Greater Greater Washington


The US has only 5 true BRT systems, and none are "gold"

When new bus rapid transit lines are discussed, proponents often say they hope to make the routes gold standard, meaning so high-quality that they mimic many features of rail. That's a high bar; most BRT projects in the United States don't even qualify as true BRT, and so far not one has actually met the gold standard.

Cleveland's Health Line, America's highest-scoring BRT. Photo from EMBARQ Brasil on Flickr.

The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy publishes BRT standards that describe minimum characteristics necessary for a bus route to qualify as BRT. Those standards establish three levels of BRT quality: bronze, silver, and gold. They include features like off-bus fare collection, high station platforms, and bus frequency.

So far, only 5 lines in the United States have scored highly enough to qualify as true BRT, and all 5 rank at the bronze level. Not one is even silver, let alone gold.

According to ITDP, the best performing BRT systems in the world are Bogota, Colombia and Guangzhou, China, which score 93/100 and 89/100, respectively. They are the gold standard.

By comparison, the United States' highest-scoring BRT route is Cleveland's Health Line, which hits bronze with a score of 63. The other 4 bronze BRT lines in there US are in Eugene, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Las Vegas.

Boston's famous Silver Line, which even runs in a subway for a short stretch, scores a meager 37. That's not enough to qualify as true BRT at all, even a low level.

It isn't that gold standard BRT is impossible in the United States. Certainly it's possible. But it isn't built here because nobody really wants to build it.

The same community leaders who choose BRT over rail, because BRT is cheaper, then make the same choice when faced with other potential cost-cutting measures. They eliminate the most expensive features, until the gold standard that was promised isn't actually what's delivered.

That sort of feature cutting is called BRT creep, and so far it's happened to some extent on every major BRT project in American history.

None of this should suggest that BRT is worthless. Sometimes BRT creep can even be beneficial, if it makes an otherwise infeasible project possible. Bronze level BRT is still rapid transit, after all, and even bus priority routes that don't fully qualify as actual BRT are often a huge improvement over regular busing.

WMATA's MetroExtra service, for example, isn't usually called BRT even by low American standards, but it's still a great service. It was something Metro could do quickly and cheaply to help riders, and it works.

But beware the politician who argues for gold standard BRT over rail. Odds are they won't deliver.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 


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Has a politician ever argued for Gold-level BRT over rail?
And wouldn't Gold-level BRT be much preferable to a mixed-traffic streetcar?

by ldrks on Jan 17, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

This article by Lyndon Henry suggests that gold-level BRT is actually more expensive than a similar rail project.

by Ben Ross on Jan 17, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

The dig at Boston is mostly unfair, given that nobody really considers the non-tunnel portions of the network to be actual BRT. It still sucks, but I think that the score of 37 was somewhat unwarranted.

And, yes. More BRT-like features in DC, please! It'd be fairly easy for DC to add some BRT features to the Circulator.

by andrew on Jan 17, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

Thanks for this great write-up and link to the report. Interesting that Las Vegas now has two, incompatible BRT services, in addition to their frequent "Deuce" service using double-decker Alexander buses on the Strip.

by Erik Griswold on Jan 17, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

Gold level BRT would often probably be better than mixed-traffic streetcars, but it's not what you'd get if you replaced a mixed-traffic streetcar with a BRT project.

by BeyondDC on Jan 17, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

Honestly I would not expect any BRT corridor in the USA to get high marks from Embarq - if they did, it's a sign they should have build rail instead because clearly there is a ton of transit demand.

The Orange Line in LA is the best that I would expect from a BRT line in the US in terms of service characteristics - maybe you could add platform-level boarding to make it conform to their standards better. But there are plenty of characteristics where the "gold standard" doesn't apply in the US or is irrelevant to the actual service characteristics that matter.

BRT works great in China, Mexico City, etc. because labor is cheap so you can run a ton of vehicles that carry fewer people. Technical experience (and tehnology) is also (relatively) more expensive in these countries so maybe maintaining buses is easier. But in the US the opposite is true; labor is not cheap and technical experience doesn't tack on heavy price-tags. So where there is high demand you're going to want to build something more heavy-duty like light rail to avoid having to pay enough drivers to run 60-second headways at peak.

by MLD on Jan 17, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

It'll be good to have this much the same as when I have to pull out the list when someone says that a streetcar is basically just a bus on rails.

by drumz on Jan 17, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

"But beware the politician who argues for gold standard BRT over rail. Odds are they won't deliver."

*COUGH* Libby Garvey *COUGH*

by JonB on Jan 17, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

Frankly, I don't care if ITDP says the Los Angeles BRT is "bronze" compared to Guangzhou, because if I'm building BRT in the US, I'm going to be looking to what Los Angeles did because their constraints are more like the ones I have in my community. (If ITDP compared US BRT systems to, say, the one in Brisbane, I'd be more open to it.)

Besides, even for the benefits of rail, it's a major expense when a given corridor would benefit more from a few features of the "BRT buffet" I wrote about yesterday. Montgomery County is talking about "gold standard BRT," but it's not like rail is an appropriate substitute for, say, BRT along Randolph Road.

BRT creep is a real issue, but if we're setting the bar by what ITDP says BRT should be, everything is a reflection of BRT creep.

by dan reed! on Jan 17, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

That's the thing about U.S. "BRT"; it's only proposed by politicians as a way of "bargaining down" from rail (typically streetcar/LRT but sometimes HRT), thus, any corner that can be cut to make it cheaper is regarded as a good thing, even if it ultimately results in a service that has almost no benefits (hey, it's cheaper, and that's all that matters, right?). As I said in Dan Reed's recent article about Montgomery County's proposed "BRT":

"Here are some photos of what actual BRT looks like (Rio De Janeiro):

BRT includes dedicated lanes and roadway, stations (generally enclosed) as opposed to mere "stops", pre-boarding fare collection, etc. My guess is that the MoCo plan will eventually be watered down to "some old buses with a new paint job running on existing streets". Color me unimpressed."

Much of this stems from the fact the transit isn't valued in the U.S.; it's seen as a "nice to have" for marginal people who don't own cars (students, the elderly, children, recent immigrants, the poor, hippie-like "car-free" proponents, etc.).

As other posters have pointed out, what makes BRT attractive in developing countries isn't present in the U.S. We'd get better value in investing in fixed-guideway transit like streetcars, LRT and HRT.

by Jason on Jan 17, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

I like that a color rating thing exists. It should clarify discussions at least.

I agree with Dan that there are many places where BRT lite will be a big improvement over conventional bus service - the exact economics of higher level BRT vs rail will depend on the corridor details. I think transit gets too bogged down in the mode wars.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 17, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

btw, I THINK i agree with both Dans on that

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 17, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

The dig at Boston is mostly unfair, given that nobody really considers the non-tunnel portions of the network to be actual BRT. It still sucks, but I think that the score of 37 was somewhat unwarranted.
Except that these lines were sold as replacements for subway or streetcar service, offering similar service levels (i.e. actual BRT), but they don't even come close. They were still pretty damn expensive though.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 17, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

. . . the exact economics of higher level BRT vs rail will depend on the corridor details. I think transit gets too bogged down in the mode wars.
I think this can be valid in some cases, but I believe the point here is that BRT is particularly susceptible to deterioration in service level. In fact, it's often offered as an alternative to rail precisely because it can then be watered down easily to cut costs.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 17, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

Not that this is 100% related, but having just gotten to ride the best of the best in terms of BRT I honestly would opt for it over fixed heavy rail for one reason, you can set it up so you don't have to change vehicles despite having multiple spokes in your system!

I was amazed by this, but since the buses in Bogota aren't limited by fixed rail each one that comes down the spoke can wind up on a different spoke on the end. Could you imagine getting on at New Carrollton and then taking the train to Dupont with out having to get off, but if you needed to go to Rossyln waiting two minutes and then getting on the next train that you also did not have to get off until your destination? Awesome!

by h_lina_k on Jan 17, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

This article and the comments are confusing nomenclature with substance. Dedicated right-of-way transit is what's golden. The choice of vehicle is far, far less important. Off-fare boarding, fewer stops and multiple doors are great, but they also pale in comparison with the huge advantage of a dedicated lane (or tunnel).

One you are sharing the road with traffic, rail is inferior to large buses because rail vehicles can't pass stopped traffic, detour around unexpected road blockages, or pass non-express buses by using the other lane. (Yes railcars are cute and offer a mildly smoother ride.)

BRT creep is real, but it just hardly matters once you've compromised on a shared right-of-way. The debates over "BRT" vs. "articulated bus network" vs. "light rail" vs. "streetcars" tend to confuse or gloss over this critical issue.

by BaRT on Jan 17, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

One you are sharing the road with traffic, rail is inferior to large buses because rail vehicles can't pass stopped traffic, detour around unexpected road blockages, or pass non-express buses by using the other lane. (Yes railcars are cute and offer a mildly smoother ride.)

Well and rail cars have much greater capacity, are cleaner, and last much longer. And things that block the road block buses as well, while they can detour its not like huge roadblocks (like an accident or police activity) happen everyday in the same spots.

by drumz on Jan 17, 2013 3:04 pm • linkreport


The dig at Boston is mostly unfair

Perhaps it was a big dig too! :-)

by Digger on Jan 17, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

BaRT: BRT creep is real, but it just hardly matters once you've compromised on a shared right-of-way.

This is so exactly right and it kills me that no one talks about it. Transit will work if it can run without cars getting in the way. That's the only way to make it fast, frequent, and timely. Once you've established a right-of-way period, you can start looking at mode, weight it vs. density and demand, etc. But not until you've guaranteed that your tram or light rail or BRT or whatever will have a dedicated right-of-way (which is why the DC Streetcar is worse than a half-measure).

by MetroDerp on Jan 17, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

Could you imagine getting on at New Carrollton and then taking the train to Dupont with out having to get off, but if you needed to go to Rossyln waiting two minutes and then getting on the next train that you also did not have to get off until your destination? Awesome!
I'm not seeing how this is a major innovation, since currently you can take a train from New Carrollton to Rosslyn without transferring, or you can wait a couple of minutes at Metro Center to transfer to a train to Dupont.

But that said, there's nothing in particular about fixed rail that prevents you from running complicated patterns of trains that switch between lines. Metro at one time had the Green Line commuter shortcut, which allowed you to go from Fort Totten to Farragut North without a transfer. Rush Plus does some of this, with trains effectively starting as Blue but turning into Yellow line trains--and others starting as Orange and turning into Blue trains. The reason there isn't more of this is not that it's impossible to switch trains between lines (at least at certain places), but that it makes for very complicated service patterns.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 17, 2013 3:45 pm • linkreport

If BRT were possible, it would exist. The technology has always been there. The need has been there. There was nothing stopping BRT from existing except for the fact that it can't exist because of lack of demand and expense compared to rail. Even the best possible implementation of Boston's Silver Line, the airport connector to South Station, is terribly slow and inefficient.

by JustMe on Jan 17, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Gray's in the Fields

Well the whole point was that BRT makes it easier to set up a system where you wouldn't have to get off halfway through your trip to get where you are going so I am not sure how your first point disagrees with that.

But yes you are correct some of the Rush Plus service does incorporate this type of system on a limited basis. I disagree though that it makes the service patterns very complicated though. If you define the train by its destination only rather than both its origin and destination you can limit the confusion of the service patterns.

by h_lina_k on Jan 17, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport


You said:

Could you imagine getting on at New Carrollton and then taking the train to Dupont with out having to get off, but if you needed to go to Rossyln waiting two minutes and then getting on the next train that you also did not have to get off until your destination.
So in this mythical wonderland, you could take a train from New Carrollton to Dupont without a transfer. Or you could wait around for the next train in your current stop for a train to Rosslyn.

By contrast, the current Metro allows you to take a train from New Carrollton to Rosslyn without transfer. Alternatively, you could take a train to Metro Center, walk up a floor, and wait around for the next train to Dupont.

My point is that there's not a huge difference between the two service patterns. A transfer requires a bit more walking, but has the advantage of being slightly simpler than having trains on the same line going to multiple destinations.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 17, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

I also am having trouble understanding your point. On any system with overlapping lines SOME trips will require transfers and some trips won't. How does BRT make it easier to do that?

I guess you're saying the equivalent on Metro would be that from New Carrollton there are trains that go to Vienna (on Orange Line route), Shady Grove (on red line route) and franconia (on blue line route)? Metro already does this to some extent, but if you do this too much you actually increase transfers. Not to mention that because all the lines cross and go different ways, there's no point in waiting for your specific bus at a feeder endpoint - it's actually faster to go into the shared trunk station, get off, and then wait for a bus that's going to your destination (which could be from any line, not just the one you came in on.

by MLD on Jan 17, 2013 5:08 pm • linkreport

An important issue not mentioned above is crossings. BRT with high passenger volumes has high vehicle volumes, making it impossible for cars and pedestrians to cross at grade between vehicles. Thus grade separation is required to maintain the "gold standard" with high passenger volumes.

Rail has two advantages here. First, because there are many more passengers per train, the frequency for a given passenger load is less. A light rail track can carry many more passengers than a bus lane before reaching the threshold of vehicle frequency that calls for grade separation (whatever that threshold is).

Second, once you've passed the threshold and grade separation is worthwhile, trains are easier to put in a tunnel than buses. Buses need much more ventilation, and they need larger tunnels relative to vehicle size because they aren't on tracks.

The issue of rail capacity versus train capacity is not just an issue of physical engineering, it's also an issue of what works in an urban setting without degrading the urbanism of the surroundings. Most high-quality BRT systems are elevated, especially in the third world. There is a reason that the US put many of its elevated heavy rail systems underground as it became wealthier in the first half of the 20th century.

by Ben Ross on Jan 17, 2013 5:30 pm • linkreport

wrt South America, someone said they can run more buses with fewer passengers because of personnel cost. That's true but they actually have 2x the passenger load of equivalent buses in DC, because the transit dependent there are willing to withstand crush loads 2x that of people in North America.

It's the other reason that BRT is so successful there (well, along with reduced penetration of automobile use, and significant transit dependency).

2. The dedicated busways in PGH are awesome, even if they don't do payment before boarding.

3. Except for LA, the highest ridership lines in DC proper are all higher than other BRT lines in the US.

I really hate how BRT articles report ridership increases by percentages without ever providing base numbers. E.g., the HealthLine in Cleveland has around 16000 daily riders.

by Richard Layman on Jan 17, 2013 7:20 pm • linkreport

First of all another reason why a gold service BRT is better than fixed rail is that in fixed rail if a car breaks down the entire line is shot until the train can be removed, if a bus breaks down the buses behind it just past it.

And to all the nay sayers. First of all transfers are one of the prime killers in public transit experience. You either have to wait if you are doing a transfer if the next vehicle doesn't come right away or if its rush hour push your way through hundreds of other people to get to your vehicle. Either are not fun. Survey data shows this part of the user experience is even worst than waiting for your first vehicle.

Having a system without fixed rails makes it easier for each vehicle going down a spoke to wind up at a different destination and thus avoiding transfers period (though as has been pointed out there is a little bit of this going on in metro now, it is still not commonplace in fixed systems).

by h_lina_k on Jan 17, 2013 10:00 pm • linkreport

This is greenwashing on every level. Surface lanes dedicated to trams of any kind are a complete planning and economic disaster. We need less paved area not more. We need flexibility not assigned fenced off lanes. We need resiliency at the surface not pretend tunnels. These systems are a complete waste of time and money and much like some of the gold plated green design of buildings do nothing to reduce true carbon footprint of any of our activities. We are wasting very valuable resources on planning, infrastructure, buildings, and systems that should be spent effectively on better hybrid buses, simple safe bus shelters, better roads and traffic controls, higher vehicle mileage requirements, LED street down lighting, and more effective existing rail, HOT/HOV lanes, and more teleworking all paid for with much higher use taxes on fossil fuel to be paid for by drivers and building owners. Stop the waste and greenwashing. That would be smart and is good business for every sector in the long run.

by AndrewA on Jan 18, 2013 6:31 am • linkreport

h_lina_k -- the point you make is true, but it's not possible in North America to run a system like you discuss with buses in a manner that is cheaper than fixed rail and with equivalent capacity. Not to mention that putting all those buses on the surface has negative impact on quality of life too. Personnel costs are much higher. North American riders won't tolerate the same level of crush loads--so you need even more buses.

although it helps that they can use 80 foot plus buses, which the US doesn't allow on public streets. This increases their capacity without adding more personnel.

... but I have never ridden BRT in Curitiba or Bogota.

according to this presentation,, Bogota achieves capacity comparable to the red line subway in DC, about 38K people/hour, with 240 buses per hour. That's a lot of surface traffic.

(The red line has the highest capacity because it doesn't share tracks with other lines.)

by Richard Layman on Jan 18, 2013 7:16 am • linkreport

In my humble opinion, the focus on the physical characteristics of BRT embodied in the ITDP standard is misguided, at least in the US context. Sound planning should start by identifying the problem to be solved and the issues to be addressed, then develop a system that solves those problems and addresses those issues in a cost-effective manner. The Gold Standard does the reverse – it assumes a priori that more infrastructure will result in a better BRT system, when in fact it may not, especially in the US where most corridors have relatively low demand.

We have seen this play out locally, where Montgomery County was persuaded that it should pursue a gold standard BRT system, then spent several years and quite a bit of money only to discover what should have been obvious from the beginning -- that it has neither the density or the transit demand to justify an extensive gold standard system. Now, they are basically bickering over what to do and, as far as I can tell, are not likely to do anything soon.

In the meantime, another local government adopted a different approach, focusing on the problems to be addressed and practical approaches to solving those problems. That government now has one BRT line under construction, a second likely to start construction soon, a third in planning, and a fourth beginning the study process. Whether these lines are “gold” or not is immaterial. The fact is that they are doing something at a reasonable cost and are way ahead of the jurisdiction that started out “chasing gold.”

Finally, the problem of assuming the solution a priori is not limited to BRT. This often occurs with rail as well, where politicians or local planners assume that rail will be the best solution, then conduct the "alternatives analysis" to justify that assumption. A perfect example is Columbia Pike in Arlington, where the County assumed a priori that a streetcar would be the right choice, then spent several million dollars in an apparently failed attempt to justify a streetcar. According to the County's own study, the streetcar will add about $200 million to the overall cost of the project, but provide few additional mobility benefits. Indeed, the current plan is to serve Columbia Pike with 44 buses and to replace just ten of those buses with streetcars. In other words, the so-called streetcar project -- and the $200 million premium associated with it -- is primarily a bus project. This is what can happen when governments assume the answer up front and do not take an objective view of the problem and the range of solutions to address the problem.

by TransitRider on Jan 18, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

Why has nobody mentioned the BRT (known as Busway) in Miami-Dade County? It uses old FEC right-of-way as a dedicated road from Dadeland south. There are currently four routes that serve different destinations in south Dade.

by Dan Gamber on Jan 18, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

Not all lines need to have top capacity. Many light rail lines around the country are carrying less than the 25,000 weekday passengers that LA's Orange Line carries. The question then becomes what exactly are you getting in return for the greater cost of building light rail. Maybe the connection to existing rail lines is worth it, although once a city starts to build out a BRT network you can get connectivity there also.

But mainly I agree with the commentor above who said that the key issue is a dedicated lane. It's not the only thing that matters, but a dedicated lane does an awful lot for either a bus or a rail service. Without a dedicated lane, you've got a rapid bus that can easily get stuck in traffic, or an inflexible streetcar even more subject to congestion.

by Wanderer on Jan 18, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

The Shirley Busway in northern Virgina was VERY close to "gold standard" - and was a below miserable failure. The Blue Metro Line serves much the same corridor and has done, almost literally, a 100 times better.

The excuse "it was just not good enough" is simply not persuasive. If BRT was a good idea, then less than perfect BRT would still perform better. But BRT is simply not a very good idea.

by AlanfromBigEasy (Alan Drake) on Jan 18, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

BRT in the middle of a massive freeway should immediately disqualify it from even a Bronze standard, given that it's completely incompatible with walkability or TOD, and thus unlikely to attract many riders.

If you built a dedicated busway along WMATA's C Route from Rosslyn to Huntington instead of the Blue Line, and sited the stations in the same places as the current Metro Stations, the line would probably have somewhat respectable ridership numbers.

By that same measure, the Silver Line sucks pretty badly.

by andrew on Jan 18, 2013 1:55 pm • linkreport

"The Shirley Busway in northern Virgina was VERY close to "gold standard" - and was a below miserable failure. The Blue Metro Line serves much the same corridor and has done, almost literally, a 100 times better"

There are still multiple bus lanes using the I395 HOV lanes, and they carry lots of people. The 17 buses from Braddock, the 29 buses from Little River turnpike, various buses serving Southern towers, Park Center, Fairlington, etc. Plus ART buses serving Shirlington, PWC buses serving the PWC, etc, etc.

And thats not, I think, gold standard BRT. all fare collection is on board, front door boarding only, at low platform stations (at Pentagon) or conventional street side bus stops. And of course off of I395 its all in mixed traffic.

And the bus lines dont even go downtown, where most people are headed, so you dont even get the benefit of eliminating the transfer.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 18, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

"BRT in the middle of a massive freeway should immediately disqualify it from even a Bronze standard, given that it's completely incompatible with walkability or TOD, and thus unlikely to attract many riders. "

Explain Shirlington. Is it not TOD?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 18, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

BRT doesn't compete with rail anymore then bicycles compete with cars.

The biggest problem with U.S. transit is the politics. It is why the Los Angeles Orange Line is a bus and not an extension of the red line or at minimum LRT.

Those who prefer BRT because of its potential one seat ride from origin to destination have a point about riders disliking transfers, but transfers make networks. Those who are so preferential to one seat rides to the point of limiting the capacity of the mode to buses despite demand, should invest in a car, as that is essentially what they are asking, for the transit line to be their personalized mode of transportation.

by Los Angeles Day on Jan 18, 2013 2:09 pm • linkreport

Explain Shirlington. Is it not TOD?

Transit adjacent development, maybe. But not TOD.

by MLD on Jan 18, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport


Could be. I mean there are WUPs located in places not enabled by transit. But I know in my own case, I am considering Shirlington in part because of its transit convenience. I don't know what its actual transit commute mode share is.

It seems like without a better definition we may be getting circular - only rail ever generates TOD, because anything not located near rail is not TOD.

note, even if shirlington is transit adjacent,and doesnt actually benefit from its transit, its hard for me to see why it couldnt in principle. It certainly a walkable place.

BTW, I strongly believe that light rail generates MORE TOD than BRT does - I just am not sure I buy that BRT never generates any.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 18, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

shirlington - 13% transit mode share, vs 47% SOV share

compare Crystal City, with 21% transit mode share, and 30% SOV

Shirlington has lower walking share, but much higher HOV share.

I'd call it TOD lite.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 18, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

note thats total mode share (MWCOG did a survey) not only commute

for commute Shirlington is 34% transit, 57% SOV

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 18, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

Transfers don't make networks -- they make inconvenience and increased travel time. A goal of any good tranit network should be to minimize transfers and travel times.

Also, the notion that buses somehow limit capacity as compared with rail is not correct. There are bus systems operating today that carry far more passengers than Metrorail, both in terms of total number of trips and peak hour trips per line. Moreover, most mew US transit corridors have relatively low demand, often in the range of 20,000 - 30,000 trips per weekday, which can easily be handled by a bus system at a far lower cost than a rail system.

The reason that the Orange Line is a BRT and not a rail line is cost. It serves about the same number of passengers and is about the same length as the original Gold Line LRT in Los Angeles, but cost something like half as much. This enabled LA to build the Orange Line without any federal money -- ahuge advantage.

Finally, the Shirley Highway was not, and was never intended to be, a BRT system. It was a dedicated busway. It was originally estimated (in the late 1960's or so) that it would increase peak hour transit trips by 5,000 per day. In fact, it increased peak hour trips by 8,700 per day. Nevertheless, the busway appeared to have excess capacity, because even the large number of buses using the busway did not require all of the capacity of a two lane facility. Thus, in 1973, it was opened to HOV-4 cars, as a way to promote car pooling. The informal "slug" system that followed is one of the most successful examples of car pooling in the country, and the Shirley highway still carries very large volumes of transit passengers.

by TransitRider on Jan 18, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

"Transfers don't make networks -- they make inconvenience and increased travel time. A goal of any good tranit network should be to minimize transfers and travel times. "

If you have high enough frequency, transfers need not be that large an impediment. I think the idea of BRT replacing a full heavy rail system, in a very dense area, to avoid transfers, does not make sense. Maybe in less dense (I know, its complicated) LA, but not in DC. OTOH where large low density suburban areas need to be served, a BRT may be more than competitive with LRT (MoCo, for example, and perhaps parts of NoVa)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 18, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

Agreed. The only further comment I would make is that in many places in the US, demand is simply not high enough to justify frequencies that sufficiently mitigate the inconvenience of transfers. Take Metro, for example, in the off-peak. One transfer can easily add 15 minutes to your trip. Even during peak, one transfer can easily add 5 minutes. Not terribbly inconvenient, but for many passengers who have multiple transfers (e.g., arrive at a rail station by bus and transfer again at Metro Center) it can add up to 1.5 hours or more per work week.

by TransitRider on Jan 18, 2013 5:02 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman

I will concede the argument that BRT wins of heavy rail then. One should always consider externalities and I would doubt that the increase in environmental externalties would outweigh the transfer benefits of BRT, though I won't way I know that for certain, it would be interesting to see some studies.

Concerning the rest of yall though on the general concept of transfers they suck. If you have a system with low frequency you have to wait forever for a second vehicle and if you have a system with a high enough frequency to limit wait time, that means you have to push through massive crowds to get on a train and very likely be a jerk. Either suck.

by h_lina_k on Jan 18, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

"There are bus systems operating today that carry far more passengers than Metrorail, both in terms of total number of trips and peak hour trips per line."

Rail has more capacity. Comparing one line's bus ridership to another lines rail ridership without considering demand is useless. Would Orange Line LRT serve more people then Gold Line LRT? We can't know, orange line isn't LRT. We do know that the FTA said in 2011 that the Orange Line has reached it's operating capacity during peak periods and that LACMTA recommend converting the Orange line to rail to meet demand.

The reason the Orange Line is bus and not rail is politics: Propositions, Robbins Bill, and threat of succession.

Saying BRT is as good as rail, or better, is as smart as saying we should get rid of all fright trains and move everything by truck. Trucks have a place to move goods, buses have a place to move people. But trucks can't replace freight trains any more then buses can replace rail.

by Los Angeles Day on Jan 18, 2013 5:52 pm • linkreport

Frankly looking at Guangzhou i prefer the California BRT, you can put your bike in front of the bus, there's a bike path right next to the busway with lights and all the vegetation planted looks nice, the Guangzhou stops at all major street, it's right in the middle of a heavily polluted roadway, I rate the Orange Line at Platinum!

by Ciacci on Jan 19, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

Having used the Pittsburgh BRT, for getting between the airport and downtown, it's pretty clear why it doesn't make a silver or gold standard; the time-hogging deviations along the route to accommodate the bad planning and missing tranposrtation infrastructure of Robinson Town Centre; the inadequate frequency (only half-hourly on the airport express route); the fact they're only using a basic transit bus on the airport route as opposed to something that's more rail-like or more appropriately designed for handling people with luggage. But the big thing they had that even qualifies them for bronze -- the vision to convert disused rail lines to dedicated, versatile, potentially high-capacity BRT that enables it to operate at a metro-rail-like speed through walkable neighborhoods -- happened a very long time ago. Where is the new innovation coming from? Where are these agencies headed?

I think too many transit agencies in the US are making the assumption they'll always be marginal, niche players. You see it almost everywhere, from Chicago's Metra being willing to throw away right-of-way width to save money on replacing bridges, to the rebuffing of attempts to address Washington DC's cross-town congestion, to the idea that transit is there to alleviate congestion for car-owners as opposed to providing a vertically integrated alternative to even owning a car.

by DB on Jan 21, 2013 2:17 pm • linkreport

When you guys say transfers, what do you mean exactly? Train systems can have interlining route patterns, what's the big deal?

BRT theoretically does the branching/trunk thing well. A bus exits the grade-separated busway and continues down surface streets, getting riders closer to their final destination.

But how does this ultimately work? A big articulated bus is going to be under-capacity if it terminates in the suburbs. A solution might be to run regular buses amongst the big buses on the trunk.

Still, ultimately you'll just have to wait longer for that particular branching bus to show up. Denver's Light Rail network, which has a complex inter-lining service pattern, is like this. You might wait at a station and watch 5 trains pass by every couple minutes and think the frequency is pretty high, but in reality you end up waiting a while for the exact train you want. And to keep the spacing and frequency on the trunk route reasonable and to prevent bunching, the timetables for route would need to be staggered.

Also, a quick glance at the maps of these gold BRT shows most of them just look like metros anyways.

by TXSteveW on Jan 21, 2013 9:19 pm • linkreport

Detroit's mass public transit is in horrible shape. There is the DDOT city owned bus service and there is the privately owned and operated SMART service for various (not all) suburbs. Routes between systems rarely coordinate with one another. There is no light rail at all, that was finally killed after much build-up in recent years. Now the "focus" is on Bus Rapid Transit, and a private group of investors are supposedly working on creating a short-route street-car system for downtown leading part-way up to midtown. The political stakeholders don't believe in public transit at all, and a big swath of the electorate is the same. I can't live here anymore.

by hypestyles on Aug 19, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

I know this is an old thread but I saw the comment about "comparing it to Brisbane" and, having moved to Brisbane last year this city has nothing resembling BRT. What they have is a busier version of the Pittsburgh busways with nicer looking stations. There's no off board fare collection, no level boarding, everyone must board through the front door, and the system is completely illegible. There's no rhyme or reason to which buses use which branch so you have to learn (usually by trial and error) the routes and the bus numbers before it becomes remotely useful.

by jbris on Sep 11, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

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