BRT is a public transportation system designed to combine the speed and capacity of rail with the flexibility and cost efficiency of a bus system. Improved bus service can mean less traffic and more reliability. Let’s take a look at five major benefits of a BRT system.

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars.
It’s where the rich use public transportation.

–Enrique Peñalosa, Mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, who oversaw the construction of TransMilenio, the world’s first modern Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT), which now carries over two million people a day.

1. Faster: What is the number one complaint about the bus? It’s slow—and not just for riders. Waiting at stops while passengers get on and off and pay their fares is an inefficiency that creates congestion for all vehicles along the corridor, not to mention resentment towards buses. With the right features, BRT can avoid the delays regular bus service often encounters. Features like dedicated lanes or bus-only corridors, off-board fare collection, traffic signal priority, consolidated stops, and high-capacity vehicles can all contribute to faster service.

2. Cheaper: Average operating costs for light rail transit (LRT) are almost double what it costs to operate a BRT system—$233 per hour for LRT compared to $122 for BRT. The table below compares the operating costs per hour for one bus and one light rail vehicle in 15 American cities that have both bus and light rail lines.

Light rail versus bus costs for fifteen American cities with both (source: National Transit Database)

CityBus Cost Per HourLight Rail Cost Per Hour
Salt Lake$118.24$124.01
Los Angeles$127.28$391.43
Portland, OR$134.39$187.55
San Diego$84.61$137.67

Keep in mind this table only reflects operating costs. When taking into consideration capital costs, the disparity is even greater. According to the Bus Rapid Transit Planning Guide by Lloyd Wright and Walter Hook, it’s estimated that constructing a BRT system typically costs four to 20 times less than an LRT system, and 10 to 100 times less than a heavy rail system.

3. Safer: Some of the same features that allow buses to move along the corridor more swiftly also make the corridor safer for passengers and other vehicles. Exclusive lanes for BRT vehicles reduce the potential for accidents. The same could be said for rail systems, however, fully grade-separated systems incur other safety risks. Higher maximum speeds can result in more serious accidents, and elevated or underground sections are difficult to evacuate in the event of a system emergency. Center lanes for BRT vehicles reduce risks by allowing buses to avoid turning cars and mixed traffic, and they eliminate accidents caused by cars switching lanes to pass the buses. Protected center lanes also create a safe space for passengers to wait and board. Off-board fare collection allows bus drivers to focus on driving. Also, consolidated stops and infrastructure improvements help to improve visibility.

4. Cleaner: When a BRT system is implemented, it often comes with new buses. New buses with cleaner vehicle technologies and fuels lower the concentration of ambient air pollution citywide and inside the BRT vehicles. Alternative fuels like hybrid-electric, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), biodiesel, and ultra-low sulfur diesel reduce emissions and improves air quality. The introduction of a BRT system can increase transit ridership, in turn taking vehicles off the road and lowering emissions.

Geary BRT simulation rendering

5. Flexible: As opposed to rail, which uses a fixed guideway, BRT uses an open busway, which allows a BRT system to grow and change with the city in which it’s implemented. Along with the ability to relatively easily change service in response to demand, if a BRT vehicle breaks down or has some mechanical malfunction, the open busway allows other BRT vehicles to remain on schedule by entering mixed traffic to pass the disabled vehicle, or the disabled bus can easily be towed out of the busway.

All of this sounds pretty great, right? So, why doesn’t every city have a BRT system in place? Well, there are a few reasons, one being perceived capacity. A larger articulated BRT vehicle can hold 90-150 people, but an LRT train can carry three to

five times as many passengers. However, when they have their own designated lanes, BRT vehicles can run more frequently than LRT trains, and ridership can be equal or even greater.

Another barrier to successful service is BRT creep – when the essential features required for BRT to succeed are chipped away due to lack of funding or political will, and you’re left with what amounts to a regular bus system. To combat this, The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) created The BRT Standard to define what can be considered a BRT, as well as a scoring system as a way of protecting the BRT brand and offering recognition to high quality BRT systems around the world. Certifying a BRT corridor as gold, silver, bronze, or basic sets an internationally recognized standard for the current best practice for BRT. Currently there are no gold certified BRT systems in the United States.

Muni R is for Rapid graphic

Finally, the most obvious reason more BRT systems aren’t already in place: buses aren’t sexy. There is a negative stigma around bus systems, which can persist even when the benefits of a BRT system are added. This can be a difficult barrier to overcome, but it can also be an opportunity to change perception of the current transit system. A well-developed marketing strategy, including logo and branding, media strategy, and public education, can contribute to successful implementation of a new BRT service.

Learn more about how Circlepoint is helping cities make BRT a reality through or work on Geary BRT and AC Transit East Bay BRT.

Interested in how Circlepoint can help your BRT project succeed? Get in touch!

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