The list of bus rapid transit (BRT) projects in North America continues to grow. The most commonly cited reasons for growth, include cost-effectiveness, implementation speed, and a wide flexibility of applications. One that I hear less and less, though, is this one: “We really wanted light rail [LRT], but we can’t afford it, so we settled for BRT.” That’s because our editorial team is discovering that there are much better answers to the “BRT or LRT” question.
More than a corridor solution
Put simply, BRT is growing in popularity because it is well suited to the variety of public transportation needs that cities face. Need a solution that supports both economic growth and better quality bus services? That’s what BRT projects in Fresno, Calif.; Pittsburgh; and Providence, R.I. hope to accomplish. Need good feeder service to your rail network, or service that helps to fill it in? That’s what many of Salt Lake City’s and Phoenix’s BRT projects aim to do. Need a fast, frequent commuter service that is retrofit into highway corridors? That’s what L.A.’s Silver Line and Denver’s Flatiron Flyer do.
It would also be nice if BRT could adopt a much more flexible, network-based approach that cities outside the U.S. typically take, such as in Brisbane, Australia or in cities in Colombia, where multiple routes and operators share some BRT infrastructure, but serve many more points in a sprawling metropolitan region. Unfortunately, our federal funding process bases decisions more on corridors being served, rather than on a network as a whole. Perhaps Hartford’s new CT FasTrak might open the feds’ minds a little.
“What we don’t want to do is re-litigate a phony BRT vs. LRT fight with which anti-transit critics want to divide our community.”
Moreover, some BRT projects are built to accommodate light rail as demand grows. This is the case in Waterloo and York, Ontario in Canada. It will soon be the case with L.A.’s Orange Line, which has been so successful that Angelinos this past fall voted to fund the building of more capacity that is needed in the corridor it serves by converting it to LRT.
Avoiding the BRT/LRT trap
What we don’t want to do is re-litigate a phony BRT vs. LRT fight with which anti-transit critics want to divide our community. There is plenty of room for both solutions, where each is appropriate for the specific circumstances. And these critics are showing their true colors anyway when they oppose good BRT projects like in Nashville. It showed us that, they don’t like any transit, not just service that runs on rails.
These are important points to keep in mind as arch-conservative anti-government types will use BRT to bash rail in the federal budget fights that just began as I write this. Do not play their false-choice games.