Questioning America's Love Affair with Bus Rapid Transit

The number of BRT systems in the U.S. continues to rise, with new lines opening in cities across the nation. But, a debate has arisen within the transit community over just how much should we rely on such systems.
August 5, 2012, 5am PDT | Andrew Gorden
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Undoubtedly, cities around the United States are embracing bus rapid transit. Ryan Holeywell, of Governing magazine writes on the continued rise in popularity. "Until now, just a handful of U.S. transit agencies have embraced BRT," says Holeywell. "That's changing. Longtime transit leaders like Chicago, New York City and San Francisco are planning new BRT services, while less transit-focused places like Hartford, Conn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Montgomery County, Md., are pursuing it as well."

That popularity stems from the fact that many BRT lines are seeing increased patronage over that of regular bus lines. Additionally, as Holeywell writes, "[t]he other goal is to make buses feel safe and inviting. The exteriors of BRT buses often feature cosmetic enhancements to make them appear more modern. Stops are designed to be aesthetically pleasing and convenient, complete with landscaping and bicycle racks. And electronic displays let riders know how soon the next vehicle is coming."

Despite their increasing popularity, concerns remain for some in the transit community, stemming from what some see as an over-reliance on BRT. "Some in the light-rail community view BRT as a threat that actually undermines transit," writes the author. The conversion of travel and parking lanes to dedicated BRT lanes causes consternation with businesses and automobile drivers as well.

Still, undeniable is BRT's ability to help cash-strapped transportation agencies expand their offerings in a time when money for more expensive light rail and subway construction isn't readily available.

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Published on Thursday, August 2, 2012 in Governing
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