Both houses of Congress continue to struggle with the new transportation bill as they enter a one-week recess. Speaker John Boehner has delayed the justifiably maligned House bill, allegedly because it doesn’t have the votes.
Over on the Senate side, in a flurry of parliamentary maneuvering that I don’t really understand, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Friday offered amendment 1730 to the much better Senate Bill, S.1813. The amendment is not yet in the bill, much less law, but it does have this interesting provision:
(2) BUS RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEM.–The term `bus rapid transit system’ means a bus transit system–
`(A) in which the majority of each line operates in a separated right-of-way dedicated for public transportation use during peak periods; and
`(B) that includes features that emulate the services provided by rail fixed guideway public transportation systems, including–
“(i) defined stations;
“(ii) traffic signal priority for public transportation vehicles;
“(iii) short headway bidirectional services for a substantial part of weekdays and weekend days; and
“(iv) any other features the Secretary may determine are necessary to produce high-quality public transportation services that emulate the services provided by rail fixed guideway public transportation systems.
STB obtained an email to other transit operators from Metro Director of Service Development Victor Obeso, excerpted below the jump:
New requirements that all BRT systems have a “majority” of each line operating in a separated right-of-way “dedicated” for public transportation use during peak periods would effectively exclude all of King County Metro’s RapidRide lines from future federal funding, a major blow to this region’s transit system.
BRT corridors have previously qualified for funding when a “substantial” portion of the line has operated in a separated right-of-way, rather than a “majority.” This allows arterial based BRT lines to be built more economically. Metro’s RapidRide lines in the Seattle area, like many other new BRT services nationally, also typically do not operate in a separate right-of-way “dedicated” for public transportation use. Instead, the lines often share the curb lane with right-turning vehicles and sometimes carpools. Complementing rather than impeding other general traffic flow still allows BRT corridor designs for faster, more reliable operations. Metro has successfully implemented two of six planned RapidRide lines in the greater Seattle metropolitan area and has experienced great operational and ridership success to date.
I have to admit to mixed feelings about this provision. From a narrow regional perspective, I’m on record as supporting RapidRide as a positive development. It would be a real loss for the region if it went away, or if other service had to be slashed to preserve its meager advantages.
At the same time, it’s only human to feel a little schadenfreude that King County may suffer due to insufficient emphasis on route quality. Metro has watered down RapidRide to just about the minimum necessary to qualify as BRT; aside from Sunday service, it’s clearly inferior to its neighbor, Swift. Taking a broader view, it’s a positive step to set up nationwide incentives to produce genuinely high-quality transit — as Chicago is doing. Perhaps the hammer of federal funding is what can finally nudge Metro and (especially) cities into making the necessary political decisions for right-of-way.
ST Express doesn’t receive BRT-specific funding, but it does receive funding from the “fixed guideway” bucket thanks to its HOV lanes. The Reid amendment would also remove HOV lanes (as they are not dedicated exclusively to transit) from the fixed guideway definition. According to ST spokesman Geoff Patrick, ST has formally requested a change to the amendment language including the HOV system in the definition. In 2011 the redefinition would have cost ST about $7m.