- Increased capacity – The maximum number of passengers carried by a critical segment of the BRT system in a period of time is a function of the size and design of the vehicles, stations, running way and the level of service. For instance, the maximum number of passengers carried per hour per direction typically ranges from 10,000 on arterials to more than 30,000 on exclusive running ways, which is comparable to the capacities of some rail-based transit systems.
- Decreased travel time – Exclusive busways have been shown to operate at an average of 30 miles per hour or more with travel time savings as high as 55 percent compared to regular bus services.
- Increased reliability – The use of exclusive running ways, level boarding, off-board fare collection and automated vehicle location technologies allow for greater service reliability in terms of running time, dwell time and recovery.
- Improved accessibility – The design of vehicles, stations, ITS and fare collection systems can greatly influence the accessibility of a BRT system to the mobility impaired and the general ridership as well.
- Increased safety and security – The combination of modern technologies, facilities and personnel can improve the customer perception of safety and security and reduce the number of incidents.
- Enhanced identity and image – The effective integration of the various elements can foster a quality image and unique identity for the BRT system as measured by public perception.
Benefits of BRT
The potential benefits of a BRT system depend on the element and performance, and can be characterized by the following measures:
- Increased ridership – BRT systems have been shown to attract choice ridership and increase total corridor ridership. As much as one-third of BRT riders have been shown to previously use private automobiles. Corridor ridership gains of 20 to 96 percent have also been recorded.
- Improved capital cost-effectiveness – BRT systems can use less costly or existing infrastructure compared to other rapid transit modes. BRT can also reduce fleet requirements with better vehicle utilization.
- Improved operating cost-efficiency – Indicators of operating efficiency such as passengers per revenue hour, subsidy per passenger mile and subsidy per passenger can improve when BRT service is introduced to a corridor.
- Improved environmental quality – By attracting choice riders and using advanced vehicles with cleaner propulsion systems and emissions controls, BRT may improve air quality, noise level and help reduce overall congestion.
- Transit-supportive land development – Investments in BRT infrastructure and related streetscape improvements may result in positive development effects much like other high-quality transit modes.
The SAFETEA-LU legislation created a new funding category within New Starts, which expands the eligibility for capital funding (specifically to include arterial-type BRT) and simplifies the evaluation process. This new category is called Small Starts and applies to projects with a total capital cost less than $250 million with a New Starts share less than $75 million.
The demand for such funds traditionally has far exceeded the supply, and even with Small Starts this will not change. Several projects have already applied to compete for a share of the limited pool of funds (up to $200 million) to be made available each year. Eligible projects must include either an exclusive running way or fixed guideway for at least 50 percent of the alignment during the peak period or contain substantial investment in specific types of project elements such as stations, signal priority, low-floor vehicles or level boarding, branding and operating service levels. The evaluation process involves an assessment of the local financial commitment and plans for capital and operating expenditures and also assesses the merits of the project itself, including cost-effectiveness, land use, economic development and reliability of forecasts. While the final details of the process are undergoing review by FTA and the industry, the proposed guidance documents on policies and procedures are available online through the USDOT docket management system, (see http://dms.dot.gov).
Federal funding is only one of a number of potential funding sources, which include state and local funds as well as joint development and public-private partnerships. Indeed, there are several examples of U.S. BRT projects that have proceeded without federal assistance. It should also be noted that the federal, state or local sources for system operating costs or subsidies are typically distinct from sources of capital assistance and agencies must carefully consider how to cover the cost of operating a new BRT service.
Congestion Mitigation and Managed Lanes
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Transportation published the National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network (USDOT, 2006). The document identifies traffic congestion reduction as one of the federal government's top priorities, and highlights public transit as a crucial element in achieving this goal. However, transit's usefulness as a congestion reduction tool rests on its ability to attract "choice riders" away from their cars, a task traditionally viewed as requiring some form of rail-based transit. Tailored to providing the high quality service and image characteristics that attract choice riders to rail transit, but at a more affordable cost, BRT has an important role to play in congestion mitigation.