EmX uses three different lane types. The first two segments have sections of exclusive right of ways in which the bus operates in its own curbed lane. Then there are also segments that are transversable lanes, allowing other traffic to have access to business and intersections, Vobora explains. The third lane type, which was just implemented for the first time with the new Gateway line, is called a business access and transit lane – a BAT lane- and they are shared use lanes. Flexibility is the key to EmX's operation.
"That's one of the great things we've found about Bus Rapid Transit is the flexibility to react to the built environment and to look at the impact on businesses and realize some of those impacts are so significant it's probably a good tradeoff to go back into mixed traffic if you have to," Vobora says. "There are certainly areas that congestion is so significant that if you gave up the right of way there you would really damage your efficiencies. It's a balancing act but we really like that flexibility."
EmX uses signal priority for its buses. "The bus on the original line goes over loops that are in the pavement that signal the intersection. If it can buy us six or seven additional seconds of green time to get through the light it does," Vobora explains. "If it is in a red cycle, it will shorten that by six to eight seconds. It doesn't really affect the other traffic movement through the area and that's worked well."
Vobora says the original line has a number of segments of bidirectional exclusive bus lanes, meaning the bus travels in both direction in one lane using block signaling.
"As a bus comes into a station, for example, and is coming into a block that uses a single bidirectional lane, we have a signal system much like that used in rail that lets the driver know they have to wait for the other bus to get through," Vobora says. "Again, that's not an ideal for the system because it does cause delays, but it was what we could get approved through the original project and it works fine."
Real-time information on the platforms will be installed this summer. "It was partially waiting to find the right technology and technology changes so rapidly, and finding the right signs we wanted on the platform and with the gateway project enough time had gone by and we were finally to the point where we liked what we were seeing," Vobora explains.
EmX is part of a pilot ramp project through PATH in Oakland, Calif. For a vehicle guidance system. Sensors have been outfitted on one of the EmX vehicles and magnets are being mounted into the busway, creating a system where the vehicle is essentially driven by itself, with the driver only controlling braking and accelerating, Vobora says. While a number of tests have been done on the system, this marks the first test in a live revenue service.
"The reason we like it is in the long run it will allow you to narrow the guideway width, which saves on construction costs if this stuff works well. You have to leave a little bit of extra room on the guideways to allow for human skills, whereas if we had a guideway system that tracked perfectly you could narrow that down a little bit," Vobora says.
"One of the big issues in our town is you can't cut down trees that are 50 years old. So we've had to do these kind of meandering routes or lanes that avoided some of these trees; there are some tight movements in and out of the stations. The drivers get pretty good at it, but it still creates a situation where if they are off a little bit they are banging the tires on the platform coming in which causes tire damage or they are just not getting close enough so the gap becomes pretty big. Some drivers can get it down to a few inches others are 12 or 15 inches away and that creates a safety issue. The interest in participating in this project was to have that guidance so the bus comes up as close to the platform and consistently every time so that gap is reduced, much like light rail where it's always the 2 inches or whatever it is."