Bus Rapid Transit When Costs Matter

There is an alternative which few people have experienced in the US that can easily reduce the insane cost of Sound Transit Light Rail while providing more convenient service.  It's called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  (RapidRide is NOT BRT)  BRT began as a lower cost alternative to heavy rail construction in the developing world in the 1970's. More recently it has spread to the developed world in response to the absurd increase in light rail construction costs.  

A Brief History of Modern Light Rail Transit (LRT)


Comments & Questions
While Sound Transit is totally focused on building rail at any cost rather than moving the most people for each spent taxpayer dollar the birth of modern light rail was ironically driven by city planners in San Diego trying to lower the cost of rail using an 
abandoned freight rail line.

Since
 Light Rail equals low capacity why is Sound Transit spending 10 to 40 times as much per mile as San Diego to build a low capacity transit system?  

The Birth of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

Out of control heavy rail construction costs lead to the birth of lower cost (and lower capacity) Light Rail Transit (LRT).   The explosion of light rail construction costs, which Sound Transit epitomizes, has led to a similar growth in Bus Rapid Transit. (BRT)

Bus Rapid Transit Has Higher Capacity then Light Rail

Comments
While a multi car light rail train can carry more passengers per driver a dedicated bus lane can carry far more passengers because a bus stopping at a station to unload and load passengers does not stop the flow of buses passing that station. (assuming passing lanes at the stations)

There are no passing lanes for metro rail systems, although a handful of larger heavy rail systems have dual tracks on certain sections, such as Chicago and New York. Rail systems rarely run trains more frequently than every 2 minutes while Sound Transit is hoping to eventually reach a minimum headway of 3 mins for some corridors. This compares to a proven 10 second headway for full BRT systems such as the single lane GuangzhouChina system.  Brisbane, Australia runs more than 300 buses per hour through a single bus lane, validating a 12 second spacing for a system in a developed country.  

Comments & Questions
How do you feel about spending hundreds of millions of dollars per mile for a light rail system which has less capacity then a dedicated bus lane costing far less? Would you prefer standing in a train for an extra 10 minutes to sitting in a double decker bus during a commute from Everett to Seattle? 

Snohomish County BRT "Lite"

Comments & Questions
Community Transit collects taxes to provide transit services for Snohomish County residents.  In addition to local bus service, they provide commuter services under contract to Sound Transit.

While Sound Transit was was spending $188 million(2014$) /mile on their Light Rail system, Community Transit was dramatically improving the rider experience down State Route 99 (Aurora Avenue) in Snohomish County. For $2 million(2014$)/mile the Swift BRT "lite" reduced run times 20%, and increased frequency to the levels of Seattle making public transit a viable option for car owners.  I use the term, "lite," since this is not a true BRT system, although it skillfully implements the most cost effective aspects of BRT to improve passenger service. 

Snohomish County residents recently approved a sales tax hike for Swift II which will provide frequent and much faster service to another highly congested travel corridor ending at the Everett Boeing Plant. Sound Transit's proposal to bring light rail past the plant and on to downtown Everett, would cost 100 times as much.
 

Swift BRT "Lite" 13 Times Cheaper per Ride (94 Times Cheaper per mile) than Central Link Light Rail

Comments
Sound Transit Central Link Light Rail and Swift BRT "lite" have similar top average speeds which shows that trains are no faster than buses given a free flowing traffic lane. 

Swift demonstrates what can be accomplished when your total focus is on improving transit quality at the least cost to your customer.  To put the cost into perspective the money spent for 1 mile of the University Link would have paid for 150 miles of Swift II. 

If a Swift BRT lite system can provide such a dramatic improvement in the factors driving ridership, travel time, service frequency, at a small fraction of the cost of Light Rail, why aren't we duplicating this over every major transit corridor? 

Sound Transit Claims BRT Costing 20 to 27 Times More Than Swift Bus Would Increase Travel Times Up to 50%

As part of their ST3 proposal to raise taxes Sound Transit evaluated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for the Lynnwood to Everett Corridor Study. Option E follows the Swift I BRT route for most of it's length.




Comments & Questions to ask yourself

Higher transit system ridership drives down costs per rider, while spending more money allows you to increase transit speeds by adding separate bus lanes or making road improvements.

Sound Transit claims that a full BRT system  running along the same corridor as the existing Swift bus, which is a cheap knockoff of a true BRT system, carrying more riders would cost more per rider served and run slower.
 
How can a full BRT system built with an additional 1/2 to 3/4 of billion dollars to improve speed, which carries more riders, cost 4 to 7 times as much to build per rider and run slower?   
 
Bogota BRT: Providing 2.4 Million Rides per Day 
After reading about the legendary performance of the Bogota, Colombia Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for a decade I headed down there to see it first hand in 2011.  Legendary performance means low cost per rider and large travel time reductions.

Bogota has the population density and proven ridership patterns to justify a heavy rail system. The high cost of rail, however, would have limited their ability to improve service over the vast majority of a 610 square mile service area so their mayor pushed through a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system instead. The system which is called Transmileneo became the gold standard in BRT for the vast improvement in transit travel times, huge ridership numbers, and low construction cost per passenger.

The Bogota Transmilenio has received a huge amount of attention for it's economic performance and ridership numbers relative to a heavy rail system Medillin opened around the same time. Bogota's published construction cost numbers for phase I of their BRT system was less than 1/10th the construction costs for the Medillin metro leading to claims for a 10 to 1 cost advantage for Bus Rapid Transit compared to heavy rail. Meanwhile, the Bogota BRT system soon carried twice the riders as the metro system dispelling the myth of low capacity bus.

The biggest challenge Transmilenio faces is overcrowding with 2.4 million daily weekday boardings (2014). The main line is maxed out with a peak ridership in one direction at some stations of 45,000 riders per hour. The 45,000 riders are carried by 2 lanes of buses which is often missed.   

While there have been discussions about building a HEAVY Rail (not Light) system in the downtown at a huge cost, some are concerned about the increased travel times from losing express buses.  BRT systems are built around express buses to minimize travel time.

While today their are multiple BRT systems carrying 1, 2, or 3 million riders per day for a comparable cost, Transmilenio's place in history as the first big city application to catch the world's attention is undeniable.

tbd