This morning I looked into my crystal ball and I foresaw an epic, week-long discussion about all things BRT. I could be wrong, but if I’m right I think it would benefit all of us to take a bit of time to refresh our knowledge. In this vein I created a list of articles I have been reading relating to BRT over the last few weeks as well as some scholarly reports and practitioner guides. Please share info you have as well but only if it relates to BRT, and is not a comparison of whether BRT or rail is better. Comments along those lines are off-topic. We can have that discussion later this week but please not in this post. Thanks.

So here is my list.

Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) is probably the most authoritative source on transit related research. Its mission is to aid practitioners in making informed and fact based decisions. TCRP has 3 relevant reports on this subject, all of which are worth a quick skim over. At the very least take a look at the tables.

More after the jump

Also the always thought provoking Jarrett over at Human Transit has had an ongoing discussion with his readers about BRT, with a particular eye to the different international models. Each country has its own flavor. In general South American countries have boulevard-based high-capacity busways, while grade-separated systems generally predominate in Australia and Canada, something in between but generally high quality dominates in Europe, with the US mostly using stylized buses, TSP, and improved stations. There are notable exceptions to this rule with, Swift probably being one of them.

This discussion continued yesterday with its attention shifting to Swift. To make the most sense of the discussion I would suggest reading them in order.

  1. brisbane: bus rapid transit soars
  2. bus rapid transit followup
  3. bus-rail debates in a beautiful abstract city, and in los angeles
  4. “bus rapid transit”: getting past the trauma
  5. bus rapid transit and the law of multiple intentions
  6. bus rapid transit: some questions to ask
  7. bus rapid transit: notes from a pro
  8. north of seattle: snohomish county’s “swift” bus rapid transit
  9. bus rapid transit stop spacing: is 2 miles too far?

Here is some research done by my advisor at KTH in Sweden. He is creating a BRT rating system which I think is sorely needed. A good example for rating systems like this are LEED, which has revolutionized green building by assigning building different levels, from LEED certified to LEED Platinum. By creating a measurement structure developers have a way to show that their building is very green while other buildings are just being green washed. In the absence of rating system this is not easily possible and thus there is a constant pressure to relax quality to cut costs, while there is no equivalent pressure to increase quality.

Bus with High Level of Service (BHLS) is an European concept roughly related to BRT but without the assertion that it will necessarily be rapid. This concept can also be referred to as a “Trunk Bus”.

Transportation Research Board has a paper on Transit Signal Priority. Its a bit long so it is best to pick the parts that are most important and skim those sections. Or you can just read the second paper which is an overview.

The National BRT Institute has a good number of documents include a few related TCRP reports that I didn’t included above. I’m sure there are some good reference documents I’m missing.

17 Replies to “BRT Primer”

  1. Wow. How about medium-distance, like highway bus service? I hate to use the g-word after riding real highway buses in Japan and Europe, so let’s just imagine we’re starting from scratch in the USA.

    1. Good point. I know that Minnesota is doing some work like that. I saw a presentation about how they are using a modified GPS system to guide buses on the freeway shoulders. They called it BUS 2.0. I personally think that freeway based BRT is more like express service unless they have their own dedicated guideway.

  2. Thanks for the links, you obviously have been doing your homework. Personally, I think we have far more opportunities for BRT in the suburbs than Seattle.

    Seattle was laid out from 1920-1940 and is denser even in residential neighborhoods because lots are smaller generally. There are only opportunities for BRT-light like Rapid Ride will be and Swift essentially is.

    Don’t get me wrong, this type of BRT is a good investment in improving bus service. I think Lake City Way and the 522 corridor could also use Rapid Ride and Delridge as well.

    [Deleted, rail vs. bus]

    I think we need to build rail to the key urban centers as fast as we can, and use systems like Swift and Rapid Ride in the interim to serve other dense centers. Our workforce is increasingly mobile. Metro is now planning a Rapid Ride line from Burien to Renton that is projected to have strong ridership. Most of Sound Transit’s buses are essentially BRT-light routes already operating.

    [Deleted, rail vs. bus]

  3. Interesting stuff. It seems to me like the one true advantage of BRT is the ability to provide single seat rides with varying levels of separation and priority in traffic (as in the “open” systems). You can provide frequent service in transit-ways and direct service to less dense neighborhood routes with the same vehicles, eliminating transfers.

    1. Yeah I think the “open” busway vs a “closed” route are interesting distinctions.

    2. It strikes me that one of the challenges of BRT is maintaining the bus-only status of busways as traffic builds up along parallel lines. One advantage of open systems is that in carrying more traffic, they more obviously show their usefulness.

  4. Why do you feel it is appropriate in this forum to censor comments about bus vs. rail?

    You also censored my comment regarding BRT benefits cited on page 13 (S-1) of the BRT practioner guide:

    • BRT can be less costly to implement than a rail transit line while providing
    similar benefits.
    • BRT has little additional implementation costs over local bus service where
    it runs on streets and highways.

    These two arguments are used by politicians and planners to justify minimizing transit spending while maximizing road spending.

    The bus vs. rail discussion is relevant if, in order to create a high capacity, reliable, dedicated BRT corridor, the capital costs start to approximate new rail capital costs – or to point out that in order to be significantly cheaper, BRT needs to give up on some of the dedicated running benefits.

    But I find the censorship troublesome because it means you don’t welcome or even permit open discussion.

    1. I do not know what you said but I explicitly said that I don’t want this post to be a rail vs BRT. It is simply meant to be a reference piece for everyone and I don’t want the thread cluttered by a rail vs BRT arguments.

      There are two other posts already up on Swift as well as one that Ben is writing and another one that I might be writing later this week. Please feel free to post away there.

      1. I’d forgotten your request not to have that discussion in the initial post by the time I read through the lengthy PDFs the next day.

        Is the discussion relevant that some BRT boosters use BRT to justify more road investment and don’t deliver on the transit element? Many of our region’s HOV lanes don’t work all that well for buses, especially at peaks periods, because they are too congested and/or make it impossible to serve stops or exit. Both I-405 and I-5 to the north fit that.

        For another example, the new Evergreen Point 520 bridge is being touted as a BRT corridor, but the reconfiguration on the eastside won’t have a center transit stop at 148th or NE 40th, nor ramps there, and won’t allow for through transit service to have a stop near 108th (S. Kirkland P&R), and it eliminates the Montlake flyer stop on the Seattle side – all this on what is characterized as a BRT corridor on which construction hasn’t started.

        Actually, now that I think about it, maybe a BRT line like they do in Vancouver, and like Swift, and like RapidRide – which are NOT on freeway HOV lanes but are on (usually) walkable arterials, with some priority – is the more successful and appropriate use of the BRT mode. But the BRT articles lump everything together and do get used to promote more roads, and often to kill rail investment.

      2. Yes it is relevant. Sorry for being strict. These conversations can just run away really quickly.

        I think that although some of our bus service (like ST) vaguely resembles BRT service due to the pretty complete HOV system it still fails because almost all HOV lanes are now failing to meet their performance goals. This is why WSDOT is looking at HOT lanes. It allow them to boost carpool rules to 3+ or to take a second lane on I-405.

        Also as you point out the access to and from the HOV lanes is still pretty spotty.

        And I agree with you. I think that arterial or none-freeway exclusive busways are really the best implementation of BRT. But in that way I also think that BRT technologies and quality really should be expect from all buses, not just special buses. I’m living in Stockholm right now and even the 10 year old local city buses here have more bus only ROW, ITS technologies, and significant stations than most US BRT systems. This is my problem with BRT especially in the US. We treat buses so poorly than any small improvement is suddenly something amazing.

  5. My comments were partially redacted due to a rail v BRT comment restriction. What is the point of this post? To boost BRT as a solution? If you restrict comments that compare the two, then the the post is meaningless. The point is to make investments in our transit future that make the most sense. BRT and rail both have a place.

    1. As the author, Adam has the prerogative to restrict the subject as he wants. There ought to be a space for a discussion, given the decision to implement BRT, about how to do so. Any post that mentions BRT is likely to degenerate into a rail-vs-bus holy war if we’re not careful.

      We don’t have a lot of anti-rail commenters, but if we did, and every post about East Link alignments degenerated into a general bus-rail smackdown, that would be annoying, no?

      There have been several posts on Swift in the past week or so (with a few more to come), so there are plenty of opportunities for you to share your thoughts on the two modes.

      1. Yes, but my central point was simply that rail is best for some corridors and that opportunities for BRT beyond what is offered by Swift and Rapid Ride are limited. That is not rail v. bus.

  6. A lot of what makes BRT as commonly implemented should be part of standard bus service, particularly on popular routes. Things like off-board payment, real-time information displays, frequent service (15 minute or better headways), signal priority, bus lanes, and reduced stop frequencies (no closer than 1/4 mile) should be present on all trunk type routes. I can see the sense in rolling those out incrementally because given funding it is unlikely an agency can improve all of its major routes all at once. It also provides an opportunity to rationalize the routing of the trunk routes somewhat as well. The best example of this is the complete revamping of the trolleybus route system into more of a grid in the Rapid Trolleybus plan Metro prepared.

    Still I must say I’m a bit disappointed with the RapidRide product as currently proposed since Metro is going to only have limited locations with off-board payment, real-time information, signal priority, or even bus lanes. With the budget cuts I’m concerned even the service frequency might get cut back to every 30 minutes.

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