Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, has been a hot topic around Michigan. Much of the excitement has been spurred by the The SilverLine BRT, currently under construction in Grand Rapids and scheduled to begin service in August 2014. Planners are also looking at potential BRT service in Lansing, Ann Arbor and Metro Detroit. The hype around these transit projects has many Michigan residents asking: what is a BRT system, and why is it is so great?
The most efficient BRT systems are designed to provide service similar to a fixed rail transit system, without the track. BRT systems take on many forms and can be designed with different characteristics. For instance, some BRT systems may have their own lane, traffic signal control and off-board ticketing while others may not.
BRT systems are becoming more common because they offer the affordability of a bus system with relatively low capital costs and the efficiency of a rail system, with frequent, fast and easy-to-use service.
To get an idea what a BRT system could look like in communities across Michigan, I’ve included below some of the key characteristics of an efficient BRT system:
Exclusive, designated lane(s), also known as transit ways, are essential to increase speed, reduce transit time, and make BRT travel more competitive with automobiles. Established BRT systems in the United States carry more than 10,000 passengers per hour in peak directions. BRT provides a viable alternative to automobile travel, which has the potential to greatly reduce vehicle demand and in turn, ease congestion, reduce emissions and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Designated BRT lanes and off-board ticket options are highlights of Cleveland’s Healthline BRT (Image source)
Traffic signal priority control, an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) application which prioritizes BRT vehicles at intersections is important to increase speed, reduce travel time, and increase competiveness with private automobiles. BRT vehicles won’t have to waste time waiting for traffic signals, and like trains, move unobstructed, between stations.
Grand Rapids’ soon-to-be-opened SilverLine BRT system features hybrid vehicles and traffic signal control among many other amenities (image source)
Off-board ticketing at station machines or other convenient locations can greatly reduce waiting times at stops. Furthermore, smartcard systems, where a re-loadable or billable transit card is used, can reduce the inconvenience of having to carry cash, or worse, exact change. Many smartcard systems simply require a wave in front of a sensor, and can easily account for changing fare prices or things like fare-free connections, frequent-rider discounts, or distance-based fares.
Stations on platforms level with the BRT vehicle entry make boarding for all riders easy and efficient. Stations can be designed in many ways, but often have the common features of shelter that extends out to the vehicle entry, ticket-vending machines, maps and schedules, real-time travel information, and options to access the station by cyclists, pedestrians, connector transit lines and automobiles.
Flip-out ramps on vehicles for riders in wheelchairs, strollers or walkers allow more efficient and comfortable boarding for all riders.
Doors throughout the length of the BRT vehicle allow multiple opportunities for entry and exit, reducing stopping times at stations.
An elevated station, flip-out vehicle ramps and multiple doors on this BRT system in Curitiba, Brazil help make it one of the most successful transit systems in the world. (image source)
Frequent and fast service that runs all day is critical to reduce wait and travel time and increase rider satisfaction with the system. BRT systems often perform best along linear, high-density corridors that connect residential areas to employment centers with areas of interest along the way. Stations should be strategically placed to require the fewest number of stops necessary. Stops are often located more frequently in high-density residential or employment areas and less frequently throughout areas without many attractions.
We believe bus rapid transit systems have the potential to become a crucial element within a comprehensive, affordable and efficient transportation system across Michigan. With these essential characteristics in mind, BRT systems could be a driving element to move Michigan forward.
Written by Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellow
Walker, Jarrett (2011-12-16). Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives (Kindle Location 690). Island Press. Kindle Edition.
Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District. What is BRT? http://www.actransit.org