We’ve already been over the unnecessary duplication of effort between Sound Transit 2 and the “RapidRide” Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) portion of last year’s “Transit Now” package. To be clear, I blame Metro for this more than Sound Transit; Ron Sims knew ST was going to propose something along the SR 99 corridor in South King County, and proposed this anyway.

I would much prefer that this corridor go somewhere else, perhaps along the West Valley Highway to take pressure of SR 167. It would have made a ton of sense for Metro to release the information about one of the other RapidRide lines now, and wait for the outcome of Prop. 1 before committing to a redundant system.

My disappointment with Metro is because of the clear inferiority of this brand of transit with Light Rail. Let’s break down the features of RapidRide, because this is the alternative that Ron Sims and Kemper Freeman have in store for you if you reject expansion of light rail next month.

From the Metro website:

After RapidRide service begins, Metro’s plan is for buses to arrive every 10 minutes during the busiest morning and evening travel hours. At other times between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., buses will come every 15 minutes. Between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., service will be similar to what it is today.

Great, this is long overdue, and a real improvement over existing service. However, light rail promises 6 minute intervals during rush hour, and each 4-car train carries up to 800 passengers! That’s 8,000 people per hour, the equivalent of almost four freeway lanes. It’s clear that the capacity of this line is much smaller, which makes it much harder to spur dense development.

Also, cutting off service at 10pm makes RapidRide useless for people who might want to use it to attend a Mariners game, or go out on a Friday night. One advantage of the huge capital investment of light rail is that it encourages authorities to run it a lot, thus amortizing that cost.

RapidRide buses will have low floors and three doors, so people can get on and off quickly. A new, trial fare payment system will allow riders with passes to pay as they enter any door. The inside of the buses will be designed to make it easier for passengers to move to seats and exits.

Emphasis mine. Riders with passes aren’t the problem. The problem is idiots fumbling for change and arguing with the driver over the fare. This is dramatically inferior to the LINK or Sounder approach of buying a ticket from the machine while you’re waiting at the station.

Buses will use the new HOV lanes on Pacific Highway S/International Boulevard. As buses approach intersections, they will send signals to traffic lights, requesting that green lights stay green longer or red lights switch to green faster.

The magic words I was hoping to see here are “bus lane”. Anyone who’s ever taken the 545 from Overlake or the 532 towards Lynnwood knows that HOV lanes are a poor substitute for a dedicated right-of-way.

Still, I’m ecstatic to see they won’t be running in SOV traffic, and will get signal priority. Hopefully, these innovations are to be repeated along Aurora, 15th, NE 8th, and to West Seattle.

The shelters and signs will look different from those you see at regular Metro stops—they will have a special RapidRide style and color scheme. Waiting areas will be well-lit, increasing security. Electronic real-time signs will tell people the actual number of minutes before the next bus will arrive.

I’m not sure if the branding will overcome the “rail bias”, or if it’ll just confuse people already struggling to grasp three or four overlapping transit systems. Either way, the electronic signs are a big deal.

BRT is cheaper than rail, undoubtedly, and it’s a heck of a lot better than vanilla bus service. But it’s also probably not the ultra-reliable, high-capacity, dedicated-right-of-way transit that will drive lure tons of new riders and drive development.

I eagerly await Daimajin’s report from Los Angeles on the BRT there, and how it’s doing in terms of ridership and spurring transit-oriented development.

5 Replies to “More BRT”

  1. I wouldn’t even be so categorical to say the Bus Rapid Transit is cheaper than light rail. The big federal study done a few years ago was pretty qualified on that point. To build a really effective BRT system, you need the same things that light rail requires: dedicated right-of-ways, stations, and maintenance facilities. That drives the capital investment pretty high for good BRT. And certainly after the initial investment is made, light rail is very cost competitive with BRT. The operating costs are often similar and are sometimes BETTER for light rail because the trains can carry huge numbers of people with a single operator. Those labor costs are usually the single largest operating expense.

    See ttp://www.lightrailnow.org/features/f_brt006.htm

  2. I certainly agree.

    In its RapidRide incarnation, it is cheaper than Light Rail, because it doesn’t have the dedicated right-of-way that you want.

  3. You’re making the mistake of buying in to the Sims / Sierra Club bs that BRT will be “dublicating” future light rail service.

    No, it will be building ridership for the future.

    Metro isn’t putting much money at all into capital for Rapid Ride. When light rail shows up, the buses just get re-deployed east west, or to other corridors.

    It’s laughable Sims and his diesel-friendly pals at the Sierra Club think once a bus route is put into place, it should never be moved.

    Bus routes change all the time.

    Rapid Ride might also help mitigate construction impacts along 99 during the years of construction.

    This is all basic stuff.

  4. Brandon,

    I agree that the capital isn’t massive, compared to rail at least; however, there is certainly some capital expense in building the fancy new stations, electronic signage, signal controls, and in many cases the HOV/bus lanes.

    If Sound Transit is going to go down the SR 99 corridor in less than 20 years, it would make a whole lot more sense to complement that rail by going down W Valley Hwy, as is the case with all the other RapidRide routes. In the end, we’d have a more comprehensive system.

    For construction mitigation, I might advocate simply declaring one lane as a bus lane in each direction, and boost service, without all the other capital improvements.

    But perhaps you’re right. My main point is that BRT is a poor substitute for rail, in which we seem to agree.

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