a great new resource on european buses and bus rapid transit

In case you've missed the headlines, Europe's economy is even more shaky than that of the US, with the consequences of the global crisis overlaid with the crisis of the Euro.  So as in the US, it's time to do more with less. But they're doing a lot more with less, as you can see by browsing this great online resource, www.bhls.eu.

  Bus_at_stop_N_Riverside_Gothenburg-2

26_-_Nantes_-_bus_way_vue_aerienne_BDefBHLS stands for "Bus at a High Level of Service" and it refers not just to Bus Rapid Transit but to a range of other high-frequency, branded bus products.  The site features case studies from all over Europe, and provides numerous PDF downloads where you can read about individual cases in more detail — not just sexy photos but (Gotheburg above, Nantes at right) but also an explanation of the decision process that led to choosing a bus project over rail.

I'm trying to buy a house and pack up my office today, and will be at the Canadian Urban Transit Association conference in Victoria the next few days, so posting may be slow.  Fortunately, there's enough at www.bhls.eu to entertain anyone who cares about urban transit for days.

 

 

 

15 Responses to a great new resource on european buses and bus rapid transit

  1. Kantor57 May 26, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I’ve read most of it and it is the usual meme
    “BRT is about 1/3 cheaper than a tramway (unless you need real capacity) and it can be as nice as a tramway (unless you want to integrate it in a dense urban environment) and people might like it almost as a tramway (unless they have already the real thing around)”
    I wasn’t buying it the first time I heard it and I am not buying it now

  2. Anon256 May 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    At least they only seem to be selling it as a substitute for pokey short-distance tramways, not for proper rapid transit.

  3. Mikko May 27, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    The presentation on the Finnish example on http://www.bhls.eu, the 28-km orbital Jokeri line in Helsinki, is a bit out of date. The presentation talks about 5 min headways and 20 000 daily passengers. The number actually passed 30 000 in the spring of 2009 and has been steadily climbing. The headway in rush is only 3 minutes, on paper at least. There’s great difficulty in maintaining the headway. Three buses bunched up bumper-to-bumper is not an uncommon sight. The average speed of 33 km/h also looks excellent on paper, but there’s a very large variation in rush-hour travel times. Helsinki has been unable to get a good deal on articulated buses, so Jokeri is still operated with large unarticulated ones.
    Jokeri was initially planned as a light rail line in 1993, then realized as a bare-bones BRT in 2003, with branding added in 2006. A new preliminary plan for the light rail line was completed in 2009, 16 years after the original one. The current financial projections by the city include starting the construction of the rail line 2016, but there’s no final decision yet.
    If Jokeri serves as an example of something, it’s probably the severe underestimation of the demand for orbital connections and the spider-web-like network that Jarrett W has written about, in a relatively sprawled city. The radial connections have been reasonably well taken care of in Helsinki, which has probably given a somewhat too rosy picture of the transit network. A lot of people not going to the center were left to drive their cars. The political opponents of the light rail line produced too-low-for-rail estimations of Jokeri’s passenger numbers for the longest time using various software methods and whatnot, so a bus line was built, and it got overcrowded practically from the start.

  4. Miles Bader May 27, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    What’s the deal with BRT maintenance costs, btw? I seem to recall some BRT lines with dedicated trackways having problems with the trackways getting torn up much more quickly than expected, resulting in much-higher-than-anticipated recurring costs to maintain it.
    [hmmmm… pittsburgh and cambridge maybe?]

  5. Zoltán May 29, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Mikko,
    The crappy buses (notably less pleasant and with less low floor space than some 15m vehicles used on trunk radial lines like the 4x routes) and stops are one of the really disappointing things about the Jokeri. By no means is it anything to match what I’d define as BRT best practice.
    Still, something as unambitious was probably a necessary step in demonstrating that good orbital bus or rail, requiring at times building new links through and between neighbourhoods, could work well in Helsinki. Hopefully it can lead to planning such things with more confidence in the future. And it is well designed to facilitate easy light rail conversion, particularly in Eastern Helsinki.

  6. Mikko May 30, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    Zoltan: “Still, something as unambitious was probably a necessary step”
    It was made necessary by a change of leadership in HKL, the city’s transit agency at the time, in the early 1990s. The director whose idea the Jokeri light rail line had been in the first place retired and was replaced by a person very much bent on expanding the heavy rail metro system instead. The light rail line project was actually slated for immediate start in 1994, and then it got quickly buried once the guy pushing for it was retired. After that, getting even the bus line took another ten years.
    Helsinki is actually currently in the process of rebranding trunk bus lines, including Jokeri, and also building Jokeri 2, a second orbital line further out from the center. Remarkably enough, the new color of the trunk buses and signage is orange, meant to identify with the metro. Symbolically, this is a huge step forward in the thinking on high-level bus service in the city. Lowly buses are about to be branded with the color of the sacred cow itself!
    As for doing more with less in Europe, the Jokeri 2 line includes a new 1.2 km long bored tunnel that is projected to cost 30 million euros, is built exclusively for the BRT line, and goes under a large forest-like park that extends from south to north in the middle of Helsinki. So that’s 30 million euros for not cutting a park in half with a busway. The line was recently delayed by a year due to difficulties in funding said tunnel, and is now planned to open in 2015. At some point the plan was to save money by not making the tunnel compatible with overhead wires, but thankfully even Helsinki is not that stupid, so Jokeri 2 will now be built with the possibility of converting it, too, to light rail.

  7. Zoltán May 30, 2012 at 5:50 am #

    Mikko,
    Thanks for that background. Sounds like a familiar sort of story.
    It’s interesting that the important bus lines are to be orange. It seems like a reasonable idea, because Helsinki won’t get significantly more in the way of metro lines in quite some time, so either the “sacred cow” rapid transit branding is irrelevant to allowing you to get to a significant amount of the city, or the branding is diluted just enough to make it cover the city reasonably well, with services notably better than local buses or trams.
    Now, when the hell can commuter trains (at least routes that run at least every 10 minutes) finally be treated equivalent to the metro in branding?

  8. Mikko May 30, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    Zoltan: “Helsinki won’t get significantly more in the way of metro lines in quite some time”
    Well, the western metro extension is currently under construction and is expected to open in 2015. That’s 14 km of double track and 7 stations in a tunnel. The board of the city of Espoo has just approved a plan to further continue the extension westward from Matinkylä to Kivenlahti in a second phase when the current works are completed. The final decision will be made by the city council of Espoo, and it will be a difficult one. The current phase is budgeted to cost 714 million and the second one 767 million. It’s already clear that the current project will overrun its budget by quite a bit. I should point out that this is a sprawled, mostly low-density municipality of 250 000 people spending possibly more than 1.5 billion euros on a completely underground metro line. Paying for it will require intense real estate development around the stations.
    It’s true, though, that the so-called second metro line (Kauppatori-Kamppi-Pasila-Viikki or something like that) is very unlikely to ever get built, now that the city is planning to go forward with the central underground loop (Pisara) for the commuter rail network.
    “Now, when the hell can commuter trains (at least routes that run at least every 10 minutes) finally be treated equivalent to the metro in branding?”
    This is a bit of an historical accident. The commuter trains are operated by VR, the state rail monopoly. The electric commuter trains started in 1969, more than a decade before the metro opened in 1982. Until recently, VR also owned all of the trains, so the city of Helsinki didn’t have anything to do with the operation of the whole thing. I’m not sure if they were formally even a client until the mid-1990s, when VR was turned from a state government entity into a company (still completely owned by the state). The branding has been the same as that of the VR long-distance trains since the 1990s.
    However, the latest series of trains (currently being delivered) is owned by a separate company set up by the Helsinki area municipalities and VR together. VR has an exclusive contract on the operation of the commuter trains until 2018, I believe. After that, the operator might well be someone else. VR is currently overcharging the municipalities by quite a bit, just like you’d expect from a monopoly. Once the current contracts expire, there might be new requirements by the client (Helsinki Region Transport) on the branding. At that point, many of the older VR-owned trains will be gone.

  9. Mikko May 30, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    So, for the record, here’s an enthusiast’s rendering of a bus in the upcoming orange Helsinki trunk line livery:
    http://i42.tinypic.com/35iwt52.png
    The official livery scheme, orange for trunk lines, blue for other buses:
    http://dsjulkaisu.tjhosting.com/~hsl01/kokous/2012298-3-41806.PDF
    And here’s one of the infamously orange Helsinki metro trains designed in the 1970s, in action. Note the white-Helvetica-font-on-orange signage:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3kx67s0iF4
    Helsinki is the World Design Capital for 2012, for who knows what reason.

  10. Don June 1, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    I’m looking for the highest capacity BRT running in an urban environment – centre running in an urban arterial, single lane in each direction, no passing lanes.
    What I’ve been able to find so far are systems in Paris, Nantes, and Milan, that run up to every 3 minutes with 18m buses. Are there systems operating that run more frequently than 3 minutes?
    Thanks!

  11. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org June 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Yes many developing world systems likely exceed that

  12. DME June 4, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    It is nice to see Carmen Hass-Clau, a big rail promoter and writer of “Bus or Light Rail: Making the Right Choice” acknowledge the efficacy of busways. One of her arguments for light rail in this report is that lrt fosters better planning. But when the cost difference is as great as it often is between the two modes, one has to ask if the urban shaping benefits of say five busways versus three lrts, really shows urban shaping as a benefit at all. If three busways were built including relatively uncostly street furniture and amenitities, a pedestrian-style corridor could be readily achieved.
    I think that the success of the Cambridgeshire busway will only increase the use of this mode.

  13. Nathanael June 9, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    I’m OK with buses, but they will never be rapid transit, and they’ll always be worse than trains.
    This is why I prefer European terms like “Bus at a High Level of Service” or “Better Bus”: they make it clear that they’re saying “We can’t afford a train but we can have better buses”.
    “BRT” remains a scam.

  14. Nathanael June 9, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    “The director whose idea the Jokeri light rail line had been in the first place retired and was replaced by a person very much bent on expanding the heavy rail metro system instead. The light rail line project was actually slated for immediate start in 1994, and then it got quickly buried once the guy pushing for it was retired. After that, getting even the bus line took another ten years.”
    Shades of Toronto.

  15. Nathanael June 9, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    “What’s the deal with BRT maintenance costs, btw? I seem to recall some BRT lines with dedicated trackways having problems with the trackways getting torn up much more quickly than expected, resulting in much-higher-than-anticipated recurring costs to maintain it.”
    Buses beat the crap out of the road due to high axle loadings. Passenger trains are relatively gentle to the track; usually, roughly the same weight is spread over twice as many axles.
    Furthermore, concrete or asphalt roads aren’t very durable to start with, compared to steel rails (even with wooden ties); they last less than half as long under *comparable* conditions.
    And conditions are worse due to the higher axle loadings. So there you go: busways are *inherently* less durable. (If someone invents bogie buses, I will stand corrected, but at that point, why not put the darn thing on tracks?)

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