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Bus Rapid Transit Furore?

Curitiba RIT (Photo: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

There seems to be a surge in implemented and proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in various parts of the world. Considered an efficient way to deliver significant improvements to public transport without the levels of investment associated with rail based infrastructure, they are basically a way of achieving the reliability and efficiency of a rail based system through the use of large capacity buses which generally run on dedicated bus lanes on surface streets. BRT systems generally consist of articulated buses running at high frequency on dedicated routes, thus increasing the speed and capacity of conventional buses. In most cases the scheme includes off bus fare collection, which takes place at ‘stations’ or enclosed bus stops where passengers pay their fares in advance (as done in metropolitan rail systems), avoiding the time taken to collect fares on the bus and discouraging fare dodgers. Most BRTs also feature enhanced accessibility through level boarding, use highly efficient engines and have a strong brand image on stations and buses, highlighting their attractiveness and encouraging their use above other transport options.

The system was pioneered in the city of Curitiba in Brazil some forty years ago, as the city planners integrated the need for public transportation into the core of their planning system as part of the Curitiba Masterplan in the late 1960s. What was so innovative about BRT (or RIT, as it is called in Portuguese, standing for Rede Integrada de Transporte, or Integrated Transport Network) was that it focused on providing an efficient and comfortable means of transport without the need for large-scale and expensive projects, whilst making the most of the generous highway infrastructure which the city had inherited from a previous masterplan; this may sound pretty common sense, but keep in mind nobody was doing anything like that elsewhere – whoever could afford it would instead build metropolitan underground (or overground) rail systems. Today, 70% of Curitiba’s inhabitants use the integrated bus system daily. A very complete summary report on Curitiba’s Bus Transit System can be found here, and an overview of the project by the US Federal Transit Administration here.

In the past 20 years, a number of transport initiatives inspired on the model have been introduced throughout the world, notably in the developing world, but also in cities from Madrid to Ottawa and Sidney to New York. It is often used as part of a wider network of public transport, offering, for example, direct transfers with underground rail networks and overground rail systems. The principle of enclosed bus stations also allows bus to bus transfer without the need for transfer tickets. BRT is comparably low cost; the buses can be equipped with very effective energy saving technologies, which along with the part they play reducing road congestion and the need for the use of the private car, contribute to reducing their environmental impact; it represents, in most cases, a great improvement to traditional bus systems with better reliability, comfort and speed. In developing countries especially, it can have the added benefit of a significant increase in passenger safety.

Lately a number of BRT systems are being proposed in various cities across the US, with others already implemented. Successful examples elsewhere are the TransMilenio in Bogota, Colombia, TransJakarta in Indonesia and B-Line in Vancouver. A list of other cities that have already implemented or are looking to implement their own can be found here.

I think this is good news. BRT systems seem well tailored for times of austerity and are even more relevant as environmental sustainability has become paramount.The system is particularly suited to medium sized cities or as part of a wider public transport system network and can contribute to improving the quality of public transport in many places.

With adequate foresight for predicted demand (as much as possible), and commitment to efficiency in design, the use of technology and constant revision of performance, BRT can play a part in making living in cities more sustainable and enjoyable. The provision of transport infrastructure brings together the environment and the socio-economic performance of a city, and should be part of the backbone of urban design and planning. I will be interested in learning more on this subject and hearing about experiences with the implementation of BRT systems or other similar infrastructure.

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1 Comment

  1. An interesting video showing the success of a BRT system implemented in Guanzhou (China), where a bicycle share scheme has been incorporated into the system: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/04/china-guangzhou-multi-model-transit-brt-bike-sharing-subway-video.php

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