The Federal Transit Administration's initiative to expand the use of bus rapid transit (BRT) around the country has spawned small but successful programs in several communities. To build upon these successes, the FTA, in conjunction with WestStart, launched a vehicle design competition late last year called "Bus Rapid Transit and the American Community."
Dangled in front of the competitors was $100,000 in prize money. Entrants were encouraged to break away from traditional thinking and to explore new BRT vehicle concepts that might reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.
Lifting BRT's image
WestStart's Fred Silver, competition manager for the project, said he hoped the event would create a grass-roots interest in BRT and its advancement. "What we have today just doesn't work," he said. "The capacity isn't high enough."
But he stopped short of saying that any of the winning designs would be seriously considered for manufacture. More important, he said, was the need to encourage conceptual thinking about bringing innovative BRT service to communities across the country.
"We want to have a significant impact on what's perceived to be the next generation of transit," Silver said. "Image is an important issue."
The competition drew 59 entries from teams in seven countries. Each team was required to have a multidisciplinary makeup. About half of the teams were composed of college students.
The winners are. . .
Here are summaries of the winning projects in the four high-level categories:
SMRTram-ITS. This system, designed for Baltimore Harbor, supports narrow buses using a dedicated single-lane guideway. Using smart technologies, the system enables multiple vehicles to operate on-grade in both directions simultaneously. This eliminates the need for two dedicated lanes. The vehicles are relatively small, mostly transparent, quiet and move at pedestrian-friendly speeds of 12 to 15 mph. The entry was submitted by the Village Technology Team in Annapolis, Md.
ROADRAIL. This system was designed for Portland, Maine, and uses vehicles that function both as ultralight commuter trains and as buses. The self-propelled road and rail vehicles can navigate traditional routes through Portland's intricate street network as well as rail routes through heavily used commuter corridors. The vehicles are designed in a modular fashion that supports low-cost development and allows them to be manufactured as smaller shuttle buses. Submitted by Portland & Co.
Innovative Bus Design for the Future of South Miami. This winning entry envisions a vehicle with a futuristic aerodynamic design that is twice as long as a conventional bus and environmentally friendly. The articulated bus could carry as many as 200 passengers at a maximum speed of 60 mph along an eight-mile exclusive busway. It would adopt a motor-in-wheel arrangement as a propulsion system powered by fuel cells. The entry was submitted by Toyota Motor Corp.
CitySurfer. This system was designed for Honolulu and features a fuel cell-powered bus that has a series of waves in its design and shape. The focus is on creating a heightened experience for the urban commuter. It includes a variety of passenger information systems and amenities, such as telecommunication ports, digital entertainment systems and computers with Internet access. The entry was submitted by students as the University of Hawaii at Manoa.