Recent years have seen remarkable progress for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the United States. A small number of operational systems have been joined by a plethora of new projects that vary dramatically in terms of size and cost. Attracted by high potential ridership gains in exchange for relatively low capital investments, many transit agencies are now assessing which of the wide-range of BRT treatments are most suitable in meeting their service needs. It is important to understand the current status of the mode, including the achievements made to date and the major concerns and challenges that are currently being faced. This article attempts to provide such an overview, including a summary description of the mode in terms of elements, performance and benefits, a discussion of current issues under investigation, and a profile of three implemented projects that illustrate the wide range of possible BRT treatments.
Characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit in the United States
The seminal guidance documents on Bus Rapid Transit (see CBRT, 2004 and TCRP 90, 2003) define it as an integrated system of high-performance and cost-effective transit elements that are designed and implemented to best fit local conditions. The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute (NBRTI) is currently updating the "Characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit" document for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This document identifies the major elements of BRT as the following:
- Running ways – BRT systems can operate on a variety of running way types that range from mixed-flow arterials and freeways, dedicated arterial and shoulders lanes, exclusive at-grade busways, to fully grade-separated transitways above or below the surface.
- Stations – Aesthetically designed stations enhance the permanence and attractiveness of the system and station areas with passenger amenities such as shelters, benches, lighting, ticket vending machines, security features and next vehicle arrival information.
- Vehicles – Stylized and specialized buses provide comfort, modern design, accessibility, maintainability, good passenger circulation and environmentally friendly propulsion.
- Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) – Applications such as transit signal priority (TSP), advanced communication systems, automated scheduling and dispatch and real-time traveler information at stations and on vehicles allow faster and more convenient trips.
- Fare collection – Electronic fare cards, off-board fare collection or proof-of-payment options allow for shorter dwell times and shorter overall travel times.
- Service and operations plan – BRT systems generally include rapid transit features like more frequent service than local bus service, all-day service spans and greater spacing between stations. The flexibility and lower-cost of BRT allow it to provide greater network coverage.
- Branding and marketing – Distinctive logos, colors, styling and technologies for vehicles and facilities help develop a system identity. BRT services can be marketed as a new tier of service or as part of a multi-modal rapid transit network.
The selection and integration of these elements and their implementation over the length of the alignment, and over time, is also an important consideration in BRT planning. As with any truly integrated system of elements, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.