Brisbane: Bus Rapid Transit Soars

BrisbaneBRT1  If you’ve never been to Brisbane, Australia, you’ve probably never seen Bus Rapid Transit done at the highest standard of quality in a developed country.  Only Ottawa comes close.

In the US, in particular, a generation of activists has been taught that Bus Rapid Transit means inferior rapid transit, because there’s no will to insist on design choices that protect buses from delay as completely as trains are usually protected.

When I talk about Bus Rapid Transit with US transit advocates, they visualize, at best, something like the Los Angeles Orange Line, which is Bus Rapid Transit except that (a) it mixes with traffic near its endpoints and (b) the signalized intersections every mile or so along the route don’t give adequate priority to the buses, causing significant delay.  Europe’s limited adventures in BRT tend to include similar compromises.

A simple way to think about American BRT is that so far it has only attempted to imitate light rail, which also can suffer from the same compromises around exclusive lanes and signals (though in practice it usually isn’t compromised as much as BRT).  Brisbane, by contrast, is trying to imitate heavy rail or “metro” styles of rapid transit.

Brisbane’s busway network consists of bus roadways that are not just exclusive (not shared with other vehicles) but also largely separated (not intersecting the path of other vehicles).  The original South East Busway (toured in this post) ran mostly in a spare strip of land along a freeway, so took advantage of the freeway’s grade separation.  The downtown segment is underground, while other segments follow bits of old rail line.  One especially exciting segment is a “green bridge” (transit, bikes and peds only) over the river into the University of Queensland, providing dramatically shorter trip distances than are possible by car.  Stations throughout the network are consistent with the design quality you’d expect on a modern heavy rail system in a developed country.

With the completion last year of its underground segment through downtown,
Brisbane’s busway has now outgrown its original inspiration, Ottawa,
which never built a downtown segment and is now planning to convert its
busways to rail.  Although Brisbane’s busways are also designed to be
convertible to light rail, no such plan is on the horizon; the long-range transport infrastructure plan envisions more extensions to the busway network.

With that in mind, here are some rather confronting images of the newest segment, which opened a few months ago.


At the new Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital (RBWH) Station, the busway soars, rising to a third-story level on a viaduct that largely obscures the huge medical complex behind it.  This obtrusive structure was the only way to get around a particularly constrained intersection without (a) taking surface traffic lanes or (b) going underground at dramatically higher cost or (c) compromising speed and reliability in the busway.  So they did it.

I would be outraged, aesthetically, if the building had been much to look at beforehand.  It wasn’t ugly, but it was a typical modernist complex (Street View image here) so I’m not sure it’s devastating that our children will never see this side of it unobstructed.  (The front door of the building faces a different direction, so still looks the same.)  The buildings across the street are all industrial and office, all modern, some probably redevelopable.

A quick tour.  (As always, click any pic to enlarge.)  The top level is the busway itself, with side platforms.  As you’d expect at this height, there are views out to the east from the platform.




The middle level is a typical mezzanine, which includes direct pedestrian links into the hospital building.  Again, the infrastructure is exactly what you’d expect in an elevated rail transit station.


Looking down from the mezzanine to ground level, the building directly under the busway is the new Cycle Centre, not yet open.  This large facility that will provide bicycle storage and repair, allowing people to leave their bicycles here and take the busway into the city.  (Although the immediate surroundings are industrial, dense inner-city residential areas begin less than 1 km to the north.)



North of the station, the structure begins a gradual transition to the surface, but at the hospital’s new pedestrian entrance, it’s still so high as to be not very obtrusive.  (Whenever someone tries to horrify you with the height of a proposed viaduct, remember that higher often means less visually oppressive.)  A square archway encloses the pedestrian in a welcoming way, so that the overhead structure is turned into an aesthetic advantage.


There’s an unapologetic frankness to this station, perhaps
fitting the hospital that it serves.  The underside of the busway is
undisguised, looking just like the underside of a freeway ramp.  You
wouldn’t make these choices in a visually sensitive area or one that’s
important to tourism, but that’s not what this is.  Yes, it’s a huge viaduct, and nobody is going to mistake this for one of the great transit viaducts of Europe.
But this isn’t Europe.  Brisbane is a young New World city, and
while it has areas of great architectural character, we’re not in one
of them here, so the frankness makes sense.

Again, you don’t have to like it, and I’m not sure I do.  But it is important to know that cities can choose to treat Bus Rapid Transit exactly the way they’d treat heavy rail rapid transit, as fundamental civic infrastructure where speed and reliability cannot be compromised just to get through a difficult spot.  This viaduct isn’t just about serving the hospital.  About half of the bus services into the city from the north will eventually flow through this station, so any compromise on reliability through this point would have affected the viability of a large part of the city’s network.  So they took reliability seriously, just as you’d do with heavy rail, and built something that works.

UPDATE:  Plenty of lively comment on this one!  The most common question is “if you’re going to build all that infrastructure, why not just put rails on it?  Answer:  Because Brisbane, like Portland, has a single very strong downtown but no major centers of activity outside of it.  For that reason, the demand pattern spreads out as you go out from the city, and the route network spreads out to follow it.  So the high frequency through this inner busway segment is made of routes that branch out to serve several different corridors further out, without requiring a connection.

If you know Portland, imagine that instead of building eastside and westside MAX, they’d built a busway from Beaverton to Gateway, with a subway segment crossing downtown Portland.  Buses flowing through the busway would branch west of Beaverton and east of Gateway to each cover several suburban corridors beyond those points.  I’m not saying for a moment that I’d have advocated that, but its benefits would have included (a) very high frequency in the busway all day, because buses are cheaper per-unit to operate and don’t pile up as frequent trains do, since they can easily pass each other, (b) direct no-change service from downtown Portland to a much larger are of outer suburbia, and (c) a fast ride across downtown for people going from one side of the city to the other, and (d) the possibility of nonstop express services on the peak, again because buses can pass each other in the busway.  Again, I’m not saying Portland should have done that, but I do want Americans to understand why Brisbane made that choice and is pretty happy with it.

Keep comments coming. I’ll pull the threads together in a few days.

48 Responses to Brisbane: Bus Rapid Transit Soars

  1. Brent Palmer November 17, 2009 at 5:58 am #

    “Brisbane, by contrast, is trying to imitate heavy rail or ‘metro’ styles of rapid transit.”
    By and large, this is true. The only thing missing, really, is ticket vending machines (as found at any rail station here), all-door boarding (although existing door configurations may hinder this). Of course, the two signallised intersections either side the Victoria Bridge are a “necessary evil” due to the alternatives being prohibitively expensive, but how much could fast cycles compensate?

  2. Eric Herot November 17, 2009 at 7:11 am #

    The problem, of course, with building ugly transit structures in the ugly parts of town is that it makes it politically difficult to convince people in the nicer parts of town that the structures you want to build there don’t have to look like that. Basically the opposite of building a beautiful structure in a neighboring town and inspiring the people in your own town to want one of their own I suppose.

  3. Rajan R November 17, 2009 at 9:12 am #

    I thought the hospital looked nice – I just think it needs a new paint job. But I like modernist architecture, so to each his own. Beyond obscuring a potentially good looking hospital, I don’t get why Brisbane is into busways – if they’re investing in segregated busways, both in tunnels and viaducts, I’d imagine rail will have an advantage.
    As a technology, rail has better acceleration and deacceleration, making for a potentially smoother and faster ride even with the worst of drivers. And they could make the system more technologically-neutral – the rails on Adelaide’s O-Bahn for example serve busses and trams.
    In any case, bus or train, must they make the stations and viaducts look that ugly? The best viaducts I’ve seen are here in Singapore – they grow creepers on it, and whitewash the rest, so it looks nice (without having restaurants under it). Well, just road viaducts, MRT viaducts are more spartan – but they still look better than Brisbane’s busway viaduct.

  4. David November 17, 2009 at 11:28 am #

    Funny to mention Ottawa at the beginning. BRT has been taken way to far in Ottawa and it is now an unmitigated failure. Paralysis of its transit system is a daily occurrence. Operating costs are through the roof. Millions of dollars of rolling stock capital crawl at a glacial pace every evening rush hour. The daily paralysis takes so long that operators are routinely going into overtime, a situation the transit authority tried to “solve” by lengthening the work day, a tactic that naturally enough led to a prolonged strike in the dead of winter and on which point the union won in the end (an arbitrator ruled against the union on just about everything else that was at issue). The population pretty much despises the system and everyone – other than the small cadre of highway engineers-turned-transit-planners that designed it – is anxious to see it converted to rail, yet luminaries such as Andy Haydon and John Bonsall continue to peddle this disastrous concept here and elsewhere. It’s got so ridiculous that the latter’s son doesn’t even “believe” in BRT (and “believe” is the right word – BRT is like a faith) as he helped write a report recommending a full-scale overhaul of Ottawa’s transit system to rail. The only part of the system that works reliably today is the O-Train, which, oddly enough, you’ve got a picture of at the top of your pages… (it looks to have been taken from one of Confederation or Bayview Stations, probably the latter).
    One of the many problems with BRT is that it requires metro-like levels of infrastructure to provide capacities capable of being delivered by light rail infrastructure. It’s farcical that Ottawa has tonnes of grade-separated BRT infrastructure (“the Transitway”) while Calgary with its modest LRT system operating 3-car trains across numerous grade crossings gets a higher throughput and much more friendly stations to boot. Of course our happy BRT consultants here in Ottawa try to rectify this by making LRT submit to the same constraints as BRT (full grade separation) so as to “prove” that BRT is cheaper. This brings up another of BRT’s many problems: once it exists, it creates politically and economically-entrenched interests who simply refuse to move on. It took 5 years of bus jams to get the consultants to concede that a relatively short section of the Transitway – 12-18 km – should be converted to LRT sometime in the next *10* years, but only after an expensive tunnel has been dug through downtown Ottawa, of course. Can’t have LRT be inexpensive, after all.

  5. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 12:20 pm #

    Given all the infrastructure in Brisbane–how much money has been saved by not putting tracks down on all those trestles and tunnels? You note that the Brisbane busway is designed to be “convertible to light rail”–does that mean that the infrastructure is designed to bear the weight of trains, and is only missing tracks and catenary?
    Given that the busses appear to be fuel-burning (I don’t see wires on them), it would seem that this makes an underground routing MORE expensive, as you have the problem of fumes in the subway–something you don’t need to worry about with electric vehicles, whatever the wheel type.

  6. M1EK November 17, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    Yeah, the whole tone of this article is rather weird. You’ve basically advocated having the highest capital costs possible (complete separation) AND the highest operating costs possible (more drivers per passenger; vehicles that break down more often; and FUEL FUEL FUEL)?

  7. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    In addition, I’ll take issue with the following statement:

    In the US, in particular, a generation of activists has been taught that Bus Rapid Transit means inferior rapid transit, because there’s no will to insist on design choices that protect buses from delay as completely as trains are usually protected.

    An alternate spin, which is not unjustified, would be this:
    In the US, in particular, a generation of activists has been taught that Bus Rapid Transit is frequently a Trojan Horse proposed by those who would prefer to not fund reasonable public transit at all.
    You seem to forget, Jarrett, just how many powerful political forces in the US are opposed to mass transit in ANY form, especially rail transit, and simply want to build freeway after freeway after fucking freeway. (Pardon my French). Oil companies, Detroit. Right-wingers who view any public transport as “socialism”. Rural voters who view big cities as Sodom and Gomorrah, and who don’t want to spend a dime on urban infrastructure projects of any sort. Racists who further view transit projects as a transfer of wealth to minority communities. State departments of transportation, many of which have HUGE auto-centric cultures. And for the past eight years, the USDOT under Bush.
    For these folks, the whole point of pushing BRT instead of LRT is that it can be done on the cheap, effectiveness be damned. That’s why BRT systems in the US are all half-assed–these systems are political compromises to begin with. They’re not designed to be useful (especially to choice riders), they’re designed to be cheap. They’re designed to let the hippies and greens and such ride the bus and feel they’re Doing Their Part, while Real Americans™ drive to work in their Hummers as usual.
    This is the political context in which transit supporters in the US operate. There’s a very good reason why BRT is not viewed as a serious solution. Most of the people here who advocate loudly for BRT, are those who would rather build nothing. Which is unfortunate, as BRT (including local bus service with BRT-like features) has many uses. But would Portland be better off if the Blue Line were a bus? Would Boston be better off if the Green Line were a bus? Would Calgary be better off with BRT instead of LRT, all else being equal?
    I seriously doubt it.

  8. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    To clarify the above, by “here” I meant “here in the US”, not “here on this blog”.

  9. Jarrett at November 17, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    SEE THE NEW UPDATE at the end of the post, informed by comments up to this point.
    Oh, and TypePad promises they’ll restore threaded comments soon.

  10. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    Thanks for the updated comments, Jarrett!
    It wasn’t clear from the original post (and I was just about to ask) that busses in Brisbane leave the busway to venture out into the local street network–your update seems to make clear that they in fact do this.
    The comparison with Portland is, I think, interesting for several reasons. The cities are of similar size (Brisbane has a metro population of 3 million if Wikipedia is to be believed); albeit Brisbane appears to be less dense (not sure if the Wikipedia figures include significant sparse areas outside the urban core or not).
    That said, I think its worth noting that Brisbane’s BRT is in addition to a rail system, not instead of it. While certain parts of the city appear to have BRT as the only rapid-transit choice, the two modes appear to complement each other nicely. Perhaps this is the takeaway, especially for those of us accustomed to US transport politics: Rather than positioning BRT as a competitor to rail-based rapid transit (something which the name “BRT” tends to do), improved bus corridors ought to be positioned as a way of improving bus transit in general (local, or otherwise).
    Portland’s transit mall, after all, is a wonderful thing–both before and after the addition of the tracks. I’d love to see bus-only lanes (long stretches, not just the half-block turnouts and pull-ins rather common on Portland streets) on the major urban thoroughfares.
    Most discussions of BRT in Portland-area planning circles, though, view it as a low-cost alternative to light rail. This argument, I think, really ought to be considered a red herring–Brisbane’s system doesn’t appear to be built for cost reasons, but because it was the most convenient topology for Brisbane’s needs. The political consensus in Australia seems more ready to fund high-quality transit. Unfortunately, transit dollars remain in short supply in the US.

  11. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

    That didn’t seem to work, I’ll let you repair the comments. I certainly am not trying to shout.
    One more question on the BRT/LRT issue, and on Brisbane in particular:
    How are busses operating on the various busways nomenclated? Are any distinctions made between bus routes which include the busway in all or part of their routes, and those which do not? When some people hear the word “busway”, it gets analogized to the way rail services are typically nomenclated, with a near one-to-one correspondence between the service and the underyling infrastructure; and might assume that the “Inner Northern Busway” refers to both a service and a roadway, rather than just a roadway which multiple services use as part of their route.

  12. Brent Palmer November 17, 2009 at 4:49 pm #

    “Brisbane has a metro population of 3 million if Wikipedia is to be believed”
    Actually, that figure applies to the entire South East Queensland region, the 200km-long strip that includes the Gold Coast (550,000 or so) and Sunshine Coast.
    Indeed, the busway network supplements the rail system, rather than competing with it. Whilst a small portion runs alongside the railway, a particular Melbourne-based academic overstates its impact (in my opinion), accusing it of wasteful duplication, when it’s of negligible length, and probably necessary to allow interchange with the rail network.

  13. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    Here’s my attempt, in case a simple </b> won’t suffice

  14. Cap'n Transit November 17, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    “freeway after freeway after fucking freeway. (Pardon my French).”
    Yes, there’s really no fucking justification for using the word “freeway” once, let alone three times. Now go wash your mouth out with soap.
    Seriously, I agree with Scotty that BRT is often used as a bait-and-switch. The fact that in Brisbane they didn’t want to take even one of the six traffic lanes says to me that things are not so different Down Under.
    Jarrett, I’m curious, why didn’t you mention Pittsburgh? They’ve got grade-separated busways (that used to be rail rights-of-way, incidentally). I don’t think anybody’s too impressed with them; I wasn’t.
    My take on “BRT” is simply this: bus improvements are great, but don’t tell me that they’re a substitute for rail. In particular, don’t suggest that I should fight any less hard for rail improvements because we’re getting these bus improvements. And the improvements can be separated: the “package deal” approach to “BRT” is bullshit, plain and simple. So is the branding argument. The richest, whitest, snobbiest people will take a bus if it’s convenient, whether it looks like a train or a wreck.

  15. Jarrett at November 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm #

    Yes, Pittsburgh is an example of a separated transitway. So, for that matter, are the El Monte and Harbor T-ways in Los Angeles. But none of those are developed to a level of infrastructure quality and civility that would make BRT seem comparable to rail, so nobody should form a lasting opinion about busways based on a visit to them.
    Why didn’t they take one of the six lanes on the surface? Remember, they’re trying to emulate heavy rail here, not light rail. This area has big intersections with long-phase signals that would have become the choke point for the busway if it had tried to run on the surface. Further out from the city as loads on the busway drop, judicious use of surface segments is planned, but the busway will still do short tunnels under major long-phase intersections.
    The emotions roused by this post are striking. Nothing in my post questions American activists’ views about the political history of BRT in the USA in the last decade. Just pointing out that in very similar cities on a distant shore, the attitudes are different, and so are the outcomes.

  16. Cap'n Transit November 17, 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    Just wanted to clarify that my first paragraph above about “fucking freeways” was a joke.
    And of course, although I get pissed off by the love that some transit advocates (*cough* ITDP) have for “BRT”, I’m not at all pissed off by Jarrett, who just wants to help people get around.
    In terms of grade-separating bus stations to avoid traffic problems? We do that here. And here. Yes, they’re terminals, but they do the same thing you’re talking about. And although they function very well, nobody really likes walking under them.

  17. Wad November 17, 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    Jarrett wrote:
    … a generation of activists has been taught that Bus Rapid Transit means inferior rapid transit …
    That’s because in the U.S., the FTA has allowed for the term to be debased so much that just about anything involving a bus can be funded under bus rapid transit grants.
    There’s no consistency nationwide. Heck, just in Los Angeles, there are three types of service that are all called bus rapid transit yet deliver vastly different services. Technically, that number can be stretched to four.
    The Metro Rapid network is “BRT enough” to be federally funded as such a project, yet it delivers a quality of service no better than limited-stop buses.
    Worst of all, Metro Rapid wasn’t a need that arose as soon as money became available for it. Metro planners have implemented limited-stop bus service decades before the first Rapid buses “debuted” in 2000. Without BRT money, Metro would have just split the difference between local and limited runs according to agency practice.
    … because there’s no will to insist on design choices that protect buses from delay as completely as trains are usually protected.
    The issue isn’t will, but the desire to spread money around to as many agencies as possible. Elevating BRT to rail-quality standards also means the cost spread between modes begins to narrow. As that happens, either the money should be alloted to the few agencies capable of attracting ridership to rail or hope BRT doesn’t catch on to the point where capacity issues would have favored rail all along.

  18. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 11:37 pm #

    I would like to concur with the good Cap’n; we’re not faulting you atall. But as Wad points out, “bus rapid transit”, in US planning discourse, is one of those terms that might be put on the “slippery word watch”.
    Of course, so is “light rail”, which can mean anything from a fully-grade-separated train which provides service equivalent to a metro, to something that is scarcely faster than a streetcar. And MAX illustrates this very well, as many stretches of MAX are as fast as a metro, but between Lloyd Center and Goose Hollow or PSU…ugh.
    It would be nice if we had a larger set of agreed-upon terms (in English) for different levels of transit service. We have “metro”, which usually means fully grade-separated (and often with third-rail power or driverless operation) rail, and “streetcar”/”tram”, which usually means mixed-traffic, slow-as-snot local service–but “light rail” can include both these extremes, and several distinguishable levels of service in between. (In a post on TTP, I used a 5-point scale to distinguish between levels of service). Likewise for different types of bus service–which seems to cover an even wider spectrum of service types.
    Got any suggestions?
    But getting back to the bait-and-switch issue–many BRT supporters stateside like to sing the praises of BRT, pointing to Curituba and Brisbane as wonderful examples–then turn around and design things which are far, far less (and which, naturally, are far cheaper than a Brisbane-style BRT or an equivalent LRT would be). And in many cases, this is been done as a maneuver to kill off a more extensive transit project (often rail) that would have provided much greater mobility benefits than the BRT that got put in–often by appealing to voters who aren’t transit-savvy enough to know the difference (and many of whom have no intention of riding the system anyway). In many US jurisdictions, funding for transit projects must be approved by voters, or can be withdrawn by referendum–“those railfans are trying to rip you off” is an argument that gets a lot of support. (And unfortunately, it must be conceded, there are lots of places where the transit authority is indeed corrupt; so these sorts of charges can’t be laughed off as implausible).

  19. Ted King November 18, 2009 at 12:36 am #

    1) Kudos to the planners in Brisbane – JFDI rules !
    2) Here’s a test for new BRT systems. If they look a lot like the express bus service offered by San Francisco’s Muni (US) then they probably are NOT BRT. The only advantage offered by the “X” suffix lines is the large block of stops cut out of the middle of the run. Some of those lines run on the local freeways and are vulnerable to traffic jams. I’ve experienced rides in parts of San Francisco that are veritable washboards.
    3) Picking up on EngineerScotty’s idea for rating levels of service let’s extend SFMuni’s bus pattern :
    no suffix = local;
    “L” = limited, skips some stops in the middle;
    “X” = express, skips all stops in the middle, may run on the freeway;
    “Z” = BRT, dedicated ROW in the middle and core areas.
    For rail systems let’s try :
    excursion / historic (sci-fi types might use “Disneys”);
    LRV surface (LS or Ellis);
    LRV mixed (LM or Elmer) like SFMuni’s (pseudo-)Metro;
    LRV dedicated (LD or Eldy or light metro);
    HRV mixed aka commuter rail (Rhino because it’s best to get out of the way) like Caltrain;
    HRV dedicated (Metro) like BART.
    As a long time user of SFMuni, BART, and other transit systems of the S.F.Bay area I’ve enjoyed and suffered many highs and lows in transit service. Riding the F-Market in downtown S.F. shows one that even the “Disneys” can perform yeoman service. I hope the above helps make it easier to explain transit types to non-riders.
    P.S. “Eldy”, an LRV running in a fully dedicated ROW could be a useful, if rare, transitional service for a transit agency moving from “Ellis” to “Metro”. It would allow them to delay the purchase of fresh rolling stock for a limited period of time.
    P.P.S. SFMuni’s “Metro” isn’t really a metro at all. This is due to the rolling stock (LRV’s), the routes (mixed ROW), and its service area. The service area is the key. “Metro” in my mind equates to “metropolitan area” which means multiple cities / towns (e.g. San Francisco Bay area). That’s why BART is a true metro.

  20. Stuart Donovan November 18, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    Thanks for the pics Jarrett.
    Brisbane has done very well with it’s BRT and for anyone to suggest otherwise (as many of these posts do) is ludicrous.
    If we measure effectiveness in terms of results, Brisbane’s BRT is a standout success. Lots of people being carried at low cost.
    And over the Tasman Auckland has had similarly positive results with its Northern Busway, which now carries approx 6,000 passengers per hour.
    Cut your public transport cloth to suit is the key message, and Brisbane appears to have cut its cloth in a very fitting manner indeed.
    Jarrett – do you any insight into how Translink propose to make use of the connection between the new Northern Busway and the existing SE Busway? Are their opportunities to run through services and would these deliver synergistic wider network benefits?

  21. Jarrett at November 18, 2009 at 2:20 am #

    Eventually, the northern and southeast busways will have a single very-frequent all-stops service flowing the whole length, with other frequent patterns branching off to serve University of Queensland via the green bridge.  Right now, the network structure still looks too complicated, and there's some branding work to be done to isolate the frequent all-day lines that will form the backbone of the rapid transit service in the future.
    Auckland's Northern Busway branding is refreshingly simple by comparison, but then it's a simpler geography.

  22. Barry Watkins November 18, 2009 at 5:03 am #

    Just to clarify on the ‘designed to accommodate light rail’ issue.
    The system has the physical weight capacity to handle heavier vehicles, with sufficient overhead clearance for electrification. In the tunnel sections, sophisticated emissions monitoring is used to control ventilation systems, the same as any road tunnel.
    The connection of the northern busway to the south east busway would preclude connected light rail, based on the current infrastructure. (The 40 year old Victoria Bridge has structural capacity issues – maybe not insurmountable, but problematic).

  23. Alon Levy November 19, 2009 at 12:32 am #

    Ted, your classification of rail talks a lot about ROW, but not about station spacing or service plan. Typically, a metro should have a station every 1-1.5 km, serve a combination of major corridors and major centers, and run very frequently, with trains at least 10-15 minutes apart throughout the day. Unless you’re in Seoul or New York, trains should stop at every station. It should serve mostly major destinations and urban neighborhoods.
    Regional rail, on the model of JR East’s network in Tokyo, the S-Bahn, or the RER, should have a station every 1.5-5 km, serve mostly centers rather than corridors, and follow a schedule; it should be more tolerant of branching, giving higher frequencies on the central segment and lower frequencies on the branches. Lines should be longer than metro lines, and possibly have some express service on the outer segments. It should serve major neighborhoods and suburbs, especially inner suburbs.
    Commuter rail should have a station every 3-15 km, and follow a schedule. Outside rush hour, it can run infrequently, say every 30 minutes or even an hour. It should have direct service from suburbs to the CBD, and on busier lines feature a combination of local service and various levels of express stops. It should be integrated with park and rides, and not just connecting bus service.

  24. Brent Palmer November 19, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    “Typically, a metro should have a station every 1-1.5 km, serve a combination of major corridors and major centers, and run very frequently, with trains at least 10-15 minutes apart throughout the day.”
    I beg to differ about the frequency threshhold: in a metro system, ten minutes is the outer limit of an acceptable frequency. To steer things back on topic, Brisbane’s busway has a maximum wait of five minutes from downtown (Queen St bus station) to Mater Hill. Northward, the 330 & 340 slot in with the flagship 333, creating a maximum wait of 10 minutes – at least during the daytime. Busway stops spacings, at least on the inner stretch from RBWH to Woolloongabba, are what you’d expect of a metro.

  25. Jarrett November 19, 2009 at 3:23 am #

    Re frequency, the important point is that unit operating costs for an LRV are substantially higher for a bus, so OFF PEAK when demand isn’t driving your frequency, you can afford a higher policy frequency on busways than you’ll get on light rail. Let’s notice that in the current USA service cut era we’re seeing off-off-peak frequencies of 20-30 on some light rail lines. That’s less likely on a busway system because (a) you can afford more buses/hour than you can afford trains/hour and (b) buses are branching onto more outer routes and are thus more likely to form a high core frequency in the course of providing even a minimal frequency on each branch.

  26. Ted King November 19, 2009 at 11:13 am #

    Alon –
    I’ve looked back at my post and see your point in frequencies and stop spacing. Though it seems that certain equipment and ROW mixes lend themselves to only one or two frequency / spacing combinations. The commuter rail (aka Rhino) for example leans towards spread out stations so as to get the most speed out of each run.
    Also, non-riders should be reminded that a dedicated ROW does not have be a tunnel. It can be a trench (aka topless tunnel), a strip of parkland, or an elevated structure. I would not be surprised to see some sort of hybrid structure for the rail corridor in downtown San Mateo, Calif. The Caltrain tracks could be in a trench, the freight / express track on the surface, and HSR would be on an elevated structure. A bit ugly but that’s the price one pays when one strangles their rail corridor.
    P.S. Anybody who thinks that the elevated ROW in Brisbane is either ugly (I prefer to call it massive dignity) or unprecedented needs to be pointed towards New York or San Francisco. I’ve seen pictures of New York’s GWBBT (see below) and have rambled around San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal. The Brisbane facility seems very familiar to this long time rider.

  27. EngineerScotty November 19, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    Jarrett–after some more reflection, I’d like to explore a bit more a point mentioned above.
    Part of the problem with BRT acceptance in the US, is most visible BRT systems (those emphasizing the “rapid” part, and marketing the service as such)–is that they tend to look and act like rail-based metros. In the US, we speak of BRT lines–the Silver Line in Boston, the Orange Line in LA, EmX in Eugene, OR–and so forth. In other words, the service topology is generally linear; the busses which run on BRT are different than the local busses (different branding, different route nomenclature, different fare structures, rapid boarding, longer station spacing, nicer stations, proof-of-payment or turnstiles rather than pay-the-driver-as-you-board)–everything about the service is made to look like a rail-based metro service, except for the tires.
    I think that therein lies the problem–trains are better than busses at being trains, and this sort of distinct corridor service tends to be better served by rail, all else being equal. There are exceptions, of course–low volume small-city lines like EmX again–but such services ignore the fundamental strength of busses, which is that they aren’t tied to the physical infrastructure. Other than the capital cost–something which it is usually not wise to optimize for, as governments can generally get capital funding more easily than operating revenue–if you limit the BRT vehicles to the BRT infrastructure, you’re generally getting something that costs more and not less to operate.
    BRT, to be most useful, needs to be disconnected from the notion of “lines”, where the line refers to the physical infrastructure.
    Would you agree with this, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

  28. Wad November 19, 2009 at 11:03 pm #

    I have posited a solution to remake the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.
    Two years ago, I had suggested that instead of there being a single bus along the busway, I proposed routing unproductive north-south bus lines onto the busway and feeding into the Red Line at North Hollywood.
    I called it the Miami Option, named for the South Miami Busway that is identical to the North Hollywood Junction.
    The drawback is that money would have to be allocated into making routes running hourly to half-hourly.
    The upside is that it would improve local bus service and reduce one transfer in an area where bus service isn’t that frequent to start.

  29. Ted King November 20, 2009 at 12:38 am #

    Re : EngineerScotty’s 20Nov09[0930]
    Blue sky city –
    If the rapid transit is going to be a single line then lean towards rail. But if what you are trying to serve is a region, especially one that hasn’t gelled, then lean towards BRT and use terms like “Service Region” and “DAC” (Downtown Access Conduit). That lets one set up an outer hub where the various bus routes come together. It would pave the way for [a] future rail, [b] TOD, and [c] overlapped local buses that cover pairs of BRT branches. That retains the flexibility of buses and leaves you room for future growth.

  30. Peter Parker November 20, 2009 at 2:09 am #

    One of the reason for busway’s success in Brisbane is the service standard offered, especially relative to her other transit modes.
    The critical difference between Australian cities is whereas in Perth trains are associated with high frequency and buses with low frequency (for Melbourne substitute ‘trams’ for ‘trains’), Brisbane and Adelaide have it the other way around. Their trains are infrequent and (some) of their buses are better.
    Brisbane and Adelaide’s major bus corridors are double the frequency of most of their trains (every 30 min interpeak on weekdays).
    Or to put it another way, Australia’s only rail network that would fully qualify for one of your ‘frequent networks’ would be Perth’s. Parts of Melbourne’s and Sydney’s would qualify but very little of Brisbane and Adelaide’s would (if the service standard applied 7 days a week).
    In contrast Melbourne’s trams almost fully qualify, as do Adelaide’s Go Zones, Brisbane’s BUZ, major Sydney Buses corridors, and some corridors in Melbourne and Perth.

  31. Peter Parker November 20, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    Another thing about Brisbane is that buses have been run by the Brisbane City Council (which unlike other states covers not just the central city area but the inner half of the metropolitan population) and trains by QR (a state government instrumentality).
    I should mention that Queensland is more decentralised than the other states (where about 70% of people live in the capital city area) and the state government functions less like a city government than the other state governments.
    Unlike Perth, there’s been a legacy of seperate development and very poor integration and rivallry between the two.
    Translink is an attempt to try to bring the network together, with their outstanding achievement to date being fare integration.

  32. Nathanael November 29, 2009 at 12:35 am #

    ‘…”if you’re going to build all that infrastructure, why not just put rails on it? Answer: Because Brisbane, like Portland, has a single very strong downtown but no major centers of activity outside of it. For that reason, the demand pattern spreads out as you go out from the city, and the route network spreads out to follow it. So the high frequency through this inner busway segment is made of routes that branch out to serve several different corridors further out, without requiring a connection.’
    Yeah…. but Jarrett, aren’t you the one who wrote the article about how planners shouldn’t be scared by well-designed connections? 🙂

  33. Jarrett at November 29, 2009 at 2:21 am #

    Yep.  I did.  It's here:
    But I would never argue that connections are NO disincentive to ridership, only that they are an inevitable part of an effective system, especially in a multi-destinational city.
    Brisbane is still, at this stage, a relatively mono-destinational city.  It has a massive downtown, big universities nearby, but beyond about 7 km radius it drops back to single family with small commercial districts.  The few major centers beyond that radius are all on the commuter rail network.
    So the branching out pattern is good here because as you go further from downtown, the frequency need drops in the main corridor at the same time as the key secondary corridors branch off.  So the busway is a good fit for that urban form.

  34. Anandakos November 30, 2009 at 9:49 pm #

    @Ted King,
    I think you’ve got the priority between the express tracks and ordinary CalTrain backward. With a sufficiently easy grade the freight and expresses can be in the trench and the ordinary all-stops on the surface.
    I’m sure the good burghers of San Mateo would love to get freight trains down in that trench!

  35. W McLean December 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm #

    Buses don’t pile up?
    OC Transpo doesn’t know that, apparently.

  36. January 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    I would argue that rail is probably not justified if the rideship in a corrider does not justify frequent off peak rail service. Of course this depends on many factors in each specific case.
    On the other hand, marginal off peak operating costs for a tram, LRV or even short metro train (if using coupled units) shouldn’t necessarily be that much more expensive than the operating costs for a bus. After all the infrastructure and vehicle investments are there already and the driver cost should be similar. The vehicle running cost may be 1.5 to 3 times as much, but that is rarely a dominant cost. But if you do have to run a lot of feeder services as well, this will significantly increase the cost.
    In any case the Brisbane BRT looks like an excellent fit for local needs. The flexibility is undeniable especially with the city structure you describe. The possibility of running both fast and stopping services is also very efficient. Rail often tends to need two systems (or four tracks) for this. Of course the space requirements would be unacceptable in most European cities, but not in many parts of the New World as you rightly mention.
    One challenge for the future that I do see in the general case is just this ability to run fast and slow services. If conversion to rail is ever needed, one service group may have to be removed. This might even preclude the conversion from actually taking place or would probably push the stopping services back into the streets. Not a problem, if conversion isn’t going to be needed though.

  37. David January 5, 2010 at 6:08 am #

    As a past user of the Brisbane busway system I can’t see how a metro rail system could improve my experience.
    I could walk 5 minutes from my outer suburban house (17km from city) to a frequent bus service. I would then settle in for the approx 30 minute trip into the city. The first 15 mins were winding 4km through local streets and then after joining the busway the journey became very smooth and peaceful due to the smooth, straight busway with not many stops.
    Not having to pack up my laptop, book or whatever and leave the local bus half way through the journey to walk over and wait for a metro (even if frequent) and find a new seat was great. The transition to the busway was seamless and allows me to relax for the whole journey.
    I don’t think changing modes on a trip like this would make the overall trip any quicker either.
    Seems to me that we have the best of both worlds – a service to the door that runs a lot of the way like a metro.

  38. Ottawaman January 6, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Talking up brt in Brisbane without mentioning the brt disaster in Ottawa is telling only half the story. Want to know what would have happened if Calgary chose brt? Look at Ottawa.
    We are now in the expensive and disruptive process of converting from brt to lrt –one that could have been avoided if we had made Calgary’s choice. Ottawa is also a single-hub town, a capital city where all the jobs are downtown. Our brt can’t handle the increasing ridership. And the labour costs of running buss is sky high.
    As Brisbane grows, will it follow Ottawa’s expensive example?
    Will brisbane

  39. Jarrett at January 6, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    My view on this is that the main failure of the Ottawa network was the failure to complete it downtown.  Brisbane learned a lot from Ottawa, including that.  The Brisbane network now has a subway under downtown that will make it function as a complete network, as Ottawa never did.

  40. Mike H May 27, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    The excuse for the massive concrete structure seems to pretty much amount to ‘the place was ugly before, so it’s ok to build a massive ugly viaduct’. That’s not much of a way to build a city.
    I’ve never been to Brisbane or Australia for that matter, so I won’t comment on the architecture of that particular hospital or viaduct on the basis of a few pictures.

  41. Jarrett at May 27, 2010 at 4:14 am #

    Again, there's a crucial public transport quality standard met here.  This isn't architecture for its own sake.

  42. Brisben June 13, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    “My view on this is that the main failure of the Ottawa network was the failure to complete it downtown. Brisbane learned a lot from Ottawa, including that. The Brisbane network now has a subway under downtown that will make it function as a complete network, as Ottawa never did.”
    Not sure that I agree.
    1. The underground Queen St Mall: There is no continuous tunnel connecting the SE busway to the Queen St underground station. There are intersections at both ends of the Victoria Bridge which are not grade separated and both of which are crossed by general car traffic.
    The intersection and portal between the SE busway and Cultural Centre is also extremely dangerous for pedestrians and fatalities have occurred on this stretch.
    2. City Streets are full of buses- Adelaide St, Queen St bus station, King George Square and Elizabeth Street. Safe cycling on Adelaide street is almost impossible with huge numbers of buses pulling in and out. And there is no way that all (or even a significant number) these buses can all be accommodated in the Queen St tunnel, they can’t and they aren’t.
    3. A lot of buses (All rockets and many expresses) exit the busway onto the Captain Cook Bridge and don’t stop at Cultural Centre as this would simply be far, far beyond the capacity of the Cultural Centre to handle them (it is already dealing with something like a bus every 19 seconds in peak) Many buses (130, 140, 150) are also express all and don’t stop at many busway stops.

  43. Jarrett at June 14, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    Brisben. From a Brisbane perspective, I agree completely, and have discussed these limitations here:
    However, from an Ottawa perspective, these are trivial problems compared to the problem of not having a CBD bus tunnel at all. Adelaide Street may seem to have a lot of buses, but at least they flow through fairly efficiently, unlike Ottawa’s Albert-Slater streets.

  44. Brisben June 14, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    It’s apparent that Ottawa was avoiding costs (not that there is anything wrong with economising) and this meant BRT and BRT with no tunnel downtown.
    p31 of The Mayor of Ottawa taskforce on transportation report considers a bus tunnel. A summary of multicriteria for a bus tunnel:
    2.1 Service Reliability
    Good in short/medium term until congestion becomes an issue.
    2.2 Survivability
    Good; Same as LRT in tunnel.
    2.3 Growth potential
    Not so good. LRT in tunnel better.
    2.4 Transit speed
    Good for short/medium term, not so good longer term.
    2.5 Comfort
    No improvement. LRT represents an improvement.
    2.6 System costs
    Bad. Expensive air handling to remove diesel exhaust required.
    Operating cost is still relatively high due to many operators required and no reduction
    in the number of vehicles required.
    “A total width of 4 lanes and 2 platforms would require the boring of two large tunnels under seperate streets, as no street in downtown is wide enough to accomodate a tunnel of this size.”
    2.7 Network integration
    2.8 Streetscape
    Good; Same effect as LRT in tunnel.
    2.9 Environemnt
    Bad. Powerful air handling system required to remove exhuast
    Where to place ventilation stacks and how to make
    sure diesel exhaust does not pose a health risk to others in the street.

  45. Guest October 30, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Regarding the Orange Line BRT in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says that it would not be possible to maintain service reliability (e.g., avoid bunching) with headways lower than 3 minutes. Currently, at peak the headways are 4 minutes, so there is not much room to funnel buses that operate outside the right-of-way into it. However, due to overcrowding the MTA is now running rapid bus services on parallel city streets with no dedicated right-of-way. Given the higher than expected ridership, this line probably would have been better as LRT, which would have had a lower operating cost per passenger – but having higher than expected ridership is a good problem to have, in a sense.

  46. In Brisbane March 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    Hmm Subways and metro debate has finally broken out in Brisbane…

  47. Richard Layman May 9, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    I haven’t been to Ottawa, but I have been to Pittsburgh, and there the busways function like you suggest, probably much better than in Los Angeles. Still, they’ve never achieved the ridership that studies said they would. My understanding is that the PGH busways function most like the classic definition of BRT.

  48. Ben May 19, 2012 at 12:59 am #

    Regarding issues with the running costs of the buses compared with rail in Brisane – I’m don’t think this has been brought up yet but a large portion of the Brisbane bus fleet run on compressed natural gas (CNG) which produces less pollution than conventional fuels (i.e.diesel, petrol) and costs less. CNG vehicles also have lower maintenance costs compared with non-CNG vehicles.