“Bus Rapid Transit”: Getting Past the Trauma

Since I began seriously reading US transit blogs about a year ago, it’s been apparent that many US activists have a problem with the term “Bus Rapid Transit.”  My goal in my recent post on the Brisbane busway system was to illustrate a dramatically different vision of BRT from what Americans are used to, and thus to help US activists stretch and broaden their notions of what BRT can mean.

Some of the comments that came back suggested that US activists are just too traumatized by the way “Bus Rapid Transit” has been used in US planning, especially during the Bush administration.  Commenter “Engineer Scotty” claims that in the US, “Bus Rapid Transit is frequently a Trojan Horse proposed by those who would prefer to not fund reasonable public transit at all.”  He goes on:

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 … freeway. … 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. … 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.

Another frequent commenter, in an email to me, suggested:

The problem is not the  improvements, it’s the idea of “BRT”, the idea
that transit advocates should stop wanting trains. It’s what Lakoff
calls a bad frame, like anti-poverty advocates lobbying for aid to
welfare queens, or peace activists talking about whether they hate

The only reason to ever use the term “BRT” is to win over the small
subset of transit advocates and government officials who’ve become
convinced that it’s the wave of the future. As a buzzword it can open
doors. But outside the trendy it’s a bad idea.

It’s just a word. Try making the exact same arguments without it and you’ll get a different reaction.


Wise advise, probably, but I have three discomforts with it:

  • While I’m American by birth and training, I’m not in the US, nor am I writing exclusively to American readers.  I would like all readers to be able to come to this blog for a relatively global view — or at least a view that’s aware of developed-world practice.  The trauma that US readers report about the term “Bus Rapid Transit” seems to be an American thing, rooted especially in recent experience with Bush administration FTA policy, though there’s a longer history of road-dominated thinking behind it.  I know that it’s pointless to reason with trauma, and that the people who would use Bus Rapid Transit as a stalking-horse for freeway or anti-transit agendas are still with us.  But I also want to gently remind American readers that the Bush administration is history, and it may be a good time to unclench our fists a bit.
  • I like words that say what they mean, and “Bus Rapid Transit” says exactly what I mean.  This blog has a specific definition of the word “rapid.”  Here it always means “frequent, with widely spaced stops for relatively fast operation.”   It is one of several words that I use carefully to try to define clear and meaningful categories of service that do not specify mode, i.e. bus or train.  The authority for my use of the word comes from the common phrase “rapid transit,” which usually has this meaning.  Well, sometimes “rapid transit” is provided by buses, and if we can’t call this “Bus Rapid Transit,” I’m not sure we can talk clearly about it.
  • Whatever I do, the term Bus Rapid Transit is not going away.  There’s a point in many political struggles where you accept that a key word used by your opponent is actually worth fighting to control, rather than just suppressing.  I suspect that the apparent clarity of the term “Bus Rapid Transit” will keep it in the discourse, so we might do better to demand higher standards of BRT rather than trying to change the subject, or even change the word.  We can do that by insisting, whenever it’s mentioned, that the speaker clarify what kind of BRT they mean.  Exclusive lane or mixed flow?  Separated or at grade with intersections?  (For that matter, we need to ask such questions when discussing light rail as well, because as we just saw in Los Angeles, it’s possible to create a light rail line that’s slower than a rapid bus in mixed traffic.)

The real challenge with the term Bus Rapid Transit is that it’s a big category, too big really.  We need other words for the different products within it, all of which can be good options in some situations.  As I mentioned in the last post, there are at least three fundamentally different “tiers” of quality that all fall under the term:

  • Fully grade-separated busways, with no intersections.
  • At-grade exclusive busways, with signalized intersections with cross-streets.
  • Buses in mixed traffic, with signal priority and wide stop spacing.

For the first of these, perhaps I should surrender to Alan Hoffman’s term Quickway, but that feels like a marketing word to me.  While marketing jargon is unavoidable in dealing with the public, I’d like to think we can be a little more precise here as people who care about transit, talking together.  So I’m going to continue using the term “busway.”

For the second, I sometimes say “surface BRT” or “at-grade BRT,” or I’ll generally just clarify “exclusive, at-grade” where that’s what I mean.

For the third, well, as I argued here the mixed-flow “Rapid” can be an extremely useful and important product.  It’s a bus, its stop spacing is rapid by this blog’s definition, and it’s transit, so I can’t really deny it the name “bus rapid transit.”  But I respect the views of those who argue that buses in mixed traffic are so compromised that to call it Bus Rapid Transit is to oversell it and perpetrate a kind of fraud.  Los Angeles County MTA, which operates one of the world’s most extensive networks of this product, the Metro Rapid, is careful not brand it in ways that would create confusion with exclusive-lane products.  The industry sometimes uses various forms of “rapid bus,” though that’s too like “bus rapid transit” to carry us far.

All I know to do is reference the Metro Rapid directly.  I often say something like “mixed-flow rapid bus service, like the Los Angeles Metro Rapid.”  But although the Metro Rapid is a bus, and rapid, and transit, I don’t usually use the BRT moniker when talking about it.  The best term is yet to be invented, I think.

To sum up, I do respect the fact that the term “Bus Rapid Transit” has some traumatic content, especially for Americans.  I’m open to new words if they’ll help us have a clearer conversation.  So keep the comments coming.

28 Responses to “Bus Rapid Transit”: Getting Past the Trauma

  1. Art Advocate November 24, 2009 at 10:52 am #

    As I understand it, BRT is the cheaper version of light rail, not the conspiratorial anti-transit, right-wing alternative to light rail. Many communities cannot afford light rail or their population densities do not justify the capital investment in light rail. BRT is both a physical and psychological solution. It is bus service that looks like and operates like light rail. For decades, Americans have been sold not only on the benefits of cars but view buses as dirty, cheap, welfare transportation for those who cannot afford cars. Light rail does not have this image problem and is often viewed as middle-class suburban commuter service or reminds people of fashionable, ubiquitous European rail transit. Making buses look like and operate like light rail is a valid, effective attempt at making transit popular in America and should be commended not criticized as a “half-a**” attempt at light rail.
    Fact is, most transit agencies in America are inefficient and wasteful, not only because cars are so popular, but because they are overstretched and enable sprawl. If every transit agency in America converted their most productive routes into BRT and got rid of the 20% least productive routes, transit in America would improve significantly both in efficiency and popularity. When I hear people demand subways or light rail just for the sake of having subways and light rail, it empowers anti-transit people who argue that transit is too costly and wasteful. I’m glad the people of LA rallied against subways. LA does not need subways. It needs light rail and BRT. When the subway systems were built in London, Paris, and NY, the combined value of real estate in all those three cities could not compare to the value of real estate in Los Angeles today. Subways and light rails are expensive especially in a country that still loves cars. BRT is a perfect solution. The only thing to do is eliminate the word ‘bus’ and replace it with ‘auto’ as in ART. Factories manufacture ART’s and people ride ART’s just as people use ATM’s and drive SUV’s.
    Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has bought the rail or bust mentality and now we have the most ridiculous ideas like a high speed rail between Portland and Eugene (a city of 155,000) or between Little Rock and Texarkana, or between Pittsburg and Harrisburg (pop. 47,000). This is pure insanity and the reason why so many Americans think transit is wasteful. It is no longer the auto industry or big oil that threatens mass transit in America but the rail industry.

  2. EngineerScotty November 24, 2009 at 10:56 am #

    “Traumitized” is probably too strong of a word; “skeptical” is more like it. And certainly not skeptical of you, Jarrett, or of the underlying technology. And while the Bush Administration is indeed over, and the Obama Administration is much friendlier to transit–many of the underlying political issues remain: We still have a petro-chemical and automotive industry that seems to regard mass transit as a competitive threat, we’ve still got a significant political culture that is actively hostile to transit for a variety of (mostly specious) reasons, and we still have a sizeable majority of voters who drive most of the time and believe that the road system comes first, even if we do spend money on other things. The good news is that we know what price of gas constitutes the tipping point–about $4 a gallon.
    Onto the subject of terminology. Many of the “bait-and-switch” tactics would not work well, of course, if terms had specific and precise meanings; when a word means a whole bunch of different things, thats when spin-meisters can employ equivocation attacks–singing the praises of Brisbane while buiding something far less. Of course, there are several different types (and purposes) of terminology in use:
    * Professional terminology, for informative communication among professionals (and other knowledgeable persons) of some part.
    * Lay terminology, for informative communication between professionals and the lay public, or among the lay public.
    * Marketing terminology, for communication intended to persuade or influence the lay public. (It is assumed that better arguments than simply deployment of buzzwords are needed to persuade professionals).
    Obviously, these three categories are not very well-defined; many terms are used in 2 or all 3 contexts.
    BRT, in the US, has become a bit of a marketing term; which is unfortunate because it has a legitimate use as an informative term for describing some level of higher-performance bus service. And as is noted, this salting of the earth was aided and abetted by transit professionals in the US government, for craven political purposes. Can it be “taken back”? Hard to say.
    In a post on The Transport Politic (scroll down to comment #31), I suggested a rough hierarchy of levels of service for intra-urban rail, ranging from full metros (level 5), to streetcars (level 1). The hierarchy focused primarily on the nature of the right-of-way, although correlations with stop frequency and other service parameters were noted. The five levels are (taken from the original post, and edited highly)
    1) In-street, mixed-traffic running local service, generally with frequent stops. Local bus service and streetcars/trams generally correspond to this.
    2) Next-to-street running–often with no physical separation between (vehicles) and other traffic (cars, pedestrians), and often without signal pre-emption at crossings. The Portland Transit mall is an example here.
    3) Adjacent to a street (either alongside or in the median), with frequent crossings and stops, but some physical separation between the (vehicles) and other traffic. Much of the MAX Yellow Line, for example; or the former busway along No 3 road in Richmond BC (it was removed to make way for the Canada Line).
    4) In a dedicated right-of-way apart from a road, with more limited crossings (and crossing gates or other barriers installed), but generally at-grade. Much of westside MAX between Beaverton and Hillsboro (which was built on an old railroad ROW) is an example, as are the T-Ways in Sydney.
    5) In a physically protected (either grade-separated or fenced-off ROW) with no (or few) at-grade crossings and no pedestrian access to (vehicles or ROW) other than at platforms. For rail, may have third-rail electrification, driverless operation, or very high operating speeds (>80MPH or so), all of which are incompatible with 1-4. Examples include most urban subway systems, MAX in its adjacent-to-the-freeway stretches, and the busways in Brisbane.
    In the recitation here, I’ve removed most references to rail; as much of the hierarchy applies to busses as well. Driverless operation requires a fixed guideway, at the current state of practical art (ignoring all sorts of research into driverless autos which is showing promise, but nowhere near ready for production deployment). Signal pre-emption is assumed for levels 3 and higher in the rail context due to the stopping and acceleration characteristics of trains; for busses, of course, you can safely build fully separated busways without priority at crossings.

  3. EngineerScotty November 24, 2009 at 11:54 am #

    Art–not to be rude, but you seem to illustrate the point: You seem to object to the capital costs associated with rail, and aren’t paying much attention to the mobility or operational trade-offs involved. Saying “rail sucks” (or BRT sucks) in the context of a specific project or transit system is one thing (and may often be the right answer); but suggestions that rail is seldom if ever useful makes me suspect that quality transit is not a priority for you.
    Calling rail “wasteful” with little consideration to context (i.e. when and where), presumably because you think a different vehicle can do the same job for less capital costs, doesn’t suggest a terribly open mind. Nor do broad accusations of a “rail or bust” mentality against public officials. Nor does launching an attack (in one post) against both light rail, subways, and high-speed intercity rail, all of which are different things serving different purposes
    The suggestion that LA can’t or doesn’t benefit from a subway is likewise ill-informed (there’s simply no place to put a surface transit line, bus or rail, down Wilshire for instance). While the Red and Purple lines don’t have the ridership of the London Tube or the various subways in New York, they get the job done. (Funny how freeways are seldom subject to such after-the-fact cost-benefit analysis…)
    If you read Jarrett’s earlier post, you’ll note that the BRT is frequently most useful when it DOESN’T emulate light rail–when busways are used as a means to improve the performance and reliability of distant bus routes running between some neighborhood and the urban core.
    Finally, what is “ART”? I wasn’t clear from your post–are you suggesting this as an alternate name for BRT (same vehicles, but a cheap ploy to avoid the perceived stigma of the word “bus”), or is this a proposed type of paratransit (googling “auto rapid transit” produces a few paratransit links, but not enough to discern a well-established definition for this term).

  4. David November 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    * Fully grade-separated busways, with no intersections.
    For the first of these, perhaps I should surrender to Alan Hoffman’s term Quickway, but that feels like a marketing word to me, and while marketing jargon is unavoidable in dealing with the public I’d like to think we can be a little more precise here as people who care about transit, talking together. So I’m going to continue using the term “busway.”

    When I first saw Hoffman’s term a year or so back I burst out in a fit of laughter. It’s farcical. It was all the more amusing when he regaled his readers with a tale of how Ottawa was the first place to embrace the “Quickway concept”. Ya, sure. People who heard that would think he was talking about the ‘Quickie’s that appear at some Transitway Stations. Like you say, it looks like a marketing term and it’s non-descriptive as well. Frankly, it I wanted an easy way to discredit BRT by way of smear, just pointing people to Hoffman’s naming practices would be a pretty good way to do it.
    The term developed in Ottawa for a fully grade-separated transit corridor was “transitway”. This was nominally technology neutral and if someone had ever got around to putting rail in one of these transitways it might have remained neutral, but since they were only ever used by buses it soon became a shorthand for “grade separated busway” instead – and that very phrase shows the problem with using “busway”: a “busway” is not necessarily grade-separated. Anyway, the original way of referring to a grade-separated busway in transitway nomenclature was to call it a:
    bus transitway
    This usage would leave room for “light rail transitway”, though of course such a thing in practice as an entire system could also be called light metro. It would only be a useful term if a light rail system had non-grade-separated sections, so “light rail transitway” supplies a name to refer to the grade-separated sections of a mixed system.
    As a Canadian and especially as an Ottawan I don’t share the American concern of BRT being a stalking horse for non-transit freeway and roadway expenditures. Given its built nature in Ottawa, it’s more like a freeway mentality applied to transit. In that sense it affords the usual freeway and roadway engineering and building interests a piece of the transit action, so to speak, that they would be far less likely to get with light rail. By extension, BRT is not designed for humans but rather for buses, just as freeways are designed for cars and not people.
    BRT does seem to have this internal tension between being very metro-like in some Hoffmanesque idealized form and the practical every day compromises, and, indeed, flexibility found in most of its actual implementations. Conceptually though it’s unavoidable: if the flexibility of the bus is used to promote the concept, which it is, then there’s no good way of arguing against flexibility in the implementation of the system itself.

  5. EngineerScotty November 24, 2009 at 2:02 pm #

    Maybe a “busway” should be limited to grade separation, or more generally, to any arrangement where the only time the bus has to stop in normal operation is to pick up or drop off passengers, or occasionally to wait for another bus.
    If the bus has to wait for vehicular traffic or for (lawfully present ) pedestrians, then it isn’t a busway.
    Grade separation is one way to achieve this, of course, and probably permits higher-performance operation than an at-grade roadway with signal priority at crossings; but it seems to me that the detail of utmost importance is that bus operations are not affected by ordinary traffic.
    The MAX line in Beaverton (once you get west of the Beaverton Central station) runs at metro-like speeds despite numerous grade crossings–the crossings are protected by gates, just like a standard railroad running through town.
    And since busses (using current state-of-the-art production technology) aren’t compatible with driveless operation or ground-based (third rail) power supplies, and have much better ability to avoid obstacles, several reasons for complete grade separation of rail lines don’t apply to busses.

  6. Alon Levy November 24, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

    Art, usually high real estate prices are used to justify subways over surface or elevated transit. The main cost of subway construction is labor, not real estate acquisition. Tokyo built subways during its real estate bubble, and has built two lines in this decade.

  7. Corey Burger November 24, 2009 at 3:19 pm #

    One major reason I disagree with BRT for the simple reason that it is more road. It is only one stupid politco’s decision to turn it into a regular lane. You just can’t do that with rail. Given the similar capital costs between true BRT and rail, the long term prospects of fuel costs and the ride quality of rail vs bus, I fail to see why anybody would champion BRT.

  8. Alon Levy November 24, 2009 at 4:48 pm #

    Corey: the reason is that in countries where capital costs much more than labor, BRT really is cheaper.
    On the other hand, in growing low-to-middle income countries, cities are usually dense enough and car ownership low enough for subways to fill to capacity. So suddenly Curitiba is proposing a subway, and India and China aren’t even trying to use BRT, leapfrogging straight to subway.

  9. Ben November 24, 2009 at 8:56 pm #

    The first true BRT just opened in the Toronto area: Connecting a subway terminal to a suburban university via a combination of exclusive lanes and a dedicated busway. However, enthusiasm for this project is less than stellar, because even though it is the first rapid transit project to be completed in a decade, it is still perceived as “just a bus.” Even worse, on a forum I post at the merits of this project are mocked simply because it is a bus (if it were completed as a light rail project, they’d wet themselves over it).
    Like I’ve said, we REALLY need to stop judging a transit route by its vehicle, and judge it by how it is run.
    * Is it grade separated or operate in mixed traffic? If the latter, does it have any priority over other traffic (dedicated laneway, signal priority, etc).
    * Is the stop spacing designed for local (under 1/2 mile), intermediate (1/2 mile to 3/4 mile), or long distance (more than 3/4 mile) travel? And is it required to stop at all stops even if there is no one boarding or leaving the vehicle?
    THESE are the kinds of questions that must be asked and should be what a transit route is judged upon, not its vehicle. The vehicle should determine is the expected demand the line will receive, not the operation and function of the route.

  10. Ben November 24, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

    One last thing I want to add to that last point: I was mostly referring to transit modes which can offer wide versatility like buses and light rail vehicles. If you are going to invest billions in a 6+ car heavy rail line, it does not make sense to use it for local service outside highly congested core areas.

  11. Alon Levy November 24, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    Ben, by your classification, most of the world’s large rapid transit systems would be considered long-distance – in fact, the only exceptions are New York and Seoul’s local subway lines, and the Paris Métro.
    Similarly, most light rail systems, especially most successful light rail systems, fall right in between grade separated and mixed traffic. They run in physically separated but at-grade rights of way, with most grade crossings controlled by railroad-style crossings. Even some rapid transit systems have those crossings – e.g. the Chuo Line in Tokyo and some Chicago L lines.

  12. Joseph E November 24, 2009 at 10:50 pm #

    Jarrett, please do not repeat this misinformation about the speed of the Gold Line Eastside Extention compared to the Metro Rapid buses. It is absolutely false that the Gold Line is slower than a “rapid bus in mixed traffic”.
    According to Google Maps, it takes 17 minutes to drive your car from LA Union Station to the end of the Gold Line in East LA, if there is no traffic; usually it takes 5 to 10 minutes longer during the day, in my experience.
    According to Google Transit, the Gold line currently takes 25 minutes to go that distance
    The nearest Metro Rapid bus route, 770, is also scheduled to take about 25 minutes to get to Atlantic from the stop on the street nearest Union Station. However, the route is only 5.7 miles, while the route the Gold line takes is 1/2 mile south, and therefore about 1/2 mile longer. And in practice, the Gold line has plenty of room to speed up, while the Metro Rapid bus is often late or bunched, due to street traffic.
    Metro plans a few improvements to the Gold Line which should bring trip times down to something below 20 minutes (as originally planned). Right now the trains are going only 25 mph on the above-ground portions; much slower than the 35 mph that the line is designed for.
    However, the biggest improvement will be the Regional Connector, which will link the eastern Gold Line thru Downtown, with the new light rail line to Culver City and Santa Monica. With this connection, the detour 1/2 mile south from Union Station to Little Tokyo will make sense, and riders from East LA will be able to get to the heart of downtown (7.0 miles total trip) in less than 25 minutes, better than driving even with light traffic.
    In comparison, even the “rapid” bus crawls thru downtown, making for a 35 minute total trip time. That’s less than 13 mph average.
    I agree that the Gold Line could be faster (with fences and crossing gates it could safely go 55 mph at street level, though it would be a little ugly and would worsen traffic for cars), and a route down Cesar Chavez would have been more direct to Union Station, but it is untrue that it is particularly slow.
    Bus Rapid Transit would have been even slower, seeing that it would not have had a subway section (due to diesel fumes).

  13. Joseph E November 24, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    So what is the problem with “Bus Rapid Transit”?
    I will address your three types separately.
    1) Grade Separated Busway:
    If you are paying for a grade-separated route, the cost will be MORE than at-grade light rail, and not much less than an elevated Metro, while your labor costs will be higher during operations for any given ridership. So the only reason to build these is if the buses continue onto at-grade rights of way or mixed traffic, so that the whole network can still be cheaper than rail at least from an initial cost perspective. Unfortunately, these at-grade sections often end up as local buses or at best limited-stop buses with no other upgrades, greatly reducing the speed benefit of the grade-separated portion. Basically, you end up with an Express bus with a freeway segment in the middle.
    Elevated metro rail (like BART) or grade-separated light rail (Like our Green Line) can carry many more people per hour, more riders per driver, and offers a comfortable ride and more space inside of the vehicle. It can also be automated to further save labor costs (and reduce the risk of strikes) if it is fully grade-separated. Light rail can also continue onto an at-grade right of way, or even mixed traffic (if you are crazy), though there are more capital costs if you have roads already but no rails.
    So Busways, such as the route along I-10 in Los Angeles to El Monte, or down I-110 to the Harbor, only make sense if you expect few riders, if you don’t care much about comfort or diesel emissions, or if you simply have no money to construct connecting at grade routes. I do think our two “transitways” are beneficial, but they are also constantly at risk of being converted to toll lanes or shared with carpools. Rails would not have that risk.

  14. calwatch November 24, 2009 at 11:10 pm #

    Actually, it takes ten minutes to drive from the secret spot where I park across the street from Union Station to the Atlantic Boulevard exit. I know because I’ve done this numerous times. During rush hour, it can be triple or more that time. The train is more reliable, but the car is still, through all dayparts (not just rush hour), faster. Of course you have to make sure the secret spot has parking available.

  15. Joseph E November 24, 2009 at 11:13 pm #

    2) At grade, exclusive right of way, rapid transit:
    Here, BRT is imitating the usual style of light rail. Unfortunately, while light rail always gets platforms, ticket machines, level boarding from many doors, signal priority or crossing gates, and sometimes fenced right-of-way, BRT often does not get these amenities. If it does, it costs almost as much as LRT; you are really only saving a little on steel for the overhead wires and rails. But light rail can carry many more people in comfort per driver, has a higher capacity, is more comfortable, does not burn diesel, and can easily be put in a subway for short sections.
    I think most of us really dislike it when BRT is promised with “light-rail like features”, but then we end up with a regular bus in its own lane. Without easy, fast boarding, ticket machines at stations, and so on, it is not really what you think of when you hear “rapid transit”. What is the good of limited stops if you have to wait for 2 or 3 minutes for a huge line of people to board, one by one?
    If BRT is done just like light rail, with stops ever 1/2 to 1 mile, exclusive right-of-way, stations with platforms and so on, it would be deserving of the term “rapid transit”. But why go through all that trouble and expense, when you could get light rail for a small increment in price?

  16. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 24, 2009 at 11:25 pm #

    Joseph.  What percentage of East LA riders actually want to go to Union Station?  Isn't it likely that far more want to go to points in downtown or further west?  So in a previous post, linked in this one, I compared the Gold Line to Union Station with the Metro Rapid 720 on Whitter Blvd to the center of downtown.  The Metro Rapid is scheduled at a higher average speed than the Gold Line, even though it's exposed to CBD traffic.  That's the source of the statistic.

  17. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 24, 2009 at 11:29 pm #

    Joseph.  I should add that I'm glad to hear of plans to improve the Gold Line average speed, and I'm sure it operates more reliably than the Rapid in routine operations.  Re BRT in subways, it is possible to run underground BRT.  See here:https://www.humantransit.org/2009/04/brisbanes-new-downtown-subway.html

  18. Joseph E November 24, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    3) “Rapid Bus” in mixed traffic, with limited stops.
    This is NOT rapid transit. If it has rails, this vehicle would be streetcar, or tram, or trolley, or cable car. As we know, these are not particularly rapid. Sure, some rapid buses have less frequent stop spacing that historic streetcars, but that only adds a tiny bit of speed when you are in mixed traffic and only have one door and one ticket machine for boarding. A streetcar can have level boarding, which can improve overall speed more than reduced stop spacing. Remember, you have to walk farther if the stops are farther apart.
    “Rapid bus” should be the basic standard for buses. The fact that many systems have bus lines that run only ever 30 minutes to 1 hour, yet stop ever 1 to 2 block, does not make this a sensible system. No bus should ever stop more often than every 1/4 mile, except on steep hills or special destinations, and 1/2 mile is the best spacing for healthy adults.
    If we stopped giving parked cars priority over bus riders, there is really no reason that buses should not have their own lane on almost any street in Los Angeles, simply by taking back the curb (right) lanes from parked cars. And next bus displays should be standard at every “rapid” stop (much more affordable when they are 1/2 mile apart).
    But should we call these changes “bus rapid transit”? I don’t know; it still sounds like a streetcar on tires to me, not “LRT with buses”. No one in Los Angeles thinks of the Metro Rapid buses as particularly fast now; would an exclusive lane make enough of a difference?
    And if transit gets its own lanes, shouldn’t the transit system maintain the roadway? Would it still be cheaper to run buses than streetcars if the transit agency had to repave the road every 5 years, and pay for buses every 10 years instead of getting rail vehicles which can last for decades?
    Aren’t buses cheaper mainly because of negative externalities? The transit agency doesn’t repave the roads damaged by heavy buses, it doesn’t deal with the health consequences of diesel or gasoline fumes, and often the “capital” cost of buying new buses is a different budget and easier to justify, so buying new vehicles every 10 years is no big deal.
    I am still waiting to ride a “BRT” system that is worth the drawbacks. If we can only afford half as many miles of light rail, so be it. When we get our priorities straight, we will have a good foundation to build on of long-lasting rails and electric cantenary, not just a few yards of rutted pavement and a bunch of run-down “BRT vehicles”.
    Damien Goodmon here in Los Angeles would have us take it a step further; he thinks at-grade light rail is a waste, and we should really be building Metro rail with bored tunnels and stations with express tracks, to plan for a Tokyo-esque subway and elevated rail system. If peak oil sends millions of Angelenos out of their cars and into transit, overwhelming light rail capacity, he may be right. Maybe then no one will care that the buses are so slow.

  19. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 25, 2009 at 2:13 am #

    Joseph. The problem with the “build only subways” vision is exactly as I laid it out. Until and unless you’re ready to completely overhaul the priorities of US govt to match Japan’s or Germany’s, you can’t build subways that fast. So the consequence of that policy is a few (more) subways and a lot of the city (in LA, most of the city) with nothing. In that real world, the Metro Rapid is relatively rapid, and it’s a framework on which to build. The other side of the coin is that LACMTA isn’t going to do the work to make the Rapid better if they don’t hear that people care about it, and you’re telling them you don’t care.

  20. Alon Levy November 25, 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    Joseph, most lines in Tokyo don’t have express tracks – and the ones that do, as far as I can tell, only have a few four-track sections for passing. And while Tokyo has a large subway system, it has a much larger surface rail system; the busiest lines, Chuo and Yamanote, are at-grade or above ground and treated as mainline rail with urban rail stop spacing. It also has a large bus system and some streetcar and monorail lines.
    And Jarrett, you’re still thinking of LA with boondoggles like the Gold and Green Lines. If you want to look at the best possible BRT, you should compare it to the best possible rail, i.e. an East LA-to-the sea Red Line (with a subway to the Valley only coming later) and the Blue Line plus the Regional Connector to the Gold Line (preferably routed to Glendale and Burbank, not Pasadena). That system would have been friendly to connecting buses, allowing people to get both Metro Rapid and a subway.

  21. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 26, 2009 at 12:00 am #

    @ Alon.  My comparison was specific to the Gold Line as it exists now.  I would never claim that LRT is generically slower than a Metro Rapid; obviously it isn't.  The only generically relevant comparison here is the warning that LRT can be compromised by impact issues to the point that it's quite slow.  God's in the details as usual. 

  22. EngineerScotty November 26, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    Even though they don’t celebrate the holiday in your present locale (as far as I’m aware), a happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from your old stomping grounds. I, and many others here, enjoy this site and the high level of conversation quite much.

  23. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 26, 2009 at 12:32 am #

    Thanks, Scotty!  Happy Thanksgiving to all the norteamericanos out there. 

  24. EngineerScotty November 26, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    I prefer gringo or yanqui, personally. And I kinda find the derivation of “seppo” to be rather amusing. 🙂

  25. Joseph E November 27, 2009 at 3:44 pm #

    Jarrett, sorry I did not respond before.
    You commented: “What percentage of East LA riders actually want to go to Union Station?”
    As I noted in the comment above, the East LA Gold Line is mean to go directly to downtown when the Regional Connector is built. Trains would actually continue further west to UCLA, Culver City and Santa Monica on the “Expo” line (currently under construction). This would lead to the Gold line being significantly faster than the rapid bus on Cesar Chavez, which does go straight to downtown.
    I had not looked at the 720 bus trip times. However, Whittier blvd is 1 mile south of the Gold Line; not really walking distance. According to Google Transit, the 720 takes 29 minutes from Metrocenter to Atlantic/Whittier. The Gold Line will still be a few minutes faster (and more reliable) once the connector is built.
    Oh, and I agree that we can’t afford to build only heavy rail subways.

  26. Nathanael November 29, 2009 at 12:20 am #

    “As I understand it, BRT is the cheaper version of light rail”
    Except it’s not cheaper. It may be preferable if it allows for a more integrated system. Next question?

  27. Nathanael November 29, 2009 at 12:23 am #

    Good terminology for the three categories you’re thinking of:
    1. “Busways”.
    2. “Bus lanes” and “bus-only streets”. This is the exclusive lane *with* grade crossings.
    3. “Limited-stop bus with signal priority”. If that’s too long, “Express bus” is also pretty much accurate for a contrast with a “local bus”, but with no exclusive ROW.

  28. Tom West February 18, 2010 at 8:34 am #

    My suggestions:
    * Fully grade-separated busways, with no intersections = “grade-seperated BRT”
    * At-grade exclusive busways with signalized intersections with cross-streets = “bus lane BRT”
    * Buses in mixed traffic, with signal priority and wide stop spacing = “Express bus with signal priority”
    * Buses in mixed traffic with wide stop spacing = “Express bus”