Transportation Deployment Casebook/2014/U.S. Bus Rapid Transit

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Qualitative Analysis[edit | edit source]

Introduction - Mode Description[edit | edit source]

Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is (in very general terms) operating a bus with train-like features. BRT is a bus-based transit system that provides timely, comfortable, and cost-effective transit [1]. Because BRT is bus-based but includes many train-like features that distinguish it from regular route bus service, it is in essence a hybrid of modes without a true definition or exclusivity from all other transportation modes. For this reason, in the United States, generally when one references BRT they include with it a descriptive clarifier, e.g. arterial[2] , highway[3], in a dedicated guideway, etc. Although the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit has been extremely varied, there are a handful of features that describe ideal operations. The Institute for Transportation & Policy Deployment (ITDP) uses the following metrics to define BRT in ideal operations:

  • Dedicated and exclusive right of way
  • Alignments with no branches
  • Center-running busways with no traffic conflicts (e.g. turn lanes)
  • Iconic stations
  • Off-board fare collection
  • Intersection Treatment including transit-signal priority
  • Platform Level Boarding
  • High frequencies and span of service such that riders need not consult a schedule

While Bus Rapid Transit is bus-based, the features of the mode eliminate the major causes of delay on regular route buses, thus making BRT much more reliable, convenient, and faster than typical bus service. Additionally, Bus Rapid Transit does without many of the large capital cost investments that Light Rail Transit requires (catenary wires, separated Operations and Maintenance Facilities, trains themselves), making it a cost-effective competitor to the train.

History/The Scene/Invention[edit | edit source]

The replacement of streetcars with regular route buses while simultaneously seeing an increase in car ownership sets the stage for the beginnings of Bus Rapid Transit. As cars become the dominate mode of transportation for the middle class, buses become less and less popular. Transit in general was declining in the 1950s – 1980s; the streetcar era of the early 1900s to 1950s was the peak of transit per capita miles. Buses replaced streetcar lines at a time when annual nationwide public transit ridership fell from thirty-five billion to twelve billion between 1945 and 1958[4] . Suburbanization was pushing people away from transit and to the personal automobile.[5]

With a declining ridership base, buses (the prevalent transit mode of the time) suffered. Transit agencies were cash-strapped and unable to rely on fare boxes for the operational costs. An increasing percentage of riders were “captive” riders, as those who had the means to avoid the bus bought a personal automobile. This decline in ridership, coupled with a realization that auto-ownership would not be a sustainable option for the entire population long term, drove the Federal Government to intervene. Since the 1970s, the Federal Transit Agency (FTA) has been the primary funder of large capital projects for transit.[6] In the early stages, that money was primarily used on rail projects. However as time progressed and as funding became less available, the FTA started funding Bus Rapid Transit in addition to Light Rail or Heavy Rail transit.

Additionally in the 1970s and 1980s, many international examples of high-quality bus rapid transit were implemented, including the Integrated Transportation Network in Curitiba and the TransMilenio in Bogota. Many top transportation officials of the United States travelled to their international systems in the 1990s in order to learn from international successes.

Some initial inventions which helped the innovation of BRT many decades down the road was the first exclusive bus lane in Chicago in 1939 (Weinstock 13), and Los Angeles’s El Monte Busway in 1973. The El Monte Busway is generally considered the first Bus Rapid Transit system in the United States.

Early Market Development[edit | edit source]

The 1970s was a busy decade for BRT-idea generation, in particular for exclusive bus lanes.

In the 1973, Los Angeles open an 11-mile busway called the El Monte Busway. Again, this was instituted in order to reduce bus operational costs from traffic delay. There was extreme traffic congestion; said busway would enable transit connections in downtown Los Angeles.[5]

In 1977, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania opened the South Busway in order to respond to traffic congestion. This 4.3 mile corridor of exclusive busway was the city’s compromise from upgrading the streetcar system.[5] This corridor was intended to bring residents from the western suburbs into the downtown core. The exclusive busway was implemented to reduce operating costs by eliminating delay from congestion. The busway was deemed a success and future busway in Pittsburg were planning, including the East Busway.

In the 1970s, Washington DC built a busway that has been subsequently converted to a HOV lane.[5] A variety of other busways were built in the northeast United States in the 1970s.

The Role of Policy in Birthing Phase[edit | edit source]

Years: 1980- 2000 At the same time that exclusive bus lanes were being introduced, new fancy train systems were also being introduced across the county. New Metro systems like San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) or rehabilitation of older subway systems received the majority of transportation funding from the federal government at this time. It was more popular to build the expensive transit system to the suburbs than it was to upgrade a bus for the inner city. In this era, there was a further divide between those that ride and a bus and those that ride a train, due to the spatial mismatch of mode funding.[5]

However, many cities that were seeking said improvements to remain competitive in the transit industry were looking to bus rapid transit type ideas for a cost-effective solution.

The Growth of the Mode[edit | edit source]

The author estimates that the Growth Phase of BRT in the US spans from 2001 – 2025. The growth phase of a mode is indicative of large exponential increases in implementation of the mode. During this phase, there is an extreme amount of innovation and change to the mode.

At the beginning of the growth phase, at the turn of the century, a critical demographical trend was coming to light. While suburban growth was continuing, it was certainly slowing. Baby Boomers and Millennials showed signs of wanting more urban lifestyles.[7] Transit, instead of auto-dependence, was starting to become more important for urban planning. Per capita vehicle miles driven has been in decline for most of this period,[8] indicating that the trend was exacerbated by the Great Recession, but not solely due to the Great Recession (the trend started before the Great Recession).

Many cities turned to Bus Rapid Transit to respond to their changing travelling patterns, as well as to combat suburban sprawl and auto dependence. Bus Rapid Transit gained popularity particularly after the great Recession, as municipalities were budget conscious[9] as BRT can be a cost-effective alternative to LRT.

Many BRT Systems were opening up in the U.S. in the 2000s. Los Angeles opened the Silver Line, Cleveland opened the Health Line, Kansas City opened the MAX, and Eugene opened the EmX. These systems are frequently cited as the original BRT systems in the United States. The original systems used similar policy and deployment tactics to differentiate it from the regular bus.

  • At least partially dedicated guideway to separate the bus from regular traffic
  • Off board fare collection
  • Level boarding
  • High-frequency service in a busy, dense corridor to supplement existing transit
  • A clever and catchy marketing scheme to attract choice-riders to the system

As the mode is progressing, some of these features are becoming compromised. While off-board fare collection has remained a stronghold of the BRT mode, level boarding and a dedicated guideway many times are omitted. The Twin Cities is planning an arterial Bus Rapid Transit system that has no dedicated guideway, but does include some geometric changes of the street to enhance the bus experience and speed up operations. According to die-hard Bus Rapid Transit enthusiasts, this is not Bus Rapid Transit. However, it does highlight the progression of the mode in the growth phase.

As Bus Rapid Transit changes, policy decisions have also changed along with it. Many regional planning agencies, including the Metropolitan Council in the Twin Cities, have defined various types of Bus Rapid Transit such that it can allocate funding differently for each variation of the mode. However, other agencies have decided to shy away from defining the mode, indicating that a definition would hamper progress towards the ultimate goal of increasing ridership and reducing travel times and operational cost. For instance, the FTA offers guidelines on BRT implementation, but does not preclude certain projects from calling itself BRT based on the absence or presence of certain elements.[10] The wide definition of Bus Rapid Transit, coupled with its ability to solve transportation challenges and trends in a cost-effective manner, had made the mode very popular in its growth phase.

Development during the Mature Phase[edit | edit source]

The mature phase of Bus Rapid Transit has yet to start, however it is estimated that the mode will mature in approximately 2040. When Bus Rapid Transit is mature, we can expect to see a variety of policy implications. Because of the mode’s popularity, it will most likely be further defined and narrowed so that funding can be allocated in a fair way across the many, many competing agencies. This definition will narrow the innovation possible with the mode and will likely make many corridors more expensive to implement than it would have during the growth phase. Additionally, BRT at this time will likely be more mainstream and may have even modified the entire theory upon which transit systems today are based. For instance, the Twin Cities are planning to switch their transit model in the corridors which are to include BRT. Instead of relying on the regular route for all day, frequent service with an added Limited Stop route at the peak periods, arterial BRT will be the primarily service in the corridor all day with an infrequent regular route bus to fill in the stop spacing. This model may become more popular around the county in the Mature BRT phase, as BRT is mostly built out and little innovation is occurring in the mode.

Quantitative Analysis[edit | edit source]

The data used to analyze the life cycle of Bus Rapid Transit in the United States was from the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute.[11] While this data source is kept up to date with current and historical BRT developments, a minority of corridor status measures were filled in by the author using Google, news articles, and other secondary sources.[12]

Cautions with the data[edit | edit source]

The dataset was extensive in its identification of bus rapid transit corridors, however it was spotty with completing all the information for said corridors. Some corridors had all the options and criteria filled out, while other corridors only had some criteria described. While using capital cost of the bus rapid transit system may have been a more descriptive status measure, the data for cost was extremely incomplete. Miles, or length of the corridor, was much more complete, and frankly easier to estimate for those corridor in which it was omitted. Ridership would have also been a better indicator of the BRT life-cycle, however, similar to capital costs, these numbers were incomplete. The dataset includes all the of the major BRT corridors in the US. Indeed, it may have been too inclusive. The data was not consistent with the definition of BRT, opting to allow any corridor which describes itself as BRT to be included in the dataset. It appeared that most any corridor, even those with only one of two of the ideal criteria for BRT implementation were included in the dataset as long as it was self-declared “BRT”. With the implementation of BRT in many more varied forms as time progresses, it will become more and more challenging to find comprehensive data on BRT, as regular routes with one BRT element continue to be labelled as “BRT” whether or not they are actually true systems.

Methodology[edit | edit source]

Length of implemented BRT corridors was the status measure chosen to analyze the life-cycle of BRT in the United States. Total kilometers of BRT in the US has steadily increased over time, generally following the initial (increasing) side of an S-curve (Figure 1). Using this data in a three-parameter logistic function, a projected life cycle was established. S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-t0)] where:

  • S(t) is the status measure, (i.e. kilometers of implemented BRT corridors)
  • t is time (i.e. years)
  • t0 is the inflection time (the year in which 1/2 K is achieved),
  • K is saturation status level, or the year that the system is overly mature
  • b is a coefficient that describes the steepness of the curve

Analysis and Results[edit | edit source]

Table 1: Curve Fitting Analysis for U.S. BRT Implementation Kilometers

The results for estimating various saturation values (K) is shown in Table 1 (on left).

A best-fit model yields a saturation status of 4200 kilometers (carrying capacity). The inflection point, of the year at which we are halfway to saturation, occurred in the model in 2013. Maturity begins approximately in year 2040 (growth is significantly slowing, fewer improvements are being made in the mode).

While the model accurately predicted the big-picture trend of BRT in the United States (exponential growth increases over time), it was actually incorrect for most decades individually (Table 2, on right). Between 1970 and 1990, the model under-estimates the kilometers of bus rapid transit implemented, while between 1995 and 2013, the model over-estimates the kilometers of implemented bus rapid transit. This is indicative of a good least-squares model: the positive and negative error cancels out to the smallest value possible. The model had a very high R-squared value as well at 0.937 (a value of 1 would indicate that the model was a perfect fit and that there was no deviation from the model in the data).

Table 2: Actual and Projected U.S. BRT Implementation Kilometers

Figure 1: Actual and Projected U.S. BRT Implementation Kilometer

References[edit | edit source]

  4. Teaford, J. The rough road to renaissance : urban revitalization in America, 1940-1985 Creating the North American landscape. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore. 1990.
  5. a b c d e Weinstock, et. al. “Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit: A Survey of Select U.S. Cities.” Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. May 2011.
  6. Anderson, John H. “Status of New Starts Program and Potential for Bus Rapid Transit Projects” Testimony before the Subcommittee on Highway and Transit Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure House of Representatives. June 20, 2002.
  7. McCahill, Chris and Chris Spahr. “VMT Inflection Point: Factors Affective 21st Century Travel”. State Smart Transportation Initiative. September 2003.
  8. McCahill, Chris. “Per Capita VMT Drops for Ninth Consecutive Year”. State Smart Transportation Initiative. 24 February 2014. Accessed 5 November 2014.
  9. Holeywell, Ryan. “Bus Rapid Transit Gaining Traction Despite Concerns.” Governing. August 2012. Accessed November 2014.
  10. Holeywell, Ryan. “Bus Rapid Transit Gaining Traction Despite Concerns.” Governing. August 2012. Accessed November 2014.