphalt and concrete, which promote the oil and rubber industries. I’ve become entirely skeptical of the term.

      Even though I really do think cities like Chicago and LA need dedicated bus lanes on all their major arterials, I’d become suspicious if they called them “BRT” that it was a scheme to pour unnecessary asphalt.

      • They can, but you need to have enough transit funding in a country so that routes with ridership to merit rail get rail, and BRT is placed in the lower ridership routes were it is warranted. The Great Infrastructure Funding Drought of the last three decades in the US means that the US is not that country at the moment.

  • There’s nothing obsolete about BRT-vs-LRT debates. We’re going to have more and more of them, because they are two technologies capable of delivering a mobility outcome that is more similar than different. The fact that we need both rail and buses says nothing about the need to choose clearly between BRT and LRT in corridors where both are capable of providing the needed mobility.

    Popular conceptions of the rail-bus difference depend heavily on the cultural differences between them that prevailed, in many cities but not all, in the late 20c. The point of the articles you cite is that this attitude is changing, and that if we move into an era of more limited means, we should expect these attitudes to continue to yield in the face of the reality about how many rapid transit lines we need and how much money we have. At the same time, BRT continues to improve in quality, and also improves its ability to resist being undermined by car interests, though of course this revolution happens at different speeds in different countries.

    While many influential people, including Professor Perl (note sp), continue to treat late-20c perceptions of rail as permanent guides to the future, a more nuanced assessment will need to look at:

    (a) how much do we just want personal mobility, as opposed to other things like “look and feel” and ride quality? (I don’t have an answer, but believe in firmly asking the question. In corridors where capacity is an issue, personal mobility needs will drive a decision for rail; in others, not.

    (b) how much mobility could we provide with the same amount of money? I think we’ll need to get to a point where the FTA lets us ask questions this way.

    (c) how can BRT further close the gap with rail, both in terms of its vulnerability to car-encroachment and its “look and feel,” ride quality, etc. Note that trolleybus BRT is already available to address the emissions/noise issues, so these are no longer reasons to build rail …

    Cheers, Jarrett HumanTransit.org

    • But it’s clear that in the US, even high-quality BRT doesn’t attract riders from cars the way LRT does. There’s more to it than you state, but that’s not what transit agencies want to hear, because they desperately want to believe in BRT (because it’s cheaper).

      Mobility is no good if it’s so non-competitive it can’t get people out of their cars.

      • MRB

        Based on what and whose data are you making this ascertion?

        • The Orange Line disaster.

          In BRT’s defense, the Orange Line is doing better than the Gold Line, so it could just be the demonstration corridor sucked.

          In LRT’s defense, if the first LRT corridors did relatively well, why not demand the same of BRT?

        • South Miami busway does poor compared to just about any urban light rail line too. And see Pittsburgh example upstream as well.

          Some provide minor operational benefits to existing bus riders and attract a FEW people out of their cars, but it’s a different thing entirely than the phenomenon of a good light rail line (like Houston, let’s say) where a large percentage of riders previously drove.

          • BrianTH

            As I noted, the East Busway gets as many riders on 9 miles as the T (a light rail system) gets on 25 miles, so I don’t think that case supports your assertion.

            Then again, that is a somewhat unfair comparison, because as I noted previously, the East Busway is only the common portion shared by a host of routes which fan out into other areas. So the effective coverage of the routes which use the East Busway is actually quite large–but I don’t think that explanation really supports the point you were trying to make.

            • And some of the most effective rail projects around the world in recent decades feature strong ticketing and schedule integration with connecting bus routes.

              • BrianTH

                Indeed.

                To frame the overall issue, I’d say if 95% of your potential ridership could directly access the high-volume route in question and 5% would need a feeder service, you should likely go with rail for that route and well-integrated bus feeders, assuming that you would achieve significant operating cost savings as a result.

                Conversely, even with good integration, I think avoiding transfers has inherent value. So I think if 5% of your potential ridership could directly access the route but 95% would need a feeder service, you should likely go with a transfer-free approach like a Busway (which could be electrified for use by dual-mode trolleybuses).

                Somewhere in between these two extremes will be a breakeven point that varies with the circumstances. Which is to say I would expect either of these approaches could be optimal in different circumstances.

              • There’s also trip length. A trip that is 10% bus and 90% rail is a different animal to one that is 40% bus and 60% rail.

                Even if 95% of riders caught a connecting service, those who caught a short local bus loop with properly functioning timetable integration (and the shorter the connecting bus route, the easier to have smooth schedule integration), and spent 90% of their trip on the train would likely prefer the connection to the train to a one seat bus ride.

                And its possible to get better availability in a broad corridor with short bus loops along an arterial than you can get by merging local bus routes to form an arterial. Cul-de-sac suburbs are hell on arterial bus services, and sometimes its much easier to devise a short loop to it than an arterial through it.

                Which again points away from one size fits all and towards horses for courses.

              • BrianTH

                I agree relative route length is a consideration for operating cost reasons.

                But I disagree that it seriously affects the transfer issue. We know that waiting time is perceived as much more onerous than riding time, and no matter how smooth the schedule is in theory, with the feeder buses moving in mixed-traffic, there are still going to be some people who have to wait at least a little while.

                On top of that, there is the sheer inconvenience of a transfer: you get on and get yourself settled into a seat. But now you have get yourself ready to move (e.g., wake up, stop fiddling with your smartphone, gather up your stuff, and so on), shuffle off the bus with a bunch of other people, then do whatever it takes to navigate to the train, then shuffle onto the train with a bunch of people, and then get yourself seated again–assuming there is still a seat available. Day after day, twice a day, that adds up to a lot of extra hassle. This inherent burden also becomes particularly obvious if you are taking the bus with children (every on/off cycle can become a much bigger chore), or are disabled, elderly, or so on.

                None of this is to suggest that it may not be worth going with a shuttle/train approach anyway under many circumstances. But having done it both ways, I would easily choose a trip that was 10% local/90% busway (using the same bus) over a trip that was 10% feeder bus/90% train. Trains just aren’t that much nicer than Busways such that I would want to put up with the hassle of a transfer.

              • That’s a big part of why we perceive it differently when its a short bus ride to catch a train that does most of the trip and a transfer in the middle of the trip ~ you don’t really get settled down on the bus ride, you are “just catching the bus to the station”.

    • Nathanael

      Jarrett, I love trolleybuses, but unless you’re going to have mixed traffic lanes shared with cars, or you’re converting existing pavement to a bus lane, there is rarely a reason to use trolleybuses rather than trams on steel rails. Both have a fixed infrastructure beyond that used by cars (not much “flexibility”), but trolleybuses are less efficient, give a worse ride, and operate on a wider ROW with worse drainage properties. (Very steep hills give them an advantage, and of course there’s always the “installed infrastructure” phenomenon, if you’ve got the trolleybuses, you should keep ‘em.)

      The fundamental question is: share lanes with cars or not? If you answer “yes”, you get the conclusion that you want buses, if you answer “no”, you want rail. :-P This is kind of dopey to explain, but surely you can figure out why this is — because it’s *possible* for cars to encroach on bus lanes, and when they encroach on rail lines, they’re trespassers.

      Only London has come close to the level of bus lane enforcement necessary to change this, and the US and Australia aren’t anywhere close — until this is changed, it will determine everything.

      Obviously the question of whether to share lanes with cars is dependent on volume, as usual with “bus vs. rail” debates (low volume of cars -> share, high volume of cars -> don’t)

      • Nathaniel expresses a common confusion when he writes: The fundamental question is: share lanes with cars or not? If you answer “yes”, you get the conclusion that you want buses, if you answer “no”, you want rail. :-P This is kind of dopey to explain, but surely you can figure out why this is — because it’s *possible* for cars to encroach on bus lanes, and when they encroach on rail lines, they’re trespassers.

        No, Nathaniel’s example is about degrees of exclusivity of right-of-way, which have nothing whatever to do with the bus-rail distinction. See here:

        http://www.humantransit.org/2011/03/rail-bus-differences-contd.html

        • Adirondacker12800

          …..very few cars get in the Lincoln Tunnel eXclusive Bus Lane. Supposedly the XBL is the world’s most effective BRT system. Very little enforcement either. The contraflow discourages use by cars.

          • David Keddie

            The XBL, using one lane of the Lincoln Tunnel, takes more passengers into Manhattan than New Jersey Transit does into Penn Station. Why is that? Is it that the private bus operators provide more competitive pricing and convenient service than the trains? Is it that buses using the highway system more effectively serve suburban development patterns? It would be good to hear an explanation of the XBL’s success since it seems a major argument in favor of buses as rapid transit, and it’s only exclusive right of way at the final bottleneck.

            • Adirondacker12800

              It could be that when the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel opened it was faster to drive into Manhattan than it was to take the train leading to abandonment of passenger rail service. In the late 60s when driving into Manhattan was no longer faster than taking the train there were no trains so they bustituted. Since then people who think cars are the answer to everything complain loudly whenever someone suggests improving railroad service leaving people with no other option than the bus.

            • First, NJT’s now scrubbed-from-the-net factsheet put its Penn Station boarding volume at 67,000 per weekday. The XBL carries 62,000 people. They’re statistically even; the XBL doesn’t actually carry more riders than NJT.

              Second, the XBL benefits from a huge bus terminal to feed into. With all the bus bays there, it’s even bigger than Penn Station, and much bigger than the five measly tracks NJT gets.

              • David Keddie

                Penn Station, even reduced as it’s been to a underground rabbit warren, can serve far more commuters in a similar number of square feet compared to the Port Authority, which supports the reality that rail has greater capacity. However, the Port Authority does manage to bring in more commuters than all but a few US downtowns see in the course of a day. If you add in the curbside buses that number is increased.

                It would seem that an argument could be made that buses using the existing automobile infrastructure with only minimal exclusive right-of-way to avoid bottlenecks can provide effective rapid transit. New York City of course requires rail to exist in its present form, but most US cities lack the density that would warrant rail. Perhaps a more effective bus system could help build the ridership necessary to ultimately justify rail. I suppose the debate hinges on whether rail is more successful at creating transit-oriented development than an express bus line running on an interstate. The question of densification however is made moot by the existence of restrictive zoning, which seems from my own experience to be the primary obstacle to transit-oriented development.

              • Only minimal exclusive right-of-way? Only if you do not consider two full blocks’ worth of a terminal to be exclusive ROW!

                And if Calgary is dense enough for light rail, then so are the cities of the US.

        • Anon256

          Yes, of course it’s possible to build physically-separated rights of way for buses, like the Ottawa Transitway or LA Orange Line, but Nathanael’s point was that it’s a bad idea: they end up being larger, more disruptive, and more expensive to build and maintain than physically-separated rights of way for rail, with somewhat inferior capacity and ride quality. The only convincing reason I have seen to build physically-separated infrastructure for buses instead of for rail is if the buses are expected to share lanes with cars for significant sections elsewhere on their routes (in an “open busway” configuration); this is exactly the distinction Nathanael made.

          The other side of this argument is that it doesn’t make sense to build rail in the street unless the trains are expected to run in physically-separated rights of way for significant sections elsewhere on their routes. Your posts on the failure of mixed-traffic streetcars to improve mobility make this point very well.

          (Of course, well-designed schedules and transfer facilities can sometimes make it possible to use each mode where it works best without having to build expensive or inefficient compromises.)

        • nathanael is focusing on exclusivity defined by rule, where the kind of political erosion of the rule that he describes would not be surprising and efforts to erode the rule are certain in today’s US.

          Exclusivity defined by configuration is less subject to erosion, but then how many contributors here argue “why, all you need for a BRT corridor is paint”? If you need for access to be configured so that its not subject to car trespass, up goes the implied capital cost.

          • jim

            What was an exclusive busway on Virginia’s I-95, I-395 in the Washington suburbs was turned into HOV-4 plus buses, then HOV-3 plus motorcycles plus buses, then HOV-3 plus hybrids plus motorcycles plus buses and soon the I-95 portion will become toll plus HOV-3 plus hybrids plus motorcycles plus buses.

            Erosion happens.

            • oh, yeah ~ unless you can fill the artery up with the exclusive user, other users will look for a way to use that capacity.

              Erosion can happen with rail as well ~ in the Newcastle NSW rail fight, a complicating factor in increasing rail service frequencies is the building of a new coal loader that is accessed via a Wye not far from downtown Newcastle, so the current dedicated coal lines are going to have to be supplemented by use of the current passenger and general freight rail corridor through (this is along the main rail corridor from Sydney to Brisbane).

      • BrianTH

        To extend the discussion above about transfer-free local-to-express buses, you could also do that with dual-mode trolleybuses. I actually expect the East Busway to get electrified at some point to allow for such use.

        What all this is highlighting is that the answer to your question for many routes is going to be “yes for part of the route, no for another part of the route”. And there are technologies that allow you to do that.

      • Trolley buses can switch lanes. Trains are stuck on one track. Most trolley systems place the wire between two lanes, so the bus can use either one when needed.

        Further, most trolley buses have a battery which allows it to run off wire for a shrot distance. Say a train dies. The entire line is screwed. Say a trolleybus dies. Just disconnect, drive around it, and reconnect. Now tow the dead bus. Super easy. Move the dead train. Not so easy.

        • Trains do have the capability, you know, of pushing or towing other trains along the tracks if necessary. The big problem with mixed-traffic streetcar is not what happens when a train breaks down, but what happens when something else blocks the ROW.

          • Max Wyss

            This is absolutely the case. You may count about 10 times more blockades caused by external reasons (cars blocking the track, collision with cars) than blockades caused by a broken down rail vehicle (that’s an estimate for a city which is very much aware of light rail).

          • Yes, this is a big difference with the modern trolley buses with battery back up, able to leave the trolley wire to get around an obstruction.

  • My post about this same issue is about how high costs are used to downgrade transit, leading costs per rider to increase if anything. People think BRT is cheap because they’ve not seen it in the US, so when they’re comparing it to American LRT, they’re really comparing non-US costs to US costs. Look at American BRT like the Orange Line and you’ll see mediocre construction cost per rider even by US standards, awful operating costs, and disappointing signal priority.

  • Andrew

    LRT would be smoother than BRT if said BRT was just the simple “painted bus lanes” on existing roads. If BRT is in a reserved guideway and the guideway was maintained to smooth conditions, then the ride would be about as smooth as LRT. Of course, there aren’t too many cases out there of modern LRT running on rough track, but that’s because most LRT tracks aren’t maintained by CSX. ^_^

    • Nathanael

      Actually, this isn’t really true; buses on “good” roadway still generally ride worse than trains on “bad” track, mostly due to the side-to-side wobble, which is yaw with buses and pitch with trains (yaw is much less pleasant, ask any airplane pilot). Differences in the suspension can outweigh this, though, if one type is using an older, worse, harsher suspension.

      • Tom West

        Personally, I find the long wheelbases of buses (and rail vehicles) make yaw very unlikely – buses tend to *roll* far more than railed vehicles. This is because buses travel over irregular surfaces, they need softer suspension. This makes them pitch more, as does the fact they can brake harder than steel-on-steel vehicles.

        • I’d think how much yaw a passenger experiences when the bus is making a tight turn, hits a deep pothole or runs over a curb depends on where they are seated in the bus.

    • Beta Magellan

      And lot of buses can often turn good roadway into bad pretty quickly.

    • But if the BRT are on dedicated, well maintained asphalt or concrete right of way, there goes a big chunk of the capital cost advantage, since buses do more damage per ROW trasnit to their ROW than light rail does to its ROW.

      Indeed, in corridors with ridership to justify LRT, it is quite possible that there goes all of the capital cost advantage.

  • danny

    I have no skin in either game, as I prefer signal priority and short headways more than I prefer any specific traction type.

    That being said, anybody who claims that BRT is always cheaper than LRT is not looking at the issue correctly. The issue of cost should always depend on total costs, not just upfront costs.

    That means that in some situations BRT will be cheaper, and some situations LRT will be cheaper.

    Furthermore, the upfront cost difference is often overstated. This is due to the fact that BRT lanes are often just repainted existing lanes which were expropriated from whichever department built the roads. They don’t take into account the actual construction costs of that lane, which often exceeds the costs of rail construction.

    Rolling stock cost differences are also overstated. Rail rolling stock is indeed much more pricey, but not necessarily more expensive. After depreciation expenses, they are often very similar.

    Maintenance cost differences for rights of way are often understated. BRT has maintenance costs which increase exponentially with utilization. This is because road wear increases exponentially with weight (or more specifically, tire pressure). The heavier your bus gets, the more damage your vehicle does to the road. More simply, as utilization rates increase, your road lifespan decreases exponentially. LA’s BRT program is experiencing this right now, as they are realizing their bus lanes have deteriorated much faster than expected.

    The end takeaway is that while BRT is entirely appropriate for certain situations, the usage breakpoint where LRT is more cost effective is often lower than an elementary analysis would suggest.

    • Nathanael

      “This is due to the fact that BRT lanes are often just repainted existing lanes which were expropriated from whichever department built the roads.”

      I *wish* this were true in the US (or Australia or Canada for that matter). Because in fact, the main good argument for BRT *is* that you can just expropriate existing road lanes cheaply, and that is an *excellent* argument.

      But here in the US and Canada that never happens with projects advertised as “BRT”, at least not so far (prove me wrong, please!). Instead they build new asphalt, often on top of old rail lines (!!!) and directly and immediately spend more than the costs of rail construction. And then it wears out quicker, as you said.

      LA’s Orange Line (“Orange Lie”) should have been rail, and everyone except Zev Yaroslavsky knows it; it was forced to be a busway by specific laws passed by Mr. Yaroslavsky. Bleh.

      • Wad

        To clarify, it was a state bill that prevented rail from being run at-grade on the eastern segment of the now-Orange Line.

        Zev Yaroslavsky did the political legwork to reactivate the corridor. This had come at a time when he was going through his Curitiba phase; he and other board members were almost on the verge of making all future MISs in L.A. busways. It also came at the time when the San Fernando Valley was trying to secede from L.A., so L.A. had to pay a lot of good will to the Valley after the secession vote was defeated (a slim majority in the Valley voted for it; most of L.A. was against it).

        Had Zev not gotten his busway, the right of way might still be unused to this day. It was either the Orange Line or nothing.

  • Nathanael

    “Just as importantly, the argument made in the Journal by Simon Fraser University Professor Anthony Pearl that “Rail has a proven record of being able to take people of their cars; buses don’t,” is quite frankly premised on antiquated views about the differences between buses and trains. ”

    False “even-handedness” from Yonah. The fact is that professor Pearl is right. Rail has a proven record and buses don’t. Sure, we may hope that buses will change that record, but for the most part they haven’t.

    I could point to London’s buses as a rare exception, and say that *IF* you run buses the way London does they will take people out of their cars. That would be honest. But one example, contrasted with thousands of cities where buses failed to take people out of their cars, does not make a “proven record”.

    Professor Pearl is not making statements “premised on antiquated views”. He is making simple statements of historical fact. Yet you are interpreting them as if they were arguments from first principles. They’re not. They’re just facts about history. You can argue that if we build GOOD buses, those historical facts will fade into oblivion (and I agree) — but the fact is he’s right.

    Which gets us back to — how do we get GOOD buses? Either it costs more than rail, as we’ve seen from so many “high-end” BRT projects (because it needs wider right-of-way, requires more vehicles which last for a shorter time, and costs more in fuel and labor, while giving a worse ride — against which only the advantage of being able to run in mixed traffic :-P).

    Or it requires TAKING LANES AWAY FROM CARS, which is what they did in London, rather than building new lanes. If it’s just paint and pavement, it’s cheap, but nobody in the US ever does “BRT” by repainting general traffic lanes into BUS LANES. The cult of the car, I suppose.

  • Matt

    So this “taking away lanes from cars” issue keeps coming up. Considering the types of people on this board (including myself) most of us are a) transit supporters and b) prefer rail over bus in areas where the choice is between the two. Yet I think a whole additional article could be written on “taking lanes away from cars.”

    Here in MN, people constantly complain about the HOT lanes which supposedly keep cars from using all available pavement and therefore cause congestion. These critics don’t understand that a bus moving down the HOT lane represents 40+ cars that are not present on the roadway. So it all comes down to the concept people have of moving cars, when the concept we ought to have is moving people (whether in trains, autos, bike lanes, sidewalks, etc.)

  • Los Angeles is on the verge of taking away the curb lanes from cars on Wilshire Blvd (which are currently peak-hour lanes, and parking off-peak), and turning them into rush-hour-only bus lanes. The board meeting is tomorrow!

    http://thesource.metro.net/2011/05/25/a-brief-look-ahead-to-thursdays-metro-board-meeting/

    The project is somewhat limited due to political reasons (Beverly Hills and Santa Monica are separate cities and are not included yet, and a 1 mile section near UCLA is excluded due to NIMBYism), but it should improve rush hour bus speeds by 20% (and therefore reduce operating costs by 20%) on a corridor that has 100,000 bus riders per day.

    If this is expanded and replicated other places in the city, it could be a game changer, and is honestly cheap at $31.5 million for almost 8 miles (less than $4 per mile, mainly due to the cost of repaving 8 lane-miles)

    http://thesource.metro.net/2011/05/17/wilshire-bus-lane-project-returns-to-board-of-directors/

    • Joseph, that’s highly optimistic. More likely is some signs will go up, and they will be obeyed some of the time, but not all of the time; and enforcement will never, ever, ever be able to make up the difference. Reserved lanes on the right side of the road are the worst place for them (in right-side driving countries anyways) too – people will still need to turn right; meaning that the enforcers will have a hard time figuring out who is just using the lane to get around traffic and who is using it legitimately to prepare for a turn, which will inevitably mean they will stop trying.

    • Nathanael

      How can we show support for this?

      Last time I visited LA, I took the busses down Wilshire (From the end of the subway to La Brea), and I kept thinking “This REALLY should have a bus lane each way. There are SO many buses, and the street is SO wide, there’s no way that lane should be for cars ratehr than buses.”

      That corridor is so busy that the buses will still be busy, and still using the bus lanes, even after the subway goes through. It’s already got *three* different stop patterns of buses, and the subway will have even wider stop spacing.

  • Brian

    Wow, quite the exchange on a good piece. Nice going Alon.

    LRT and BRT are going to be competitive when the pots of money available for construction are so small compared to the demand. I see them as being highly complimentary in many cases, but frequently hybrid solutions that would involve a combination of the two systems are much less favored than a single “silver bullet” approach to transportation.

    It would be interesting to see the cost comparison between BRT and LRT when the BRT is built to the “high end” of the range of options. When both are using dedicated rights of way or lanes carved from arterial roads, traveling on concrete pad instead of asphalt with small boarding stations, about the only apparent difference in cost are the rails and the vehicles.

    Much like you would not construct heavy subway style rail into areas that lack the density to support it, LRT and the high end BRT, like that pictured, are preferable at certain densities. As density reduces, the need for the amount of specialized structure is reduced, thus creating more of a market for the lower end of BRT and less market for LRT. As such a hybrid system that combines both LRT and high end BRT in higher density areas with a lower end BRT in other areas would create service options better tied to the needs of particular locations. A hybrid approach could also potentially “re-use” infrastructure that is common to both BRT and LRT – the dedicated rights of way for LRT could be constructed to handle BRT as well.

  • PRE

    I certainly wish that people would think of buses and rail (of whatever particular type) as complementary, but what I see here in the Bay Area is usually the worst choice is made for each. Thus there are plans for a completely inadequate BRT line for San Francisco’s Geary Blvd whereas it ought to be the number one rail priority in California. Then on the other hand, BART happily builds or contemplates extremely expensive rail (not LRT but heavy rail) extensions to the burbs (aka Fremont, Antioch and Livermore). And for those of you who are not familiar with the Bay Area the latter two cities have total populations that are barely greater than the daily ridership of the Geary 38 (anything BUT rapid) bus.

  • Bob Davis

    One might also consider the longevity of railcars vs. motor buses. Some of the San Diego light rail units have been running for nearly 30 years. Maybe someone can provide some official figures, but as I recall 12 to 15 years is typical for buses.
    One reader commented on how when bus traffic gets too heavy, sidewalks become unpleasant. Today’s natural gas burners aren’t quite as smelly as the old “Jimmy Diesels”, but engine and tire noise don’t help the urban ambiance. (full disclosure: I am a long time rail enthusiast; I have participated in pro-light-rail events and have spoken at LA Metro meetings on behalf of my favorite rail project.)

    • JackRussell

      That’s certainly a valid point. You also have to consider that a diesel bus will have higher maintenance costs associated with the engine, transmission, and of course will need new tires every now and then. My recollection is also that a bus has a service lifetime of around 15 years or so.

      If the roadbed for BRT isn’t properly maintained, it can become potholed, which can cause a premature failure any one of a number of the components in the buses and accelerated wear on the suspensions. Say nothing of a rather uncomfortable ride for the passengers.

  • Jake

    The main difference between those who promote rail for public transport systems and those who promote bus systems is that even the most fanatical rail booster will admit the importance of buses to public transportation networks whereas many bus proponents think of trains as merely being large, expensive buses that can’t be re-routed (the “bus can do anything rail can do, and cheaper and better” mentality).

    Also, in the U.S., bus systems are subject to much political garbage (mainly at the hands of one acronym-monikered political party) and rail having its dedicated infrastructure insulates it from these games to a great extent. BRT solves some of these problems, provided that it *ACTUALLY IS* BRT (google “Curitiba BRT”) for an example of a real BRT system. A certain set of politicians HATES rail (and real BRT with its own ROW and infrastructure) because it’s not as “flexible” as bus (meaning politically flexible, in that it can’t be scuttled or curtailed as easily as bus service, because people would definitely notice).

    BRT in the U.S. is frequently just used as a “loyal opposition bid-down” tactic… example: “Why build heavy rail when we can build light rail?” to “Why build light rail when we can build BRT?” to “Why build BRT we we can just add additional buses to the roads?” to “Why add additional buses when we can just encourage carpooling?” to “Why encourage carpooling when we can just add more highway capacity?”).

    I’m also not convinced a lot of interest in building BRT lanes isn’t just a stealth way to add additional highway capacity (e.g., build the BRT lanes/roads, then declare the program a “failure”, and then do the only sensible thing–convert the BRT lanes to regular car lanes). This tomfoolery would be impossible with rail infrastructure. The highway/motor industry lobby much prefers BRT over rail as well–more jobs and profit for their industries (rail lasts for 50-75 years, highways have to be repaved every few years, rail cars last for 25-30 years, buses about 10).

    “BRT” in the U.S. is often a joke, too. No separate/dedicated ROW, no stations, no new buses. “BRT” is often just used as an obscuration for “more buses on the streets”, which can be nice, but it isn’t BRT, anymore than running a twice-daily commuter train on a freight train track through your city gives your city a Metro system.

    I should re-iterate I’m not opposed to bus-based systems where warranted, but too often BRT is used as an excuse not to invest in higher-capacity rail systems and is done for the ulterior motives listed above.

    • What Bus Advocates are you referring to? I’m a staunch bus advocate (see http://www.busadvocates.org) and I certainly see rail having an important role.

      • Certain anti-transit groups, for example anyone in contact with Randall O’Toole, propose watered-down BRT as an alternative at every opportunity.

      • There is quite a bit of rail opposition quarters other than the anti-transit right, often emanating from the following camps:

        * Transit unions who see rail (and the greater passenger/operator ratios of trains) as a threat to jobs.
        * Poverty activists who view rail as an agent of gentrification and/or subsidy to the well-to-do.
        * Inner-city transit advocates who opposes suburban rail projects on the grounds that they represent a transfer of limited operational funds from urban to suburban service.
        * Good-government types who view TOD and/or rail capital costs as a form of pork-barrel politics or corruption (unfortunately, many of these do not have the same skepticism of highway projects)
        * Suburban express bus users who object when express bus lines are replaced with rapid transit (resulting in a ride that may take longer and/or stops and serves “undesirable” inner-city neighborhoods between the suburban park and ride and the downtown office complex), and other bus riders who are deathly allergic to transfers.

        And of course, the anti-transit right is more than happy to promote the beliefs of the above groups.

    • BrianTH

      I think there are really at least four groups in these discussions. I’ve encountered people who like rail but argue BRT is a scam and attack any project that “wastes” significant capital on it, and I’ve encountered people who feel the opposite and argue accordingly. The third group is people who see both groups of technologies as useful tools in the toolbox, and these people may think all this back and forth is silly. The fourth group is people who don’t like investing in transit under any circumstances but may unfavorably compare any given project to a hypothetical alternative as a rhetorical device.

      • HRT, LRT, CRT, BRT and standard buses all have merit in the public transit toolbox. The criticism for each mode occurs when they are misapplied to address the cost/patron transport need.

        San Francisco provides a good example of LRT/BRT applications in a large city. Commute hour buses are packed like sardines on Geary Blvd in San Francisco. With 90-100,000 bus patrons headed east towards downtown and back everyday, that corridor merits high frequency-high capacity-high dependability transit.

        Commute hour buses are well patronized on Van Ness Ave too. But it has a more manageable 25,000 bus patrons headed south towards a major transportation corridor Market Street, but away from downtown. That corridor merits high frequency-medium capacity-medium dependability transit.

        Since most BART board members seem more intent to extend BART to the suburbs, SF politicians have ruled out waiting for a BART (HRT) extension out Geary Corridor. Consequently, SF politicians have cast their lot with SF Muni transit agency — an agency more comfortable with LRT and buses. And for reasons I can only speculate about, SF Muni doesn’t propose an electric commuter rail Geary Corridor that would connect to the Transbay Transit Center, leaving the option to eventually cross the SF Bay by a future tunnel.

        That leaves LRT as the only real SF Muni-friendly solution for Geary Corridor. Thats not a bad solution given BART would cost $4-5 billion. Alternatively, LRT grade-separated to just beyond the western tunnel under Masonic Ave plus an underpass at Presidio Blvd would likely cost $2.5 billion.

        Unfortunately, SF Muni is trying to please too many political forces in the city simultaneously. So its taking roughly $200M from SF’s allotment of federal, state & local transit funds that should have enabled Central Subway LRT to surface at Columbus Ave & Union Street , then terminate 1.5 miles northwest at Van Ness Ave & Bay Street (Fisherman’s Wharf/Fort Mason). It would then compliment the well-prescribed Van Ness Ave BRT project (24,000 daily commuters). It plans to use the money for a Geary Corridor BRT that will leave traffic congested.

        Furthermore, there are recent estimates that Van Ness BRT has a $15-80 million funding gap and Geary BRT has $115-155 million funding gap. That Van Ness BRT gap would be easier to close, if it was the only project funding gap and if federal & state funding sources saw the Central Subway LRT project being complimented at its northern terminus by Van Ness BRT.

        No politician has the balls to lobby for the only real Geary Corridor solution that is SF Muni-friendly: LRT grade-separated west to Masonic Ave. They won’t do it because it won’t get built until late next decade.

  • Nitpick: the SFU professor you’re quoting is Anthony Perl, not Pearl.

    And he’s awesome, at least when he talks about high-speed rail politics.

  • simple

    Yonah,

    I can’t help but think that there’s some (presumably unintentional) symbolism in your chosen BRT illustration showing a streetscape nearly devoid of pedestrians and prominently featurinig a “trainsit-oriented” Shell station in the background! :-)

    But hopefully this just represents “opening day” conditions and 10 years on the same picture will be full of pedestrians and the Shell station site will be proper TOD!

  • Nikko P

    Does anyone have any numbers on the energy performance and travel time differences between LRT and BRT?

  • Kurt

    BRT
    ——
    Cost pros:
    —————
    • possibly cheaper to build
    • buses are cheaper than railcars
    Cost cons – most of these relate to operating costs (which you get to pay continuously):
    ———————————————————
    • Buses don’t last as long? Northeast = Winter Salt
    • Uses asphalt which does not recycle easily
    • Asphalt deteriorates quickly compared to rail / tie (especially in in Northeast)
    • BRT requires wider ROW than rail
    • BRT requires a passenger transfer if it is to connect to existing rail service
    • Northeast: You have to plow the ROW
    • Ice is not fun to drive on – in bus or car
    • More capacity = more drivers (labor cost)
    • Driver error = bus more likely to meet tree, bridge abutment, etc.
    • uses far more energy / ton (tire on asphalt)
    • Electrified bus less proven than rail ( and expensive to build)

    Trolley / Light Rail / Rail
    ——————————–
    Cost Pros
    ————–
    • Equipment lasts longer (No Salt)
    • Rail lasts longer
    • narrower ROW and lots of existing abandoned available (at least in MA)
    • can integrate with existing rail network – one seat ride / less transfers
    • snow only needs clearing during very heavy snowfall
    • Ice usually not a problem
    • More capacity = add cars (might eventually have to add another ticket taker
    if no automatic farebox)
    • operator error = train usually stays on tracks / automatic stop
    • uses far less energy / ton (steel wheel on rail)
    • Electrified rail is proven – power can come from Hydro, tide, solar…potential
    for lower operating cost (although expensive to build)

    Cost cons
    ————–
    • possibly more expensive to build than BRT ( but less eminent domain litigation
    if you use existing rail ROW).
    • railcars more expensive (but remember, they last longer so long term capital costs
    more likely to be less)

    So which mode generally makes more economic sense – especially over the long term?

    Not such a silly argument after all….

    • Max Wyss

      Maybe nitpicking, but trolley buses have been developed a good 80 years ago, and ARE proven technology. However, agreed with the cost of infrastructure (which is, on the other hand compensated over the time by lower energy cost and higher capacity).

      One thing with “abandoned ROW for rail” is that it may (sometimes) or may not (more often) be where you really need it.

  • I have nothing new to add that hasn’t already been said by someone, but I really appreciate this intelligent discussion.

  • Chris

    People should come to Brisbane to see “world class” BRT…

    This is a mode that has a CEILING capacity of 9,000 – 10,000 per hour because of the inherent problems of loading and unloading from buses.

    Most recent extension of the Busway cost $US 600million per km. The proposed Eastern extension is never going to happen, because “secret” costings put the total at some $US 7 billion dollars!!!!!

    In other words – BRT has none of the capacity and all of the cost… Any analysis that suggests BRT is cheaper is simply not based on a full accounting of major cost elements such as land acquisition.

  • Transit Benefits Everyone

    Is it that BRT. LRT, or HRT are better or worse than one another, or that each has its appropriate place? If the issue is framed in terms of cost per mile, then we’ll get bad investments that fail to deliver on their promises.

    BRT – true BRT, not express busses operating on new HOT/HOV lanes – is great for connecting disbursed large suburban employment centers. BRT does not belong in corridors with ADTs of 175,000 and up, period. Rather, rail should sevrice those heavily urbanized and heavily traveled corridors with hubs to suburban BRT at logical locations, like near Interstate highway exchanges typically found where inner-ring suburbs begin to transition to far suburbs.

    The biggest threat to BRT? Well, that would be state DOTs and others using “BRT” to justify highway expansions that they plan to run inferior express bus (while labeling it BRT)on new highway lanes in mixed traffic just to claim suppiort for transit in what otherwise amounts to nothing more than yet another highway expansion.

    Finally, we should never use the experiences of developing nations to make the false claim that BRT can work just as well here – especially in northern climates. BRT was received well in many countries becauise it was a huge step up from feudal chitney service. That context always seems to get lost . . .

  • MikeL25517

    Love the very informed discussion. The unfortunate reality is public transit in the US is an exercise in Pareto economics, distributing a shortage. The reality is sticker shock has more to do with the choice of BRT vs. LRT than any other single factor – possibly ROW availability being a close (and intertwined) second. As a friend once put it, in the rest of the world the people are still chasing the buses, whereas in the US the buses are chasing the people. Given the diminished US auto segment, perhaps the anti-transit forces will reduce, but for the foreseeable future the highway lobby is the 800 pound gorilla keeping transit on a bread and water diet, and THAT is why BRT has become fashionable more than any other single reason.

    • Wad

      I would say BRT became fashionable only because it perpetuates the circus seal culture of federal and state funding. The transit agencies will bark and toot their horns for a fish to be thrown their way.

      A transit need develops around the money available to it. It was no different than light rail.

      BRT is different, because the American iteration made the concept so flexible that the term devolved into meaninglessness. American BRT will usually be what big cities call limited or skip-stop service.

      The term BRT has gone beyond the point of no return. There’s no point in calling the Curitiba or Bogota systems “real BRT.”

      I’ve instead coined a new phrase for a Curitiba-grade BRT.

      Sporkbus.

      A spork is meant to be an efficient utensil that combines the best attributes of a spoon and fork. In practice, though, the tines are too short to serve as an effective fork and the bowl shape holds less food than a spoon would all by itself.

      A bus service to provide the equivalent capacity and service attributes of rail will have the capital burdens of rail (high upfront expenses, exhaustive design and engineering phases) and the operating expenses of a bus when in service.

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