Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

My reconsideration of Bus Rapid Transit as a useful transit service

The bus rapid transit system in Pittsburgh doesn't use the fancy buses that ITDP recommends. ITDP photo.
The reasons I tend to not give much credence to efforts to promote "bus rapid transit" in the US are multifold:

1. BRT is sold as a roughly equivalent service to fixed rail transit service, based on successful models in South America;

2. But the most successful BRT systems in the US don't have significantly higher ridership numbers than the most used lines in high use bus service systems;

3. And nowhere near the numbers of people using heavy rail or light rail in high use transit cities;

4. In South America, the systems have the benefit of low wage rates and people's willingness to endure crush loads two times greater than in the US, so that a bus that we say holds 80 people, in Curitiba holds 160 people, which aids efficiency;


But I realize that I am looking at BRT "wrong" as there are two key elements that are important:

1. Improving bus service over currently offered services (BUT NOT AS A CO-EQUAL SUBSTITUTE FOR HEAVY OR LIGHT RAIL TRANSIT SERVICE);

2. Improving how bus service (transit) is offered and marketed more generally.

The point is to not sell BRT as something that it isn't. Probably that's still being done in the report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit: A Survey of Select U.S. Cities; press release.

But it's still useful anyway, even if I do find it maddening that some of the listings don't provide hard numbers about ridership.

The report picks Montgomery County Maryland as a jurisdiction to watch in terms of the potential for implementing BRT.

ITDP photo: The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada's MAX bus rapid transit system connects downtown Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Strip, Henderson and North Las Vegas. ITDP likes these kinds of buses better.

I, frankly, don't pick MoCo as a place to watch for BRT. For one, people in this region know what heavy rail transit service is and the quality difference. Choice riders have shown us they'll ride rail service but they are much less likely to ride buses, even if the buses are duded up to look like train vehicles (they don't to me, but they do to others I guess). The best functioning BRT line in the Pittsburgh system, which has a separated, exclusive transitway, gets less than half the predicted ridership of the coming Purple Light Rail line that will be serving Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland.

Of course, you have to be located in and going to places that are accessible efficiently through transit to want to ride it to begin with, which is transit's biggest challenge.

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