BRT Part 1 – What Is It?

How many of us flip on the tv, radio, or check an app on our mobile phone most days to check traffic? We wonder, “Is congestion on the roadways going to make me late for work, school, or an important meeting?”

Traffic is a problem plaguing cities across the U.S. We can easily look at the Baltimore-Washington region as an example. The average automobile commuter in the region is delayed 74 hours each year, burning through 37 gallons of gasoline and costing each commuter $1,495 dollars annually! By comparison, in 1982 commuters were delayed an average of only 14 hours. On the West Coast, congestion in L.A. eats up a total of 207 hours over the course of a year sitting in traffic – or the equivalent of a week’s worth of vacation days!

Population is only going to continue to increase. So, how do we curb congestion, allowing us more time to do the things we actually want to do?

We, at The Traffic Group, are strong proponents of bus rapid transit (BRT), which is described at times as a “surface subway.” It is a bus-based mass transit system that aims to combine the capacity and speed of light rail or metro with the flexibility, lower cost, and simplicity of a bus system.

Light rail is a common recommendation when states and counties discuss new mass transit projects. The problem? Cost. Most don’t realize that light rail is outrageously expensive – to the tune of approximately $150 – $250 million per mile. Comparatively, BRT is typically $10 – $30 million per mile. This is what we refer to as the 80-20 Rule, meaning BRT often can cost 20 percent of a light rail system but can capture 80-85 percent of light rail riders.

This doesn’t mean we are trading quality for cost. A BRT solution has all the amenities of modern rail, such as Wi-Fi, level boarding, and off-vehicle payment systems. BRT is flexible and serves dual purposes: it can ride on dedicated lanes, but has the ability to leave those lanes and take another route if necessary. Rail, by contrast, cannot switch routes once constructed.

BRT systems can be built in the median area of roadways, the same layout as many light rail systems. A great Class A BRT system can be built in an area that comprises 27 feet in width without a station and another 13 feet with a station. Larger buses in dedicated lanes move faster along the route due to traffic signal priority systems, allowing for more people moving quicker from origin to destination.

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