yep; this was my first response to what I read at CBC news on October 15th (see here).

I, as many commenters on the news article, can only applaud to the transit planning department to that decision, because it is the smartest way of alining budget constraints with more or less relatively uncertain predictions of passenger demand.

I am actually, kind of a newbie too that topic. But when visiting the CASPT’12 conference earlier this year, which was held together with a meeting by the “Asociación Latino-Americana de Sistemas Integrados y BRT“, I got a jump start about this relatively new form of public transit. Several talks introduced or showed the success of BRT systems in South America and world wide. You may wonder why I say South America, but it is simply that the Brazilian city of Curitiba, was the first that introduced such a s system in 1972. And, this was rather a result of constraints, read: “money”, then a planned exercise in public transit systems.

TransMilenio BRT System in Bogota, Colombia (image from Wikimedia)

The CASPT’12 talk given by Dario Hidalgo and Juan Carlo Munoz, outlines very well the progress and the success experienced by BRT systems in the last years (for the talk slides click here). An interesting figure in that talk was that there exist 142 cities in the world with BRTs. Hence, one can say that there exists quite a bit of experiences with such systems now.

Also interesting was a talk by Paulo Custodio, a world renownded expert in transit system implementations, that highlighted – and criticized – the politics behind the introduction of big transit systems (slides here). He actually gave several examples in which (metro/LRT) systems have been oversized (i.e. capacity wise) as for instance mayors wanted to have a long lasting  monument of their politics. But also a lot of under-sized systems exist, that run at the limits of their capacity right after introduction, e.g. TransMilenio in Bogota.

So thinking about what could be the Pro’s & Con’s for a Bus Rapid Transit system:

Pro:

  • a BRT should serve needs better than current system, i.e. transport in a BRT system is faster and one can transport more people
  • buses are cheaper to buy and faster to order than a train (at CASPT some said you may get a new bus from China in 3 weeks, while for a train…)
  • the system is more flexible than a train system (i.e. can easier be extended at the ends or forked in the middle)
  • one can start simple and then add bit by bit, and if capacity is reached one can upgrade to a train system
  • cheaper than building train tracks

Contra:

  • needs dedicated and separated bus lanes to be effective, and if those lanes are taken from current roads, then this will affect other modes (i.e. car and truck traffic)
  • less capacity than a train system
  • buses are not really seen as sexy, while a train may be 😉

So, from the topf of my head I can’t think of more. However, as some points above show, important is how the implementation is done. I.e. one needs to create separated bus lanes (= only buses can access) and dedicated bus lanes (no taxis, or other buses, or so), That is it should not be done like as it now for the current BRT to Calgary West (Bowness) and North.  Btw. an interesting set of errors with BRTs is given in that slideshow here. Lets see how Calgary keeps going, but I think starting with a BRT is a very good (and cheaper) decision.

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