While Bogotá’s BRT infrastructure (busways and stations) has been copied world-wide, its service plan — its real innovation — is mostly unknown. It features an extensive series of all-stops, express and “super express” routes linking different groups of stations based on actual origin-destination travel patterns. These routes, serving 114 stations along more than 50 miles of guideways, carry 1.4 million daily riders using a fleet of just more than a thousand vehicles.
Brisbane: Busways. Brisbane, Australia, represents the current state-of-the-art in implementing the Quickway model. It has been developing a system of Quickways — the Busway network — including extensive tunneling and bridging in order to maintain full grade separation, even through the busy Central Business District (the Inner Northern Busway), portions of which are essentially a downtown bus subway, opened for service this May. Brisbane also has an extensive electrified commuter rail network that behaves, in practice, like a hybrid heavy rail system. The Busway strategy has allowed Brisbane to reverse declining transit ridership and register impressive systemwide gains (close to 40 percent over the past three years). The Southeast Busway, at its busiest point, is now moving significantly more peak-hour passengers than any light rail line in North America.
Busway stations in Brisbane are architecturally significant and give the Busways their corporate identity. They integrate in many cases into surrounding land uses and can comfortably handle heavy passenger loads while providing effective protection from the elements. The extensive network of branching and express services that use the Busways create significant travel time savings for many passengers and give buses a sustainable competitive advantage over all other modes of transport for a key set of regional trips.
How do American cities stack up against these foreign examples? We looked at four domestic BRT cities, two of which followed the Light Rail Lite model, two others of which partially implemented the Quickway model.
Light Rail Lite: Eugene and Los Angeles
Eugene, Ore., and Los Angeles, Calif., are two widely cited examples of the Light Rail Lite model. In both cases, planning began and ended with this model. In the case of Eugene, that decision was consonant with projected levels of passenger demand; in the case of Los Angeles, that decision may have precluded a more effective solution in the Orange Line corridor, though it did establish the viability of BRT.
Eugene, Ore.: EmX. The Emerald Express is the new Eugene, Ore., BRT service, the first segment of which, the Green Line, opened in early 2007. EmX features specialty vehicles and a range of guideways, including an innovative “trackway” and on-street operations. Passenger acceptance has been high, with significant gains in corridor ridership, though some of this increase may be due to fare-free operation for the present.
Los Angeles: Metro Rapid and the Orange Line. Los Angeles has implemented BRT at the two poles of the Light Rail Lite model: Metro Rapid, which as “BRT Lite” improves on general purpose lane-based express bus service, and the Orange Line, a full attempt to replicate light rail service using rubber-tired vehicles. Metro Rapid relies primarily on vehicle branding, simplified route design (with widely spaced stops) and signal priority measures to reduce vehicle run times. It has been credited with measurable ridership increases in the 16 bus corridors in which it operates.
The Orange Line, in contrast, uses specialty vehicles (some of which are also used for Metro Rapid service) on a dedicated at-grade busway serving specialty stations along a 14-mile corridor. The history of that corridor was one of many failed attempts to create some form of rapid transit and much political posturing. BRT — and the Light Rail Lite model in particular — was chosen for that corridor out of political expediency: the desire to “get something built” within a given pot of money. It has proven highly successful at attracting riders, greatly exceeding projections, but as a result is also running into capacity and operational limitations which have planners scrambling for solutions.
Beyond Light Rail Lite: Pittsburgh and Miami
Pittsburgh and Miami each partially incorporate elements of the Quickway model, and both have demonstrated the power of those elements to attract riders and reduce operating costs.