Management & Operations

Tapping the potential of BRT

Posted on March 1, 2004

It wasn’t that long ago that former Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Administrator Gordon Linton led a contingent of transit officials to Curitiba, Brazil, to study its highly successful bus rapid transit (BRT) system. Since then, U.S. transit agencies have shown increasing interest in BRT. In fact, many systems, including those in Los Angeles, Miami and Pittsburgh, have had encouraging results with their BRT programs. In a surprisingly short time, bus rapid transit has established itself as one of the fastest-growing modes in the transit industry. And its momentum is only building. Dozens of U.S. transit agencies are planning BRT systems, and many others are moving in that direction. It’s easy to see why interest is high. BRT can be a powerful means to move large numbers of people quickly and efficiently, helping to relieve congestion and improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas. It’s also versatile, allowing transit planners to adapt its use to the unique needs of their communities. Most importantly, it has the potential to attract new riders to systems across the country. And it’s supported by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FTA. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta recently announced $25 million in FY 2004 New Starts funding for the Euclid Corridor BRT project in Cleveland. This 9.4-mile, 35-station project is expected to cost $168.4 million. It will feature exclusive bus lanes within the central business district. Average daily ridership for the corridor in 2025 is forecast at 39,000. In addition to attracting riders, it’s expected to revitalize the business area along the corridor. It’s a great example of a busway that has the potential of light rail-like transit-oriented development. Jenna Dorn, FTA administrator, has been a strong proponent of BRT, praising its potential to increase ridership. In her Jan. 28 announcement of New Starts funding for FY 2005, Dorn emphasized the importance of cost effectiveness in evaluating New Starts projects. Although the cost of BRT projects can vary considerably, the mode has developed a reputation for being cost effective Ñ that is, creating benefits that are in line with costs. BRT survey launched
Because of its success and its potential, we’ve decided to start tracking BRT projects and have launched a new feature called “BRT 25.” Managing Editor Joey Campbell compiled this year’s listing. Because BRT is still relatively new to the U.S. market, Joey’s listing is by no means comprehensive. New plans for BRT projects seemingly crop up every week, making it next to impossible to track every commitment made to this increasingly popular travel mode. But we will do our best to stay attuned to developments in BRT, on the operations side as well as on the manufacturing end. I mention the manufacturers because bus builders are designing vehicles for the BRT sector, and some are still struggling to find the right formula for success. To ease the transition from designing and building a traditional transit bus to a BRT vehicle, the industry is trying to determine what actually constitutes BRT service, and what works. To that end, the FTA has been meeting with bus manufacturers, consultants and transit agency representatives to determine the hallmarks of BRT and to develop decision tools for cities to evaluate what investments are most appropriate for each project. This is a critical step because it could also determine the direction BRT as a mode will head into the future, including which projects are eligible for New Starts funding. And we all know how important prudent federal funding is to the success of any mode, including BRT.

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