BRT Survey: Funding Levels Higher, Yet Still a Concern

Posted on March 14, 2012 by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor - Also by this author

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METRO's bus rapid transit (BRT) survey results for 2012 include 43 projects, 39 of which are located in the U.S. with four in Canada. As with last year, we are offering some in-depth profiles of projects that are opening this year, as well as one that opened last year.

In the news over the past few months, we have seen BRT grow into an increasingly popular choice in the U.S., with high-profile stories highlighting light rail plans being rejected in favor of BRT, due to cost and rider convenience. In December, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood scrapped the city's $528 million light rail project in favor of a regional BRT system.

Economics was the major factor. Additionally, a study in Nashville by Parsons Brinckerhoff found that a BRT system will cost one-half as much to build as streetcars but still attract the same number of riders, cost significantly less, be faster to construct and likely will be eligible for more federal funding.

Our survey results show project opening dates ranging from as early as 1983 (Ottawa-based OC Transpo's The TransitWay) to the 11 lines that are slated for completion between 2014 and 2020 (Minneapolis' Metro Transit's Rapid Bus).

RapidRide buses will feature low floors, three doors, bike racks, wheelchair ramps, security cameras, Wi-Fi and three levels of passenger stop amenities.
RapidRide buses will feature low floors, three doors, bike racks, wheelchair ramps, security cameras, Wi-Fi and three levels of passenger stop amenities.
This year will see only one less project opening (five) than last year (six), based on survey responses. Two of these projects are located in Seattle: King County Metro Transit's RapidRide C Line and D Line. The other three are from Stockton, Calif.'s San Joaquin Regional Transit District; Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Winnipeg Transit's Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor; and San Antonio-based VIA Metropolitan Transit Authority's VIA Primo.

The region producing the highest number of BRT systems was, unsurprisingly, the West Coast, featuring more than one-half of the lines listed, with California in the lead, opening two-thirds of those projects. Projects in this region combined for a total of $1.7 billion, about one-half of last year's $3.6 billion total.

Federal funding included FTA's Very Small Starts and the Urbanized Area Formula Funding Program (5307), Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), ARRA and the Federal Highway Administration's Urban Partnership Agreement. These comprised 80% of financial support. Approximately 80% of the projects received some form of local funding, and state backing contributed to about 50% of project support. These numbers have all made a noticeable increase from last year's, with federal support up by slightly more than 10%, local seeing a 60% increase and state funds doubling, a possible indicator of the economy finally regaining strength. Only one project reported no dedicated funding at this point.

Despite what appears to be an increase in financing this year, funding came in as the top challenge experienced by one-fifth of participating operators. Coming in second was land use coordination, at 17%, down by slightly more than 10% from last year, when it was listed as the top challenge among operators. Another popular difficulty was community opposition to certain elements of projects, such as the "loss of several parking spaces, reduced turning movements at one intersection" and "opposition to transit lanes" as with San Diego Association of Governments Mid-City Rapid project, set to open in 2013. Other obstacles listed included construction and balancing speed and access.

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