A growing transit solution

A look at the benefits and best practices of bus rapid transit

Wes Guckert, PTP / July 17, 2018
Wes Guckert

According to the BRT Centre of Excellence, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a major source of transportation for millions every day. There are 54 cities across Latin America that have a BRT system, transporting nearly 20 million people on a daily basis. Latin America makes up 62% of the global demand for BRT services. Asia has 9.3 million daily BRT users in 43 cities, while Europe has 1.6 million passengers in 44 cities. By comparison, North America, which includes both the U.S. and Canada, has only 912,000 passengers combined using BRT systems in 18 cities.

That said, more cities are considering BRT as a cost-effective mode of transportation. There are 10 BRT projects opening in 2018 in North America, according to The Transport Politic.

Interestingly, there are more BRT projects scheduled to open this year than any other type of mass transit, which includes heavy, light and commuter rail as well as streetcars. What is driving the number of BRT projects? We, at The Traffic Group, consider BRT to fit into the 80-20 Rule. This means BRT can often cost 20% of a light-rail system but typically captures 80-85% of light rail riders, if light-rail transit (LRT) is not available.

The Rules of BRT

A great Class A BRT system can be built in an area that comprises 27 ft in width without a station and another 13 ft 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. These dedicated lanes are considered critical to making a BRT system successful.

The most important lesson learned is that the “R,” or rapid, in BRT is critical—keep it rapid. Therefore, some important rules:

  • Transit stops in 1-2 mile intervals;
  • High density (20-50 DU’s acre minimum) at transit stops;
  • Do your best to have the dedicated lanes in the median area of a road;
  • Traffic signal priority (TSP);
  • Level boarding, with at least two entry doors/vehicle; and
  • Off-vehicle payment systems.

The ROI of BRT

Within the U.S., BRT has resulted in upwards of 400% of return on investment along transit corridors. Some of the most noteworthy systems can be found in Las Vegas and Eugene, Ore., to name a few, while the most state of the art can be found in Toronto, Canada.

A 2016 study by Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Arizona and released by Transportation for America found that BRT lines can actually shape real estate and attract jobs. A surprising finding to come out of a portion of the study—lead by University of Utah’s Joanna Ganning—was that the manufacturing industry seems to be drawn to BRT corridors.

The Cleveland system’s transit stops are iconic along its route—named the HealthLine—with paid naming rights by the Cleveland Clinic. The stations could be mistaken for metro or light-rail stops with all the amenities. To top it off, economic growth and density along the HealthLine Corridor has generated billions in development, jobs and taxes. Specifically, Cleveland’s BRT delivered more than $4.8 billion in economic development in and around the route: a staggering $114.54 gained for every dollar spent on creating and launching the HealthLine. Even more surprising is that the original investment in the BRT program was a modest $50 million. Given these numbers, it should come as no surprise that offices within a quarter-mile of BRT cost 18% higher than office space outside walking distance of the line, and microbreweries have begun setting up shop along the route. Annual ridership has increased about 60% over the previous bus line.

One of the best BRT systems in North America can be found in the York region of Toronto, Canada, planned and managed by the York Region Rapid Transit Corporation. In all of their materials describing and marketing their BRT system, they focus on the lifestyle the service provides, not on the BRT itself. By doing so, the city is offsetting the “bus” stigma associated with BRT systems. Offering amenities typically found with new, state-of-the-art systems and convenience for riders, the rapid transit vehicles come every five minutes during peak times. In conducting our own on-the-ground research, our firm has visited most of the new BRT systems in North America and believe Toronto’s VivaNext System can, quite frankly, be considered the best so far. But perhaps the most famous BRT system worldwide is located in Bogota, Colombia, which carries 30,000 to 42,000 passengers per hour—not daily, not weekly, but per hour.

Environmental Benefits

In addition to the other numerous benefits, BRT also is a sustainable transit solution. BRT reduces the overall amount of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by taking solitary commuters in cars and putting them into high-capacity buses capable of carrying 160 passengers at a time. Think of this: just one bus can replace 40 cars on the road.

Modern fuel-efficient technologies in BRT buses lower carbon emissions and other harmful pollutants from getting into the air. For example, Bogota’s TransMilenio, combined with regulations on fuel quality, is estimated to reduce emissions by nearly 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Another example can be found with the Metrobús Line 3 in Mexico City, which claims standard commuting times have fallen from 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour on the route, while passenger exposure to air pollutants has fallen by up to 50%, compared to the figures for the previous bus service operating in this corridor. The office also claims that CO2 emissions have been cut by 35,000 tons annually.

It is worth noting that 11 BRT systems across Mexico, Colombia, China, India and South Africa have registered their carbon dioxide equivalent emissions reductions through the United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Clean Development Mechanism or other emissions verification schemes. Clearly, BRT is saving our entire planet a significant amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from getting into the air we breathe. This news is like a breath of literal fresh air.

In conclusion

BRT is not a substitute for local bus service—it is an add-on to local bus service and LRT. When properly designed, BRT allows for more transit riders and a more green, sustainable community. Not only can it help riders save precious time and money, but it also can connect more people to jobs and educational opportunities.


For more information please contact the author at: [email protected], visit www.trafficgroup.com, or follow him on Twitter @wes_guckert.

About the Author

Guckert is president & CEO of The Traffic Group, a leading, 33-year-old Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) traffic engineering and transportation planning firm.

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