Bus rapid transit (BRT) incorporates features such as dedicated lanes to provide reliable and cost-effective service while reducing congestion and its environmental impacts, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.
BRT includes features normally associated with subways, such as boarding platforms at the same level as the vehicle, automated fare collection, bus stations with turnstiles or fare gates, faster boarding, and priority in traffic.
"Three Boston-area pilot projects that incorporate BRT features on existing bus routes reinforce the idea that this is a promising approach that should be expanded,” said Ian Ollis, co-author of “Bus Rapid Transit: Costs and Benefits of a Transit Alternative.”
A practice where buses receive advanced green lights from the boarding lane at traffic signals between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. weekdays, a dedicated lane was added to the route along Massachusetts Avenue between Arlington and Porter Square in Cambridge. As a result, there was 64% less variance against the timetable and commutes were shortened by an average of 10%. Fifty-eight percent of residents supported extending the route and 70% supported making the changes permanent.
Along the 71 and 73 bus routes in Cambridge and Watertown, only 3% of the vehicles on the road are publicly operated, but six out of ten commuters on the route ride those vehicles. When bus lanes and signal timing were added, variance against the timetable dropped by 69% and the percentage of residents who approved of Mt. Auburn Street traffic patterns rose by 38 points.
The Everett pilot added a 1.1-mile bus lane along Broadway, as well as first-step level boarding platforms that eliminate one step for boarding buses. Sixty percent of residents are satisfied with the lane and 77% want it to continue to Sullivan Square.
All three communities have made the changes permanent, and Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria has set a goal of having full BRT in Everett by 2023.
In its 2019 final report, the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group, which was assembled by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to support new transportation interventions for redevelopment, called for more BRT, finding that changes associated with BRT are faster to implement than other options, reduce automobile traffic, and promote transit equity.
In Cleveland, the 6.9-mile HealthLine was declared to have the most return on investment of any transit project by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which has created a set of BRT standards. One study found that two-thirds of the jobs created in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, are located within a block of a HealthLine station.
Ollis and co-author Collin Quigley noted that compromises are often needed to balance competing interests and gain community support. They note that the bus lanes along Broadway in Everett are only used during peak hours, with the space used for parking at other times.