Federal Rail Funding Dwarfs BRT

Rail projects are favored over bus rapid transit projects when it comes to federal funding. But many say the bus systems are cheaper and more effective overall.

"New showcase bus rapid transit systems in Los Angeles; Adelaide, Australia; Bogota, Colombia and other cities have been received enthusiastically by commuters."

"But in Washington, BRT proponents say they are being out-lobbied."

"In a report to Congress in February, the Federal Transit Administration said it planned to issue grants worth $18.2 billion to help build rail projects during fiscal 2008, and about $1.4 billion for BRT projects."

"In addition to the local preference for rail systems, the federal transit agency is hamstrung by congressional earmarks in its budget."

"In a recent transportation spending authorization, Congress wrote in more than 6,000 earmarks, mandating federal support for everything from safety gates at remote rail crossings to elaborate ferry docks and other transportation infrastructure."

"Among rapid transit systems, the congressional earmarks overwhelmingly favored rail, although there were also BRT earmarks, including a $100 million authorization for a system in Birmingham, Ala."

Full Story: Better rapid transit? Bus advocates think so

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The Veracity of Bill Vincent, the BRT Uber-Lobbyist

As related in the article, the chief BRT lobbyist for the Breakthrough Technologies Institute, Bill Vincent, has made some rather dubious points in favor of BRT. The most egregious falsehood is the claim that substituting BRT for electrified rail (and by implication, electric buses) transit would minimize carbon dioxide emissions.

One has to make dubious assumptions to arrive at Vincent's claims on this topic. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced with electrified rail transportation even in cases where 100% of electric power is from coal or natural gas. As progress is made towards non-fossil fuel sources for generating electricity, this advantage will eventually reach 100%.

Even now in the Pacific Northwest, virtually 100% of electric power for the electric trolley coaches in Seattle and streetcars and light rail in Portland come from renewable, clean hydroelectric power. In California, a number of electric rail systems and electric trolley coaches in San Francisco are powered by a combination of hydroelectric, wind, and nuclear power. Less than 10% of California's electricity is provided from coal.

Electric traction--whether for rail or buses--is the correct direction for transit power EXACTLY because of the flexibility of power sources that can be used to generate electricity. Keep in mind that less than 3% of current U.S. electric needs are generated from oil, a source that will be eclipsed by wind power by itself over the next few years. There is also a better than even chance that Vincent's odd thesis regarding emissions from coal plants will soon be moot, assuming (1) technology for "carbon sequestration" works in an effective, practical manner, and (2) the lobbying efforts from the most backward denizens of "Big Coal" can be overcome and they're forced to adopt this new "clean coal" technology.

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