Bus Rapid Transit is a mode that should be competitive with the automobile for speed – otherwise why go to the expense of having it? Think about it. Unlike in conventional transit bus operations where buses move in and out of automobile traffic, BRT in order to be competitive with vehicle traffic should preferably have its own exclusive right-of-way. Having exclusivity enables buses to travel on rights-of-way (the area of traveled roadway) separate from automobile traffic using the same thoroughfare. An example would be BRT buses occupying roadway median areas where present.
So, for the BRT being proposed for both the Blackstone and Kings Canyon/Ventura corridors will it have right-of-way exclusivity? If so, how will this affect system cost? Assuming there is ridership to be gained compared to what conventional buses garner in a given corridor, will there be enough of a ridership increase to justify implementation of an exclusive right-of-way?
Keep in mind also, that BRT exclusivity may only be possible on corridors where traffic moves in one direction only such as on Wishon Avenue between Clinton and Olive, simply because other thoroughfares may not be wide enough to allow for this.
Next question: Will there be what’s called “pre-emptive” signalization? Pre-emption allows buses to have priority through intersections much the way trains are allowed priority or the right-of-way through intersections. If this is the case, what will the affect be on intersecting cross traffic? If the BRT occupies the median space of a roadway, with pre-emption, how will this affect motor vehicles making left turns using the same thoroughfare? And what type of extra signalization will be required in order to minimize the potential of motor vehicles making left turns in front of moving BRT buses traveling in the same direction? Also, what added costs will there be for this “extra” signalization? Incidents between automobiles and BRT vehicles can result in delays.
Added to this, Jarrett Walker, from the Human Transit blog in “bus rapid transit: some questions to ask” writes: “A line is only as reliable as its least reliable point, so if there are localized compromises to the exclusivity or separation of the service, these deserve your intense scrutiny.”
So what does “localized compromises to the exclusivity” mean, actually?
According to Walker, there may be instances where a BRT line may share a section of roadway “with very low volumes of car traffic. This sometimes happens at the ends of busways when you’re trying to bring them to an existing terminus such as a shopping center or business district… Here the key is to operate on streets that are never congested under normal operations, to have signal priority if possible, and to keep the mix to a minimum.”
There may be other tradeoffs. To allow for right-of-way exclusivity, this may mean on-street parking must go. But what if the parking in question is there for the motoring public to use, such parking enabling a level of patron access to on-street businesses, for example, not found absent such parking? If such is the case, this might be much to the chagrin of affected business owners who may resist any attempt by transportation entities or city government to grab such space for the purpose of advancing the BRT service. On the other hand, doing so could yield increased pedestrian activity as a result of the BRT service, which, may, in turn, result in increased business patronage potential – a pedestrian environment may be created where there otherwise might be none.
Walker, meanwhile, describes an “open” BRT corridor as “one where some buses branch off of the BRT corridor into various on-street routes, potentially expanding the range of places that can be reached without a connection and also generating a higher frequency on the common BRT segment than pure demand would otherwise justify. Service in an open BRT can be a (sometimes confusing) mass of overlapping lines, while closed BRT is just a single line or at most a few entirely within the BRT infrastructure.”
There may be concerns over the eco-friendliness of the buses themselves. Will they be diesel-engine-powered, electric or fall somewhere in between? If more eco-friendly technology is utilized what will be the cost differential between diesel engine and say hybrid technology, for instance? Or between hybrid and all-electric?
What about BRT vs. LRT or Light Rail Transit: How does a BRT stack up cost-wise against LRT for a given distance covered and with comparable access? The BRT may in fact be less expensive but there might be a tradeoff in passenger load volumes. Ridership demand may be much higher with LRT.