Determining if Bus Rapid Transit will improve your city's mobility
The adverse effects of COVID-19 on transit ridership have been felt across the country. Yet, as recovery is underway BRT ridership is rebounding, and in many instances, rebounding faster than other modes. One reason for that resiliency is that BRT is poised to help cities deliver a more efficient transit experience and improve mobility across various communities. Cities that implement BRT successfully are incorporating inclusiveness throughout their planning and implementation process. This has led to greater community support and in many areas expansion of their BRT systems.
Technology, planning and design unite to create a more comfortable and efficient passenger experience. For example, BRT vehicles often have a sleek design with doors that open on both sides. Other comfort-driven amenities are increasingly used in BRT vehicles, including on-board WiFi, electrical outlets, USB charging ports, comfortable seating and better environmental controls, including more widespread adoption of all-electric vehicles.
Aesthetic and operational improvements extend to BRT stations, too, to make the ever-briefer wait for bus more pleasant. Features include high-efficiency LED or solar lighting, digital kiosks with real-time arrival information, WiFi connections and off-board ticketing made possible by ticket vending machines. Sustainable materials and design make the stations environmentally friendly.
Significant technological advancements continue to enhance the overall operational and customer experiences with BRT. Enhanced vehicle technologies continue to emerge and promise to usher in an exciting era of new vehicle advances. Additionally, sophisticated, dedicated lanes are among the new approaches to ensure passengers reach their destinations on time.
Considerations with BRT
BRT is meant to add to an existing transit system, not replace it. The first step to implementing BRT is to examine the current transit system(s) and identify needs with these questions in mind:
- What can the system do better?
- What passenger pain points will it solve?
- How can BRT be used to encourage more people to use public transit?
- Is this solving a mobility issue?
- Will BRT help to provide more equitable transportation options for more people?
Answering these questions in the planning process while solving how to implement BRT includes these factors:
Keeping pace with technology: If a transit agency orders a bus today with a lifespan of 12-years then a plan for upgrades and updates is needed within that lifespan. Upgrades may be technological, aesthetic improvements or both.
Involve the public: BRT is an investment in mobility. The mobility solution BRT is providing needs to be apparent and the investment must be supported. The key to success is to find the right moment to incorporate technology where it makes sense. It’s also important to maintain a continual dialogue with the public to understand their perspectives and answer questions.
Planning for a dedicated right-of-way: This is one of the most significant determinants of BRT success. If a BRT vehicle is caught in traffic, it becomes another slow bus in congestion. Dedicated BRT lanes, on the other hand, promise — and deliver — efficiency and reliability. The more robust the dedicated lanes, the more reliable the service is.
Transportation equity: BRT is a way to improve transportation equity and access for communities that may currently be underserved. Not only does it improve mobility for people to get to work or where they live, but it also brings communities together and enhances potential business investments in the area. Federal grants may also be used to make BRT a reality.
Transportation is focused on the safe experience provided to its customers. To thrive, transportation needs to incorporate technology that enhances the customer experience and brings transit closer to the user. For example, mobile ticketing makes fare payment seamless and Mobility as a Service (MaaS) options can close first- and last-mile barriers.
An effective way to maintain transit ridership is to offer an improved experience that caters to what passengers want and need. That increasingly includes BRT, which is viewed now not just as a transit system’s value-add, but instead as a key player in preserving the vital role of bus service in our communities.
BRT in Action: Tulsa, Okla.
After voters approved an extension of Vision Tulsa, a 0.6% tax package that will make the City of Tulsa’s transit vision possible, the second leg of BRT service will soon be underway.
Tulsa’s AERO BRT, planned and designed by HNTB and Tulsa-based Cyntergy, offers a number of advantages over Tulsa’s traditional bus system, including:
- Longer service hours, including service seven days/week (compared to the existing bus system’s six days/week)
- Faster frequency — 15 minutes compared to the traditional 45-minute wait
The first BRT route, the AERO Peoria line, spans an 18-mile north-south stretch. The project team adapted to one of the location’s challenges, limited station space in some urban areas, by creating constrained stations that include real-time signage and some shelter.
Project stakeholders strategically selected Peoria Avenue as the location for the first BRT line. One in seven Tulsa residents live within a 10-minute walk of the corridor, and one-fifth of Tulsa’s jobs are within a 10-minute walk of Peoria Avenue, according to city studies. Additionally, the Peoria line is expected to help residents in the northern part of the line have easier access to more food and healthcare options.
In fact, BRT was considered such an important transit opportunity in Tulsa that the project was accelerated from its original 2021 timeline. Now, planning and preliminary design for a second route — the east-west AERO Route 66 segment — is underway, with additional expansion under consideration.
“The direction I see transportation going is shifting away from owning the asset model, to the rideshare model, and transit can sit in that,” said Ted Rieck, AICP, general manager of Tulsa Transit. “BRT can do a lot of things, and if it showcases what transit can actually do, I think people will be surprised and want more of this kind of service.”
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Bus Rapid Transit Practice Leader
Mark Huffer has more than 40 years of experience in the transit industry. His experience includes all facets of transit operations including finance, operations, planning, labor, community and governmental relations, strategic planning, and marketing. His modal experience includes fixed route and paratransit operations, bus rapid transit, light rail and streetcar.
Contact him at 919-424-0409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.