But if someone for a community wanted to see the full economic benefit of a BRT line, Skoutelas said the payoff has come in more robust lines. Some cited are in Cleveland and a line in Pittsburgh where Skoutelas said hundreds of millions in development have also been due in part to a rapid transit line.
Key to spurring the development is providing strong branding of the BRT line to give it a much different feel than a traditional bus line.
“The more higher-end bus rapid transit lines with the more modern vehicles, exclusive lanes and new technology have really been attractive and supported development,” Skoutelas said. “But the lower-end, more modest improvements in buses operating in traffic don’t really seem to have that same effect.”
Mike Arvidson, executive vice president of Duo-Gard, which manufactures shelters for rapid transit systems, said agencies want BRT shelters that replicate a larger station mentality in order to accommodate more people and to set a very specific branding for the line. Transit agencies want elaborate shelters for BRT stops and they want them matching in order to keep branding the line.
Arvidson said there is also a lot of talk in the industry of incorporating more ways to implement commercial or tourist business with the shelters.
“They’re more complicated. It’s more of an architectural-minded project mentality than trying to pump out a standard 5 by 10 shelter,” he said.
Rapid Changes in Attitudes
In April 2011, the Capital District Transportation Authority in Albany, N.Y., opened up its first bus rapid transit line, running east-to-west and connecting with Schenectady, N.Y., 17 miles west of the city. The line, which is known as BusPlus, has seen its ridership increase by about 100,000 in its first year of operation compared to the old traditional bus lines that had been there.
Carm Basile, CEO of CDTA, said the agency decided to go with BRT because there were issues with congestion in the region, which could be solved with light rail, but due to the size of the region it would be hard to justify putting in rail. BRT resembles some aspects of light rail, which has created energy in the community.
“What bus rapid transit has done for us more than anything is changed the way the community stakeholders view public transit,” Basile said. “People support us a lot more now than ever before. This kind of caught everyone’s attention.”
Basile said the line where BusPlus runs was always a “workhorse,” with more than 100 stops with the traditional buses. However, BusPlus only has 18 stops along the same route and the stops are no longer known as stops, but stations. The fewer amount of stops has meant businesses are now lobbying for “stations” near them because Basile said it has transformed the way people think about transit and the stations give BRT more permanence than a traditional bus.
Bus stops where only a handful of people would be lingering nearby waiting have been replaced by common sights of 150 people waiting at a BRT station in Albany, Basile said. And the stations are much more well lit than the old bus stops, with cleaning crews coming in regularly to attend to the stations and route information displays, which also portrays to business owners the permanence of a BRT station.
Because of the rousing success of BusPlus, Basile said it has allowed for planning and implementation of two more BRT lines in the coming years. One will connect downtown Albany with a large regional mall, putting stations at the State University of Albany along with the state office campuses. A second line is planned between Albany and Troy, N.Y., which will travel through some more economically depressed areas of the region. With the addition of BRT Basile said it will help with the areas slated for development.
And for those transit agencies who are exploring BRT, Basile said it will change the way the agency is being approached in the community.
“It improved our ridership and the most important thing we learned after the fact is how people change about transit when you provide a better product, a more efficient system,” he said. “In two years we’ve developed more partnerships, have been growing universal access agreements, the use of ID cards as passes andarrangements with major employers.