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.
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.
SOURCE: UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective
Bus Rapid Transit is a high quality, high capacity rapid transit system that, in many ways, improves upon traditional rail transit systems at a significantly lower cost. Vehicles travel in dedicated lanes, avoiding 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 us to interlining other buses (potentially autonomous) along the dedicate 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.
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 feet wide for LRT right of way 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 Utah and Germany. Buses in Torino, Italy have used induction since 2003, and routes in Utrecht, the Netherlands got induction back in 2010. And Gumi, South Korea in 2013.
Chapel Hill and Wake are looking at how to leverage BRT as a way to augment their current public transportation plans.
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.”
source: Look Ma, No Hands! Automated Bus Steers Itself
The Myth That Everyone Naturally Prefers Trains to Buses
When you focus on what really matters—service—much of the difference actually disappears.
But it’s equally likely, in many cases, that people have just used “trains” to mean “good transit” and “buses” to mean “bad transit.” If that’s the case, then marketing better buses as something like trains (or, at least, something other than buses) should weaken this automatic association. But such efforts will fall flat without meaningful investments in well-designed service: dedicated lanes, reliable peak and off-peak service, off-board fare payments, comfortable stations or enhanced shelters, or reconfigured routes, to start the list.