While there has been much attention on light rail, the fact is that there are better alternatives that provide our communities with a better and more flexible infrastructure that can evolve to take advantage of new technology advances like autonomous vehicles, electric batteries, new business models and power distribution. By using asphalt roads, we can have a more flexible addition to our transit infrastructure that can be used by BRT, interlined with existing buses in congested areas, promote car pooling by using HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) and eventually leverage that infrastructure with emerging autonomous vehicles … instead of building a ‘steel road’ with rails.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has gained attention as a potentially cost-effective form of high-capacity transit. This is particularly the case in small to medium-size cities that do not have high enough densities or serious enough peak-period traffic congestion to justify fairly expensive fixed-guideway transit investments. — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective
What is Bus Rapid Transit?
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) continues to expand globally, with over 400 BRT lines in 195 cities serving approximately 32.4 million people daily. BRT is a high-quality, high-capacity rapid transit system that improves upon traditional rail transit systems at a significantly lower cost (eg Chapel Hill Transit implementation along NS corridor is estimated to cost less than $15 million per mile). Vehicles travel in dedicated lanes with traffic signal priority thereby avoiding competing traffic. Passengers walk to comfortable stations, pay their fares in the station, and board through multiple doors just like a train.
So this allows us to take advantage of all of the best attributes of LRT while providing additional flexibility of sharing with other wheel-based (not rail-based) systems and the ability to reconfigured routes to adjust to our changing population and commuting patterns. For example, allowing other buses (potentially autonomous in the future) to ‘interline’ within the dedicated guideway, and ‘platooning‘ automated vehicles within the same guideway. A sort of flexible smart vehicle HOV lane which can evolve as technology changes and adapt to changing traffic patterns.
Interlining refers to the ability of local bus routes, including feeder bus services to utilize the BRT running way for a portion of their trip. It is an accepted practice for BRT systems and allows more transit users to benefit from the guideway investment.
And with the federal government expected to cover 80% of the BRT costs, would allow us to stretch our local taxes even further. In addition, BRT guideways could provide additional utility for emergency response vehicles (improving response times) and could be used for evacuation route due to natural disaster, etc
Graphic courtesy of Indy Connect
Coming soon to Chapel Hill and Wake County!
BRT is coming to the Chapel Hill as part of the North-South Corridor that will connect Southern Village with UNC and continue north along MLK. The study area runs from the Eubanks Road Park & Ride lot (a northern terminus) and the popular Southern Village (the southern terminus) and points in between. The NS BRT with a projected cost of $125 MILLION (8.2 miles @ $15 MILLION per mile) to start service in 2020 with annual operating cost of $3.4 MILLION.
So with BRT, Chapel Hill will get mass public transit sooner (a decade earlier than DOLRT) at fraction of the cost (11% of the cost per mile to build and 12% of the operating cost) with lower local funding requirement due to higher federal grants! In fact, passengers could ride BRT for ‘fare-free’ and it would still be cheaper (for riders and taxpayers) than DOLRT to operate.
For the same amount of money, we could build 166 miles of BRT (vs 17 miles of DOLRT). Now that would be mass public transit!.
In addition to Chapel Hill, Wake County is planning to implement cost-effective BRT for 20 miles at $347 million ($17M per mile). Financially, Bus Rapid Transit is a better ‘price performer’ and maximizes our return on tax dollar investment over Light Rail. As a matter of fact, for the estimated $400 million in local taxes set aside for DOLRT, we could fund the NSCBRT and an equivalent Durham Orange BRT and still have funds left over! All from changing the technology to use rubber wheels rather than steel wheels.
A study by the Institute of Transportation and Development Planning that analyzed 21 transit projects in 13 cities across the United States and Canada. Based on their in depth research and analysis, they concluded that there is no case in the United States where Light Rail should be favored over Bus Rapid Transit. Any perceived advantages of LRT over BRT are primarily aesthetic and political rather than technical.
Long term potential of BRT versus LRT?
One of the major advantages of BRT over proposed DOLRT is that it is much more flexible and can be integrated into our overall transportation infrastructure. Think about all of the rail lines and how much space they consume (50′ right of way for LRT vs 12′ for a highway lane or roughly equivalent to 4 lanes), and the majority of the time they are not being used. Sitting there, waiting for the next train to arrive. And only trains can use it, and cannot be shared with other vehicles. LRT also requires additional constraints (and expense) with limits on how steep the steel roads can be and require (exclusive) “overhead” electrification infrastructure to distribute the electricity (and losing 7% in distribution along the guideways) along the 17 miles.
BRT on the other hand uses roadways that can be shared now! For example, with a dedicated BRT lane, other buses can ‘hop on and off’ in short segments to bypass areas with traffic congestion. As new technologies continue to evolve, BRT and it’s infrastructure can potentially take advantage of these disruptive innovations. For example, advances in wireless / induction charging, solar roads, batteries, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, autonomous vehicles, and many other breakthroughs. Investments in BRT infrastructure would provide flexibility and ‘future-proof’ our transit investments.
Wireless (induction) charging is already powering buses in Texas, Utah, Berlin, Mannheim (Germany) and London. eBuses in Torino, Italy have used induction charging since 2003, Utrecht (Netherlands) since 2010, Gumi (South Korea) since 2013. And France is installing 1000 km of solar roads over the next 5 years.
The self-steering bus developed by California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways follows magnetic strips embedded in the road, although drivers still handle acceleration and braking and can take full control of the bus at any time. The technology could make life better for passengers by increasing efficiency, and could cut the cost of rapid transit systems.
“The magnetic guidance system developed at UC Berkeley can both improve safety and provide a smoother ride for our passengers,” says Chris Peeples, president of the board of directors for the Bay Area transit agency AC Transit. “The system has the potential to make bus rapid-transit routes — particularly those that involve bus-only lanes — as efficient as light rail lines, which in turn will make buses more efficient in getting people out of their cars.” — Look Ma, No Hands! Automated Bus Steers Itself