Limitations of RapidBus (and “BRT”)

30 March 2013

[Huge bus jam on Brisbane, Australia’s busway illustrates one of the major problems of trying to deploy relatively lower-capacity buses in a rapid transit role. Photo, 2008: James Saunders.]

In a previous posting, we mentioned a commentary prepared by Lyndon Henry for a presentation to the Transit Working Group on 27 January 2012, Urban Light Rail vs. Limitations of RapidBus.

This presentation and commentary addressed the issue of RapidBus (aka “Bus Rapid Transit”) as the City of Austin’s longer-term alternative to rail transit in the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor. The commentary argued that RapidBus (which, it emphasized, is not “rapid transit”) should be considered not a replacement, but a precursor to electric light rail transit (LRT) in the corridor, and indicated a number of considerations for ensuring this:

♦ RapidBus (“MetroRapid”) in Lamar-Guadalupe should be precursor to light rail

Design for conversion to rail — make sure location and design of facilities are compatible
Keep investment minimal — heavy bus facility investment is obstacle to rail conversion
Modular, movable stations — bus and rail station placement and platforms may differ
Plan relocation to serve Mueller and San Jacinto corridor — RapidBus can then become precursor to rail in these alignments

The commentary then focused on the drawbacks of RapidBus (or “BRT”) in comparison with LRT, emphasizing that even these high-quality bus service fail to provide the service and performance capabilities of rail:

♦ Limitations of RapidBus vs. electric light rail

Not “BRT” — RapidBus is not “bus rapid transit” … but even “BRT” would have problems
Lower ridership — nowhere nearly as attractive to public, resulting in much lower ridership
Minimal to no TOD — bus facilities have very little attraction to developers
Less capacity — even articulated buses have much less capacity and can’t be entrained
Lower speed — lower acceleration means slower schedules, more buses needed
Higher unit operating cost — more buses, slower schedules, drivers for every bus = high cost
Street crowding — many more buses (than railcars) mean more vehicles crowding streets
Slower passenger boarding — constricted doors and aisles mean slower boarding/deboarding
Less space — buses provide less space per passenger, thus more crowded conditions
Rougher, less reliable ride — poor ride quality, plus less perceived reliability and safety for public
Problems for ADA passengers — buses (not railcars) have boarding problems and need tiedowns
Petroleum fuel — less efficient and versatile, and more costly than electric propulsion (for rail)
Higher fuel costs — diesel fuel costs will skyrocket as supply dwindles from Peak Oil syndrome
Emissions — unlike electric rail, diesel or gas buses directly emit fumes with GHGs

The original handout, in Word .DOC format, can be accessed via this link: Urban Light Rail vs. Limitations of RapidBus.


One comment

  1. Just make sure you have rail transit run in it’s own lane…. or you might end up with this: http://tinyurl.com/cfdjhul

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