Initially, the Orange Line experienced several collisions with private vehicles, primarily due to red-light running. In response, running speeds were reduced to 10 mph and enhanced signage and warning signals were added to the route. These measures succeeded in reducing accident rates to below the average for Metro's transit services, and intended running speeds averaging 35 mph have now been restored. Another issue to have emerged, both on the Orange Line and on other BRT projects within the United States and abroad, is that of pavement durability. Unusually high summer temperatures during the initial months of operation (in excess of 100 F for a period of several weeks) resulted in the deterioration of the rubberized asphalt to the point where several sections needed to be replaced. Irrespective of whether the source of this problem lies at the design or construction stages, or with the materials themselves, it does underscore the need for additional engineering guidelines for BRT pavement design.
Despite these issues, the Orange Line is widely regarded as a great success, and a good example of the mobility benefits made possible by "full-service" BRT. In a recent study, the Orange Line was compared to two other new rapid transit modes in the Los Angeles region; the Gold Line light rail service and the Metro Rapid BRT service. The study found that the Orange Line is outperforming the Gold Line, which costs significantly more, in terms of both capital and operating costs, yet carries fewer riders. It appears that Metro Rapid may have some cost-effectiveness advantages over the Orange Line but lacks the features, such as travel time consistency and a premium transit service image, that are required to attract significant numbers of "choice riders." The Metro Board has recently approved a plan to extend the Orange Line six miles north, which would further increase ridership, and is studying the feasibility of further extensions (Callaghan & Vincent, 2007).
This article has attempted to illustrate the significant progress that has been made in cementing the status of BRT as a viable rapid transit mode within the United States. The strength of the mode lies in its diverse range of treatments, allowing agencies to tailor their BRT system to local conditions and local budget constraints. For example, agencies with more limited budgets may consider a BRT system based on the Los Angeles Metro Rapid "model," using low-cost treatments such as traffic signal priority and queue-jump lanes to maximize commercial service speed and reliability on mixed-use urban arterials. If more substantial funds are available, agencies may want to consider implementing services on dedicated bus lanes within existing roadways, such as the EmX service in Eugene, Ore. At the upper end of the funding spectrum lie "full-service" systems based on exclusive running ways, such as the Metro Orange Line in Los Angeles. Such systems offer the greatest potential for achieving the high commercial speeds and levels of reliability required for choice rider attraction and congestion mitigation. All of these treatments are likely to benefit from the various advanced technologies that will become available in the near-term.
It seems probable that the next decade will see BRT becoming a key element in transit systems throughout the country. If current trends observed in pioneering cities like Los Angeles and Eugene continue, the next major challenge will be transitioning from individual BRT corridors into integrated networks of BRT routes. Such expansion offers urban planners the opportunity to magnify the benefits of BRT from the corridor level to the city-wide level, including area-wide improvements in mobility, congestion reduction and economic growth. Careful integration of such networks with existing bus services and other transit modes will be crucial to achieving a successful transition.
By Alasdair Cain, Georges Darido, Cheryl Thole, Jennifer Flynn, National Bus Rapid Transit Institute, Center for Urban Transportation Research, University of South Florida. The National Bus Rapid Transit Institute was created in 2001 to work in partnership with the FTA to serve the BRT community in the United States. The institute's activities are based around three core program areas: providing technical assistance and support to agencies in the U.S. considering BRT implementation, performing research to address the issues faced by the BRT industry, and maintaining an up-to-date clearinghouse of information on BRT in the U.S. and abroad.