July 11, 2012

Online tool developed to promote BRT

Cash-strapped cities can provide high-quality public transit relatively quickly and affordably by creating "bus rapid transit (BRT)," said researchers at Duke University's Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness (CGGC), who have developed a new online tool to promote BRT development.

Bus rapid transit is a way to achieve faster, more reliable bus service via features commonly associated with light rail or subways. The vehicles may run in their own dedicated lane, for instance, or passengers might pay fares before getting on board.

Often used in the developing world, "BRT" is now increasingly in use in U.S. cities, including Cleveland, Los Angeles, Eugene (Ore.) and Las Vegas. Cities and counties such as Chicago, Montgomery County (Md.), Nashville, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are planning even more robust, high-quality BRT systems.

The new online tool from CGGC helps to help decision-makers understand the full array of features and firms needed to provide the BRT vehicles, technology and services.

The CGGC database includes detailed data on 390 firms across the U.S.

Using the report's online interactive database, community groups and city planners can learn about 10 BRT features, clicking on a feature to reveal which firms provide the associated equipment or services.

One hallmark of BRT, for instance, is having distinctive stations, similar to the best light rail or subways systems, where passengers can check up-to-the-minute bus arrival times. The best designed stations also provide bus-level boarding, allowing people to get on and off the bus in seconds. The report lists providers and designers of BRT stations, pre-paid fare collection systems, and real-time bus schedule displays.

The database also enables users to look up which firms provided equipment or services for a given system, such as, "Who designed the branding for the Kansas City MAX BRT?"

"We hope our report and interactive tool will make these complex data easy for practitioners to use," said Marcy Lowe, a senior research analyst at CGGC and lead author of the report. "The focus on high-quality features highlights both what can be achieved, and who has the expertise to achieve it."

One thing that distinguishes the BRT from other public transit is the role of Intelligent Transportation Systems. ITS is a set of technologies that track vehicles, count passengers, collect fares, let BRT vehicles pre-empt traffic lights, and enhance safety and security. In addition, ITS firms are improving passenger communication with real-time bus information and new mobile apps and website tools. The CGGC database provides detailed information on this BRT feature and identifies the lead firms that provide it.

The CGGC report notes that despite its success in Latin America, China and Europe, BRT still faces a public awareness gap in the U.S.

"BRT is not simply express bus service, but a whole different animal," said Monica La, the report's co-author. "Our visualization tool helps show what high-quality BRT can look like in your community."

"True, gold-standard BRT can really be a game changer in many cities in the U.S.," said Benjamin de la Pena, associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation. "It can provide more transportation options to more citizens. Gold-standard BRT is fast, reliable and flexible and, if planned right, can be built on time and on budget all within one term of office for a politician."

The CGGC report and visualization tool were made possible by support from the Rockefeller Foundation. They are available at http://www.cggc.duke.edu/

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