Archive for the ‘Bus rapid transit (BRT)’ Category


Why MetroRapid bus service is NOT “bus rapid transit”

22 September 2013
Capital Metro MetroRapid bus. Photo: CMTA blog.

Capital Metro MetroRapid bus. Photo: CMTA blog.

Capital Metro’s MetroRapid bus project received its $38 million of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding through its designation as a “Bus Rapid Transit” project under the FTA’s Small Starts program. But calling a bus operation “rapid transit” that will run predominantly in mixed motor vehicle traffic seems either rather fraudulent, self-deceptive, or a branding effort that has descended to the ridiculous. Yet some local officials, planners, and enthusiasts of the officially promoted downtown-to-Mueller Urban Rail route have been vigorously singing the praises of MetroRapid as a viable and equivalent substitute for light rail transit (LRT) in the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor.

Even LRT, which typically runs entirely or predominantly in reserved or exclusive alignments, and (for comparable levels of service) is faster than so-called “BRT”, isn’t called “rapid transit”.

The un-rapid drawbacks of CapMetro’s MetroRapid have been cited by other analyses. For example, Austin American-Statesman transportation reporter Ben Wear, in a February 2012 article titled MetroRapid bus service not so rapid, not expected until 2014, noted:

Despite an agency goal of offering time savings of 10 percent, in hopes of attracting more people to buses, the two lines would mostly offer minimal time savings, according to a Capital Metro presentation on the MetroRapid bus system, now scheduled to start operating in 2014.

In one case, a MetroRapid bus running from Howard Lane in North Austin to downtown would make the trip in 47 minutes — the same as an existing limited-stop bus that runs the same route. Trips between South Austin and downtown on that same line would offer time savings of just two to three minutes.

Community public transit activist Mike Dahmus, in a blog entry titled Rapid Bus Ain’t Rapid, 2011 Confirmation, provided schedule evidence from CapMetro’s own website indicating that travel time differentials between the proposed Route 801 service (North Lamar-Guadalupe-South Congress) for atypically long trip lengths were minimal — time savings of 0 to perhaps 3 minutes even for such unusually lengthy trips as journeys between far-flung transit centers.

And in another article titled Rapid [sic] Bus Fact Check: Will It Improve Frequency? Dahmus offered a cogent argument that headways (thus waiting times for passengers) would be increased, not decreased, with MetroRapid service in the Route 801 corridor. Assuming the most likely operating scenario, Dahmus figures the number of scheduled bus trips in an average hour would be reduced from 9 to 8 — i.e., an increase in service headways and concomitant increase in waiting time for passengers.

Wikipedia provides a useful definition/description of Rapid Transit:

A rapid transit system is a public transport system in an urban area with high capacity, high frequency not needing timetables, is fast and is segregated from other traffic…. Operating on an exclusive right of way, rapid transit systems are typically grade separated and located either in underground tunnels (subways) or elevated above street level (elevated transit line). … Modern services on rapid transit systems are provided on designated lines between stations typically using electric multiple units on rail tracks, although some systems use guided rubber tyres, magnetic levitation, or monorail.

Numbered citations were omitted from the quotation above, but the Wikipedia article’s references included:

• “Rapid transit”. Merriam-Webster.
• “Metro”. International Association of Public Transport.
• “Glossary of Transit Terminology”. American Public Transportation Association.
• “Rapid Transit”. Encyclopedia Britannica.

In the USA, the term “rail rapid transit” has a de facto meaning of such an urban electric metro or subway/elevated system, running entirely (with rare exceptions) on its own, exclusive right-of-way, with no grade crossings or other interference with street traffic or pedestrians.

It would seem reasonable that the public, political and civic leaders, and transportation professionals should hold “bus rapid transit” to the same standard. Certainly, “bus rapid transit” should not be applied to bus operations running merely in reserved traffic lanes, or in and out of mixed and reserved or exclusive lanes, etc. — yet these are precisely the kinds of operating applications that FTA, and several major BRT advocacy organizations, have been blithely characterizing as “BRT”.

To call a modestly enhanced bus operation “rapid transit” while denying this designation to a streetcar/light rail operation with much or most of its alignment in exclusive or reserved ROW seems like branding gone haywire — particularly so when the buses depart from the totally exclusive alignment and meander on routes in mixed traffic. Why should a bus coming down the street, waiting in traffic jams, etc., be called “rapid transit”? This would seem to make a mockery of the term.

In effect, the term Bus Rapid Transit is being applied to service/capacity mode configurations that are significantly inferior not just to Rail Rapid Transit but to Light Rail Transit — and that would seem highly misleading, especially to the general public. For these modestly improved bus services, a term such as Bus Premium Transit would appear more accurate and appropriate.

The section below provides a brief photo-summary distinguishing among bona fide rail rapid transit and bus rapid transit, and Bus Premium Transit operations erroneously (and widely) characterized as “BRT”.

♦ This is rail rapid transit (RRT)

Baltimore Metro. Photo: Doug Grotjahn.

Baltimore Metro. Photo: Doug Grotjahn.

Miami MetroRail. Photo: L. Henry.

Miami MetroRail. Photo: L. Henry.

♦ This is bus rapid transit (BRT)

Miami-Dade County Busway. Photo: Jon Bell.

Miami-Dade County Busway. Photo: Jon Bell.

Brisbane (Australia) busway. Photo: That Jesus Bloke.

Brisbane (Australia) busway. Photo: That Jesus Bloke.

Boston Waterfront Silver Line. Photo: Massachusetts Government blog.

Boston Waterfront Silver Line. Photo: Massachusetts Government blog.

♦ This is NOT “bus rapid transit”

Los Angeles MetroRapid Route 720. Photo: Sopas EJ.

Los Angeles MetroRapid Route 720. Photo: Sopas EJ.

Kansas City MAX premium bus service (branded as "BRT"). Photo: Metro Jacksonville.

Kansas City MAX premium bus service (branded as “BRT”). Photo: Metro Jacksonville.

Bottom Line: With MetroRapid bus service, Capital Metro does seem to be modestly upgrading current bus service in the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor and elsewhere with spiffier station facilities and newer buses — improvements that most bus riders, and probably the public in general, would welcome.

But an acceptable substitute for urban rail … it ain’t.


MetroRapid bus service should be a precursor to urban rail, not an obstacle!

18 September 2013
View of part of MetroRapid fleet.

View of part of MetroRapid fleet.

Some local officials, favoring the City’s long-preferred Urban Rail plan from downtown through the UT East Campus to the Mueller development site, have been presenting Capital Metro’s MetroRapid juiced-up-bus-service project as a barrier to alternative proposals for implementing urban rail in the Guadalupe-Lamar (G-L) corridor.

As Austin Rail Now will discuss in subsequent analyses, this argument is fatuous and fallacious. Instead, MetroRapid can and should be re-purposed and re-branded as a precursor to urban rail, not a competitor and obstacle.

This concept of MetroRapid as a precursor to rail was first presented in a 27 April 2012 commentary by Lyndon Henry (technical consultant for Light Rail Now) to the Transit Working Group:

Rapid Bus can be a precursor to Urban Rail in Lamar-Guadalupe corridor!

Here are excerpts (adapted for Webpage format) from that commentary that may be useful to the discussion of such a possible role for MetroRapid as a precursor to urban rail (using light rail transit technology) in the G-L corridor:

♦ Useful reference: BRT as a Precursor of LRT? (TRB conference paper, 2009)

Paper presented by Dave Dobbs and [Lyndon Henry] to 2009 Joint International Light Rail Conference sponsored by Transportation Research Board [TRB] provides research and guidelines for BRT as rail precursor:

Cover of TRB conference proceedings.

Cover of TRB conference proceedings.

Title and author lines from published paper.

Title and author lines from published paper.

[Link to proceedings]

♦ Examples where “BRT” has been precursor to rail – including with FTA approval

Various U.S. examples exist where both technically and policy-wise, a RapidBus or BRT-type system can function as a precursor to rail transit service – and with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approval!

• Dallas – BRT-like express bus service, operated by Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) on North Central Expressway, served as a precursor to DART’s LRT extension to Plano.
• Miami – Miami-Dade Busway has been serving as precursor to extensions of MetroRail rapid transit.
• Los Angeles – Wilshire Boulevard MetroRapid service, operated by Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), has served as precursor to extension of MTA’s rail rapid transit metro system, a project now under way.
• Seattle – In Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, BRT-type bus service functioned as precursor to Link light rail (now operating jointly with buses – see photos below).

♦ In 2009, Capital Metro’s MetroRapid was envisioned as precursor to rail

As recently as 2009, MetroRapid project was being designed for eventual conversion to light rail:

Excerpt from section of paper.

Excerpt from section of paper.

♦ Conclusion: BRT or RapidBus must be originally designed as light rail precursor!

Paper concludes that best-practices approach to plan for BRT or RapidBus as precursor to rail is to design it for eventual conversion from the start. This means keeping infrastructure investment minimal and designing for modularity (i.e., designing station components, communications, etc. so they can be easily relocated or reconfigured for the rail mode during conversion).

Excerpt from Conclusion of paper.

Excerpt from Conclusion of paper.

If the transit agency can demonstrate that the BRT or RapidBus investment won’t be lost, but can be upgraded into a higher and more effective use (e.g., Urban Rail), FTA has approved such conversion.


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.


City of Austin’s Urban Rail (and “BRT”) plan

29 March 2013

[Map: Dave Dobbs. Click to enlarge.]

The map shown above has been rendered by Dave Dobbs from official maps, provided by the City of Austin (COA) and Project Connect, to show (as far as we can infer) what COA planners are proposing for their basic Urban Rail (using LRT) and “bus rapid transit” (BRT) starter system.

The 5.5-mile Urban Rail proposed route (downtown, through the UT East Campus, and Hancock Center into Mueller) is shown as a gold-ochre line with a pattern representing “tracks” in the center of it. The green line represents the proposed “BRT” route intended to serve the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor. The Red Line represents the currently operating MetroRail Red Line route.

This route plan can be compared with the 14.7-mile Alternative Urban Rail plan prepared by Dave Dobbs and Lyndon Henry — see map in right column. The details of the Alternative Plan are discussed in the previous article: An alternative Urban Rail plan.