Pittsburgh: Busways. Pittsburgh is by far the American city that comes closest to the Quickway model in terms of its physical infrastructure and service plan. Its three Busways are largely grade-separated (but are crossed by pedestrians) and support a range of services, and have proven highly cost-effective compared to other transit services (including its light rail system). The lack of infrastructure in the downtown, as in Ottawa, has limited the effectiveness of its Quickways, though (as an example, it can take a bus as long to make a relatively short loop downtown as it does to then run the entire length of the MLK East Busway), and Busway stations are not nearly to the standard established by Brisbane, creating both operational issues and lowered perceptions of the system.
Miami-Dade: South Miami-Dade Busway. The South Miami-Dade Busway is an at-grade guideway that connects far suburbs to the terminus of Miami’s single heavy rail line. Even with these limitations, it supports a range of services that more closely resembles the Quickway model, and has attracted healthy ridership in a cost-effective manner (though with noted operational issues). Its success begs the question of how well an improved infrastructure could attract additional ridership (and provide even greater operational cost benefits).
Can a full implementation of the Quickway model work in an American city? One nonprofit transit advocacy group, Move San Diego Inc., sponsored a feasibility study of a Quickway-based plan for San Diego, the preliminary findings for which are encouraging. The FAST Plan built off the experience of Brisbane, and the capital and operations analysis demonstrated that an intelligently planned Quickway system could be built in San Diego within existing capital resources, attract large numbers of new transit riders, and perform with greater cost-efficiency than existing services.
What can we learn from international experience with the Quickway model?
The role of passenger demand. Quickway infrastructure is expensive. It can only be justified if sufficient passenger demand can be generated. In many cases, this demand is generated off-corridor, and is captured through careful service planning. As Brisbane demonstrates, the Quickway model can push transit over a “tipping point” in which passenger demand rises significantly not just for Quickway-based services, but for all transit services.
The role of existing services. The Quickway model has proven especially useful for transit agencies that already operate a variety of express services. In all cases, it implies network-level analysis, not merely the kind of corridor-level analysis typical to the Light Rail Lite model, and implies a greater degree of service redesign if all of the benefits of the infrastructure are to be realized.
The role of strategy. In contrast to the Light Rail Lite model — which is a service strategy — the Quickway model is an infrastructure strategy. The idea is to create an infrastructure that can then support the organic and evolving deployment of a range of transit services, all while conferring the benefits of fixed infrastructure. Quickway infrastructure also is inherently scalable, meaning that it has impressive capacity to absorb future demand. In contrast, most Light Rail Lite implementations have limited scalability; if ridership grows too much, then operations are compromised and service begins to break down.
The role of targets. In every case, cities that adopted the Quickway model did so as a strategic response to their need to achieve ambitious ridership or mode share targets. In contrast, targets as such are generally not a major factor in much traditional transit planning.
The role of branding. The Quickway model tends to put more emphasis on branding of the infrastructure than of vehicles, and in the best practices example treats stations as the primary means of creating a “rapid transit” corporate identity, raising the profile of the system significantly.
The role of example. Most cities learn from other cities when attempting to implement a new transit mode. The importance of the experience of cities such as Brisbane is therefore crucial, as is knowledge of the elements that contribute to the success of that model.
The match between models and urban form. When is the Quickway model most appropriate for a city? In general, it emerges from a network-level, not corridor-level, analysis, taking into account factors as diverse as corridor types and locations, residential and employment densities and the location of demand, dispersion of origins, conditions along potential Quickway corridors, total demand (including potential demand for express services), passenger volumes and overall transit network design. Corridor-level alternatives analyses make the most sense when a Quickway alternative has already been identified at the network level.