Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

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One form of express bus service is bus rapid transit, or BRT.

The idea of BRT is to operate buses in a way that somewhat duplicates the type of service provided by subways or light rail, but at a much lower cost. The service should be fast, with infrequent stops, quick loading and unloading, faster fare collection, and various means of letting the buses travel at a higher average speed.

Methods of faster speed include bus-only lanes on regular streets, streets set aside for buses only, and traffic lights that turn green when a bus approaches.

In more advanced BRT systems, there are separate roadways for buses only, and buses may be specially designed to match stations with platforms the same height as the floor of the bus, so the buses don't have stairs or wheelchair lifts. A ramp folds out from the door of the bus and fits on the station platform, so that passengers just walk on and off (or roll on or off in the case of wheelchairs). This feature imitates a subway platform and train and permits a shorter waiting time at each stop.

BRT can be an effective alternative to light rail. A well-designed bus rapid transit line can provide most of the advantages of light rail at much lower cost.

However I believe that in many cases BRT will fall short of expectations. If a BRT line shares lanes with regular traffic, busses will also be delayed by congestion and accidents. Bus lanes on regular streets can also be blocked by trucks stopped to load or unload, auto drivers illegally in the bus lane, and other hazards. HOV lanes on highways are also subject to congestion and blockage.

Buses, whether in BRT or other service, are subject to serious delays in winter conditions. A snowstorm is when public transportation is most needed but buses slip and slide like everybody else.

I still think monorail is the best alternative on high-capacity routes. The trains completely avoid all the congestion and hazards of surface traffic, and are less affected by bad weather. When the roads are clogged by unmoving traffic with many cars and buses slid crosswise or in the ditch, monorail trains will still be rolling, carrying stranded motorists and bus riders.

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©2003 Robert M. Fleming Jr.

This page was last updated 16 May 2016.

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