Management & Operations

BRT more cost-efficient than LRT, says GAO study

Posted on August 1, 2001

Bus rapid transit (BRT) can work in concert with existing public transportation at a considerable savings over the cost of installing light rail transit (LRT), said a study done by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). “This study shows that BRT can work in concert with existing light rail lines and allow an immediate reduction in the traffic and congestion that has gripped our communities,” said U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) when unveiling the results. “Most importantly, BRT can accomplish this at a fraction of the cost of light rail.” In the cities the GAO reviewed, BRT systems generally had lower capital costs per mile than LRT, though neither had a clear advantage in operating costs. Capital costs for BRT ranged from $200,000 per mile for an arterial street-based system to $55 million per mile for a dedicated busway system. LRT systems had capital costs that ranged from $12.4 million to $118.8 million per mile. The study reported that both BRT and LRT offer various advantages and disadvantages. BRT provides a more flexible approach than LRT because buses can be routed to eliminate transfers, implemented in stages and operated on busways, HOV lanes and city arterial streets. As a result of the poor public image that buses have, transit planners are designing systems that offer improved service from standard bus service, including signal prioritization and better stations or shelters. Transit officials believed that because LRT is permanent in a given corridor it could influence economic development over time, the study said. Such long-term changes help justify the higher capital cost of light rail. The performance characteristics of BRT and LRT also varied, with the largest BRT system ridership about equal to the largest LRT ridership. BRT routes showed gener-ally higher operating speeds than light rail in the reviewed cities. For the full report, go to

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