Bus rapid transit (BRT) has gained in popularity over the last few years; however, how it works often varies from agency to agency. Here we'll take a look at five different BRT systems – how they work, why they work and what their challenges are.
In Brampton, Ontario, BRT is a new venture. Brampton Transit launched Züm in September 2010 on Queen Street and will introduce a line on the Main Street corridor in the fall of 2011. In 2012 Züm will launch on the Steeles Avenue corridor. The idea of BRT, however, has been floating around the city of Brampton since 2004 when the Transportation and Transit Master Plan (TTMP) were approved by the city.
"In the development of that plan it was determined to meet the growth of our city, the growth alone would not have the capacity and we'd need to look at a rapid transit solution," explains Sue Connor, executive director of Brampton Transit. "So that's when the planning started - initially looking at lobbying for funding for BRT. Once we got the funding confirmed we started more detail planning in terms of the infrastructure we put in place, the vehicles we used and how the service would operate. That work led up to our launch this past September 2010."
The first phase of the project opened along the Queen Street corridor and is 29 km. Once the first phase is complete it will provide 68 km of service along the three corridors.
"To give you an idea, right now since September … we're not at six months yet … we've seen a 25 percent increase in ridership in the Queen Street corridor. Overall our ridership at the end of 2010 over 2009 was up by 12.6 percent and then this year January we had an 18 percent increase over last January and February we had 17 percent. So overall for the first few months of this year we're seeing a 17 percent increase over last year – that's overall systemwide. Those kinds of numbers are surprising us. It's a good problem to have, but it's almost a panic because we didn't expect so many people to use our service. We were looking at maybe 8 percent to 10 percent. So it's quite a bit more."
Currently, the BRT vehicles operate in mixed traffic with signal priority. "Basically what we've done is extended the right hand turn lane and moved the island. Once you get to the corner, vehicles turning right can turn right, but the buses go straight through to get around the traffic in the intersection and the stop is on the far side. We have signal priority at those intersections," Connor says.
All of the stations along the corridor provide real-time information, including digital signs that list information about bus availability, route maps and information boards. This real-time information is also available on personal devices like smartphones. Züm station stops are unique to the GTA and feature modern design and functionality. Station stops vary in size and are equipped with spacious heated waiting areas, better lighting, security cameras and comfortable seating.
The system currently has two terminals — the Downtown Terminal and the Bramalea City Centre Terminal — and terminates in Toronto at York University, which is a major university in Toronto.
During this first phase of introduction, Züm is using the GFI fareboxes that are used on the conventional buses as well. We're just migrating to the Presto farecard that the province of Ontario is managing. Because we were new, we're actually launching that at the end of March, we did not look at an alternative fare system because it seemed kind of redundant for six months," explains Sonner.
Brampton runs New Flyer Excelsior hybrid-electric buses for its Züm service.
"We are the first transit system in North America to use that new vehicle from New Flyer. They are not only hybrid-electric but they are significantly less in weight. They are approximately 2,000 pounds less in weight than their normal 40-foot model," Connor says proudly. "We are seeing significant reduction in fuel costs, around 15 percent. Because we're new, we're trying to be approximate with those numbers because we need to fine tune them a little. We expected it to be around 8 to 10 percent fuel economy and we're seeing more than that."