Better bus (rapid transit) service revisited
The biggest problem with my recent blog entry, "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," is that it is at least two blog entries in one and therefore too long for most people to read (although it is thorough and comprehensive).
The two main points of that entry are:
1. bus service can be repositioned as a premium service by using double deck buses, which are seen as cool.
2. Introducing new buses and repositioning bus transit needs to be complemented with a series of other improvements to the provision of the service--I outlined eight categories of improvements (which is why the entry is way too long).
• Improve bus transit waiting environments
• Improve bus transit marketing
• Create a priority bus lane network in the core of the city
• Add Night Owl bus service along subway lines during the hours that the subway service doesn't run
• Improve wayfinding and transit information
• Augment on-board bus announcements and information on schedules, signage, etc., with landmark and destination information
• Create "Mobility" stores as part of transportation demand management programming
• Incorporate neighborhood history, public art elements, and transportation history interpretation into bus shelters
Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal ran a very good article on bus rapid transit service, "The Commute of the Future." It basically makes the same point about repositioning transit service as a premium service through the variety of improvements associated with the implementation of BRT.
The biggest reason that for years I had been opposed to BRT is not because it is a bad mode, but because it tends to be promoted as equal to if not better than fixed rail transit--using examples from South America, Curitiba and Bogota in particular, which are much more robust implementations than those in the US, and with different circumstances (high poverty yielding transit dependence for mobility, much smaller rate of car ownership, creation of a robust service network, low wages so it's cheap to pay bus drivers, and customer willingness to withstand bus loading levels double that of typical transit services in the US) favoring their success.
Right: higher quality bus shelter on the HealthLine BRT, Cleveland. WSJ photo by Andrew Spear.
From the standpoint of "fixed rail transit" justification--having at least 30,000 riders per day for light rail (e.g., the Phoenix, Houston, and Minneapolis light rail lines--all single lines ranging from 7 to 20 miles in length--have daily ridership averaging between 30,000 and 45,000), the ridership of the featured bus lines in Kansas City (6,000 daily riders) and Cleveland (12-16,000 daily riders) is far too pathetic to ever warrant consideration of light rail. DC proper has at least 5 buslines with between 15,000 and 20,000 daily riders.
That being said, I am all for improving the quality, positioning, and perception of bus service (see the recent blog entry "More (reconsideration by me") on Bus Rapid Transit as a legitimate transit mode") and now I'm fully willing to acknowledge the position of BRT in the panoply of various public transit modes and services.