Last year at the American Public Transportation Association’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) conference in Denver, Randy Farwell of TranSystems Corp. presented the latest developments on an innovative project his company is working on called FlexBRT. Conceived in Orlando, Fla., the system will combine aspects of BRT and demand response, using ITS technology to augment existing services in suburban areas that lack the population density necessary for an expanded BRT or light rail solution.
The system will be developed by modifying paratransit scheduling software to reflect proposed operating and service quality parameters and to model operations and determine cost requirements for the service. The dynamically routed, dispatched request-based service will allow customers to request a specific trip (origin and destination) via phone, Internet or station kiosk, and within 12 minutes, a FlexBRT shuttle will arrive.
Bending the BRT concept
BRT technology is not the only story in the project, according to Frank Martz, director of the Community Redevelopment Agency and Planning Services for the city of Altamonte Springs, Fla., which fostered this concept in 1999. The land use approach is just as innovative, he says.
Altamonte Springs is a suburb of Orlando, but it is becoming an urbanized city in its own right, with a growing and vibrant central core. To keep up with economic and political changes, the city has chosen a path for development that will include transit in every aspect. Assembling packets of desirable land for development, the city assigned transit components to each property and notified developers what the demands will be, making these terms part of the property.
When some developers bristled at the notion, Altamonte Springs offered in return a variety of credits and expedited processing. Martz and others have coordinated with surrounding communities so that the full transit network that eventually goes in place will not stop at the city line, but will become a sub-regional system.
Some have questioned whether the system, originally designed as a dedicated guideway service, really fits even within its own loose definitions of BRT. FlexBRT designers, however, address community demands and economics by claiming that it falls somewhere between a traditional circulator and BRT service with connections to Orlando’s LYNX.
Martz says that was the intention, and it’s precisely why BRT technology and principles are the perfect fit. “Transit only works if it is a part of the land-use program, part of the economy and a flexible mobility tool,” he says. “Our goal is to fit seamlessly into the way people live, work and play; not fit perfectly into a definition.”
Will it work out?
As currently projected, FlexBRT will provide an efficient service and an on-demand component controlled by a routing system that uses complex algorithms. The ITS system will consider all potential vehicles in the area, and select the most appropriate one based on its preceding and ensuing destinations.
Compared to a traditional circulator system, FlexBRT modeled out as a much more cost-effective and productive solution, yielding a $2.80 operations and maintenance subsidy per passenger, compared with more than $13 for a conventional system (see chart).
A number of vehicle types are being considered for the system, with the ideal model being a 22- to 30-foot low-floor bus with front and back double doors.
The system has gone through two field tests, and according to Martz, the Federal Transit Administration has expressed interest in exploring whether such a system could be exported for use in other communities.
FlexBRT, which has federal, state, local and private sector funds already committed to it, is projected to begin service in 2009 in the Altamonte Springs/Maitland area.
Gregg Moscoe is editor of WestStart-CALSTART’s BRT Newslane.