What has signal priority, some exclusive ROW, real-time arrival information, next-stop message board, and significant stops?
Answer after the jump
Route 59, 44, 40, etc. in Stockholm and other similar buses in cities across Europe. They are the lowly city bus, the runt of the transit family to be nice. A good number of the buses on these routes are over 10 years and feel homely at best, with perennially fogged up windows and tired looking seats. Not flashy or aerodynamic looking.
In other words, they are in no way BRT, yet they have most of the characteristics associated with BRT in America. And this is the failure and promise that American BRT holds. It falls far short of it’s high-capacity South American predecessors and high-quality international peers, while for the first time giving transit agencies the ability to justify treating buses as, dare I say it, special. It doesn’t hurt that there is lots of federal money supporting it either.
To Americans BRT seams like something special only because we treat normal buses so horribly in the first place.
And this is the irony of the whole situation. In one breath transit advocates have to push back against those that see BRT as a way to undermine rail based transit, while at the same time push transit agencies and city DOTs to take steps to improve the quality of existing bus transit. And then there is the name: Bus Rapid Transit. Such a misnomer. Should we call all other transit Bus Slow Transit or Train Medium Transit? What is slow or rapid anyways? It’s a subjective question without established benchmarks. Just look at the definition of BRT as defined by TCRP Report 90:
While a precise definition of BRT is elusive, it is generally understood to include bus services that are, at a minimum, faster than traditional “local bus” service and that, at a maximum, include grade separated bus operations. The essential features of BRT systems are some form of bus priority, faster passenger boarding, faster fare collection, and a system image that is uniquely identifiable.
That sounds pretty open ended, not to mention that very few BRT systems actually have all of those characteristics. Names like Trunk Bus, Core Route, Bus with High Level of Service (BHLS), or even maybe BRT-Lite are more appropriate for most systems. In my mind Swift is BRT, Rapidride is something else.
With ST2 the region finally decided that we will have a rail transit backbone; but BRT or rail transit isn’t a binary question, and it shouldn’t be. BRT in America isn’t some panacea but it is a path towards higher quality bus service. So in the end what really matters is building a higher quality transit system, one which utilizes each transit mode in a context sensitive manner.