Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why not Bus Rapid Transit?

Over and over again there are people saying we need to go to a rail based rapid transit system in this region but no one ever explains why this would be better than a bus rapid transit system.

In Vancouver there have been bus rapid transit lines in use for some years now the first being the 99 B-Line started in September 1996 along Broadway to UBC.   The 98 B-Line operated along Granville to Richmond from 2001 until the Canada Line opened last year.   The 97 B-Line runs where the Evergreen Line will eventually operate.

The 99 B-Line moves about 45,000 people a day which is about 40% of what all of BC Transit carries in the CRD.   The 97 B-Line moves a lot less but would still be a very significant route.   Surveys done in the past found that about 20% of the riders in the B-Lines are new to transit.  

The major reason the B-Lines have worked well is that follow the existing traffic, they do not try to create it.   UBC is a major daily destination for people in the lower mainland and it is way off on the western edge of the region.  There are plans for two new B-Lines, the 95 B-Line to run along Hastings out to SFU and the 91 B-Line to run along 41st out to UBC.   As you can see both lines are connected to the two largest universities in Metro Vancouver.  

Over in Kelowna this fall they started a new bus rapid line, the 97X which goes from UBC Okanagan to downtown and will eventually go over the lake to West Kelowna.   This service is once again following existing traffic.  The system will be fully built out for less than $65,000,000.   The current 15 kilometre stretch has been put into service for $21,500,000.

The Seattle region is currently adding bus rapid transit to the choices in their mix

Bus rapid transit can easily and quickly be put into operation.   It is capable of a decent speed and it is flexible in how it and where it operates.   Best of all, because it is much cheaper to implement you can do offer a lot more rapid transit.

A bus rapid transit line to the Westshore would mean there should be no reason BC Transit could not be immediately looking at bus rapid transit to UVic.   UVic to Uptown and then downtown strikes me as an obvious line that should be under consideration right now.  It is also a line that would have enough traffic from day one to pay for the cost of operations.

If our goal is to improve transit in this region soon, there really is no case for anything other than a bus rapid transit system that makes any sense.


Unknown said...

The 15x is essentially a proto-BRT, with high frequency and limited stops. The 16x also exists but has much more limited frequency. In terms of where priority should be after the Westshore, the 15x makes the most sense for upgrade to real BRT because it parallels the 14, which is the busiest route in Victoria and hits a lot of important transit destinations (Camosun, Royal Jubilee, Fort Street corridor).

Bernard said...

I do not see them as BRT as they do not have many features of BRT. There are no 'stations', you can not pay before entering the bus, there is no light priority for the bus, there are no dedicated bus lanes and more. The buses you mention are slightly more more express regular buses

Unknown said...

I would agree that they are not currently BRT, which is why I said they are a proto-BRT, or a predecessor to BRT. They do represent a service that can be easily evolved into a more comprehensive bus rapid transit.

I see high frequency and limited stops as the most important first steps towards rapid transit. Jarrett Walker at Human Transit provides a great explanation of the difference between express and rapid stopping patterns. For local comparison, the 15x is an example of rapid stopping pattern while the 32x.

Vancouver's B-Line busses are often discredited as not being proper Bus Rapid Transit because they lack stations (other than their distinct bus shelters), payment before entering the bus, and fully dedicated bus lanes. However, as you point out, they have very high ridership and the ability to attract riders who are new to transit.

Now that a rapid style of transit service is being offered, improved stations, off-board payment, and sections of transit priority lanes, and other features of BRT can be added as funding is available and ridership increases. I think the next major step would be to start branding them as rapid lines. This would allow for differentiation between express lines such as the 32x as well as making the structure of Victoria's transit system more legible.

With the current focus on the Westshore rapid transit line, I wouldn't expect to see major changes to these bus routes any time soon. That said, I would also be surprised if some level of rebranding didn't happen along with adjustments to the bus system when the Westshore line is implemented.

Christina said...

Bernard, no-one is saying that a rail based rapid transit system is better than a bus rapid transit system. What many of us are advocating is an integrated transportation system that includes both bus and rail and that reduces vehicles on the road particularly single occupancy vehicles that are part of a regular daily commuter route. You are not telling me that if you live out in the suburbs and put up with the Colwood crawl every day you wouldn't prefer to get on light rail and zip into downtown Victoria in half the time it takes to drive?

Picture this scenario. A couple with two small children are travelling from out of town to visit and shop at the new Walmart store at Uptown. They do not have a car and have to travel by public transport - it's a BC Transit bus. They finish their shopping and are laden down with boxes and bags of shopping and their double-buggy - oh, did I omit to say they have twins? - and they are waiting for a BC Transit bus to take them back home. Need I say more?

You actually agree in an earlier post that "The demand in our region is from downtown to UVic." We know that investing in a rail based rapid transit system is going to be significant and we can crunch numbers and look at ridership but we have to plan for the future. We then will have to look at making regional co-ordination "work" better than it does now and yes, that may mean an overhaul of the current way we do business. This is not about social engineering.

Corey Burger said...

The B-Lines in Vancouver are a joke of BRT. They don't have grade separation, traffic light priority or anything else that would make them "rapid transit". The sole exception was the 98 B-Line in Richmond, which was designated for future light rail.

15X and 16X in Victoria (and 97X in Kelowna) are not BRT, just express buses.

True BRT requires grade separation, which is just as expensive as LRT, with lower throughput and higher per-passenger cost due to smaller vehicles.

BRT also has one giant political problem: politicians can't seem to actual support true BRT. Even when they do, there is always pressure to turn the right-of-way over to taxis/HOV/regular cars. You can't do that rail.

Anonymous said...

BRT is just a stopgap for true mass-transit. We have to look at the future in terms of population, and urban development. For example, light rail ideally is meant to encourage housing and commercial density at stations - A bus stop does not.
You have to get over the idea of an immediate fix, and look at how Victoria should be, 50 or 100 years from now.

Anonymous said...

Corey I'd say the bigger problem is that no one can agree what BRT is. Transit experts crow about the successes in Curitiba and Bogota, and Ottawa yet when it comes to implementing BRT today’s minimum standards in Canada (and the US) are so watered down, inconsistent or selectively used that it becomes a mockery. By CUTA’s definition my car would nearly qualify as BRT.

I'd go as far as to say that Translink has managed to single-handedly ruin consumer (aka public & political) perception of BRT in British Columbia by labelling the the B-Lines as BRT. Ie. Depending on which stretch of the 98 you rode BRT would look different to you. Experience rules and unfortunately few people have had experience with the few real quality BRTs out there; B-Line is their idea of BRT - no wonder they balk.

My BRT is not the B-Line - it is closer to what Cory and Bernard describe. To me BRT has full consistency along it’s entire line: separation from other traffic either through closed lanes or transit ways (one or the other), and enclosed stations that keep the wind and rain out, and make it fast to get on even for those in wheels (ie all-door level boarding, and fare pre-payment).

Costs vary depending on what you start with and do. Buying and building a transitway costs $$, using existing roads costs less. Plush buses cost more (are they necessary - which of the BRT poster children use them?)

Aaron Lypkie said...

The problem with BC Transit's rapid transit line to the Westshore, is that they want to have the service with traffic on Goldstream Ave.