For a number of reasons, bus rapid transit (BRT) has drawn the interest of the federal government. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is spearheading an initiative to provide communities interested in BRT with data and real-world information about its characteristics so they can make good business decisions about its possible implementation.
At the helm of this initiative is Barbara Sisson, the FTA’s associate administrator for research, demonstration and innovation. Sisson joined the FTA in February 2003 after working as a manager at Bechtel National and Bechtel Infrastructure. She has also served as an associate deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy and as a consulting engineer for the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency and Strategic Defense Initiative.
METRO Editor Steve Hirano recently spoke with Sisson about the FTA’s BRT initiative.
Where are you heading with the BRT initiative?
We are trying to present BRT in a very logical, analytical way. We are not trying to push it on the American public; we are just saying, “Hey, rather than jump to the conclusion that you need to build a very expensive transportation system, perhaps you would want to consider something in between standard bus service and light rail. Perhaps BRT is a solution that your community might benefit from looking at.”
This year we’ve been working very hard to collect data and put it into a document called “The Characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit.” It’s going to be published on the FTA Website (www.fta.dot.gov) by August 2004. We’ve already drafted some of the chapters.
Who are you working with on this document?
We have a group of approximately 20 members, which is small enough to keep together. Transit representatives that have been involved are from Cleveland, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York City, Eugene, Ore., and Washington, D.C. Some of these communities already have BRT systems and others don’t.
APTA [American Public Transportation Association] also has been involved, as have several of the bus manufacturers.
We appreciate the people who have been working with us because we can bounce things off them and get their input to shape something that’s going to be useful to them. Let’s face it, no one wants to waste federal money producing something that’s not useful. We want to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely, and it helps to have operators that we respect for their real-world experiences and that are not pushing any agendas.
After you’ve published the document, what’s the next step?
The next thing we really need to dig our teeth into is the vehicle issue. We want to make sure we have a healthy U.S. supply chain for BRT vehicles. European bus manufacturers have already made a change-over to providing BRT vehicles.
You can have a relatively low-cost solution like Los Angeles, basically using standard buses painted in one distinguishing color and operated differently from its regular bus service. Or you can do what Las Vegas is doing, which is use an advanced technology, expensive, rubber-tired “train”-like vehicle. So after we have completed our document, the next step is to work with the bus manufacturing sector and communities to try to help shape the marketplace so that U.S. bus manufacturers can compete to meet the needs of this growing market in a cost-effective manner.