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Advantages of Bus Rapid Transit Systems

Advantages of Bus Rapid Transit Systems Curitiba has high-floor double-articulated buses of 270-passenger capacity, with G-shaped tubular platforms enclosed in clear plastic and buses arriving with floors level with the mouth of the G.

Discussion

Advantages of Bus RapidTransit Systems

SHIRISH B PATEL

M
Ravibabu, writing on ‘Viability ofSurface Rail for Urban Mass Transit’ (April 22, 2006) should readGeetam Tiwari’s book on high capacitybus systems (HCBS) [Tiwari 2002]. TheHCBS or bus rapid transit (BRT) systemshave been adopted with great success inseveral Latin American countries and elsewhere and they come at a fraction ofthe cost of surface rail transit.

The earliest to develop such a systemwas Curitiba, in Brazil, where a third of a century ago the city found putting in a masstransit rail system too expensive. In lookingfor an alternative, its mayor, Jaime Lerner,asked what it was that made a rail systemso much a better performer than buses, andwhether a transport system based on busescould not be devised with the same features that make rail transit so efficient.

Features of BRT

The first feature is that these buses are on reserved tracks. This is a road surface, but reserved exclusively for buses (as atrain’s right of way would be). Second,the buses have wide doors, like a suburban train coach, so that several passengers canalight or board simultaneously. Third, passengers do not have to climb steps into abus: they board from a platform that islevel with the floor of the bus. Because of this, and because of the wide doors, the time the bus spends at a stop (called the“dwell time”) is drastically reduced, andthis, in fact, is an important determinantof total system capacity. The platforms arealso enclosed against inclement weather,and ticket purchases are made before youenter the platform (which, like the bus, isa “ticketed” area, and this further reduces dwell time). Careful attention is paid tothe details like centralised control of bus movements, signage, on-board announcements, inter-modal transfers and the entire experience of travel, including in particularcomfortable and safe pedestrian access.And finally, perhaps most importantly,the whole arrangement when introducedis promoted as a new system, perhaps with a catchy new name (in Bogota they callit TransMilenio), and not just an improvedbus fleet. The result is that car owners have an alternative, and for some journeys apreferred mode of travel, the BRT.

High-specification suburban rail systems typically carry 30,000 passengersper hour per direction (pphpd). The BRTshave a capacity of 10-20,000 pphpd,occasionally higher (ibid:252). The all-incost including buses is reported to be amaximum of $ 5mn per km (ibid,pp 255, 9). This is a fraction the cost ofa new surface rail system [GTZ 2002] andtherefore, something to be carefully considered for all urban areas and extensions of urban areas not already served by rail.

The reserved tracks or busways, can beconfigured in various ways. The largestsystems have tracks running along themedian of a highway, with motor trafficon either side. Stations are often island platforms, half to one lane wide, with abusway on either side, so at a station thesystem is two and a half to three laneswide. If an overtaking lane can be providedthis dramatically improves throughput.

An alternative, which makes sense on a highway which has few side inlets (usually because these have been taken careof by a service road on either side) is tohave the BRT lanes on the extreme left and right of the highway. This has thevirtue of simplifying pedestrian access tothe system, but complicates right turns(for countries that drive on the left).Working out the details carefully is critical to popularity and success.

Because the boarding platforms have tobe at the same level as the floor of the vehicle, the BRT systems require specialbuses. These can either have high floors(like ordinary buses, about a metre abovethe ground, the floor set on normal springsabove the axles), or low floors (about35 cm above the ground). The high-floorvehicles are said to be cheaper to maintain,but the matching platform height meansthat these systems are best for arterialroutes, not for the feeder networks that penetrate local streets. For these, thefootpaths can be slightly raised at the stopsto match the low-floor vehicle level.

Curitiba has high-floor double-articulatedbuses of 270-passenger capacity, withG-shaped tubular platforms enclosed inclear plastic and buses arriving with floorslevel with the mouth of the G.

An Alternative

In principle, the BRT vehicles (let’s notconfuse them with “buses” as traditionallyunderstood) can go off the arterial routeand also serve as feeder areas. In practice,this has to be carefully worked out, and inmany situations, it may be more efficient toseparate the arterial from the feeder networks, with interchange stations providedwhere passengers transfer quickly and easilyfrom one to the other. The most successful BRT systems (Curitiba, Bogota, Quito)separate the arterial and feeder systems,with different types of vehicles for each.

The key to success is whole-heartedcommitment, as well as appropriateorganisational and institutional frameworks. Because the BRT system has somuch flexibility it is tempting to compromise, and start with a cautious implementation, a sort of step up from an existingbus system, maybe low-floor buses withslightly wider doors, but no enclosedstations, or no real effort to radically alterthe travel experience. The rewards will becommensurate with the ambitions, trivial at best. To get a really successful BRTsystem it has to be introduced and implemented with the same ruthlessness that characterises a rail system – no compromise regarding right-of-way, no questionof sharing it with VVIP motorcades ortaxis or high-occupancy vehicles. It hasto be a stand-alone, independent rapidtransit system made fast, comfortable andattractive enough to persuade a car ownerto use it. It is car owners who must preferto leave their cars at home and use the BRT for their routine journeys. If we cannotachieve this all our cities will be overwhelmed, as Bangalore is, and brought toa standstill by the galloping increase inprivate vehicle ownership.

m

Email: shirish@spacpl.com

References

GTZ (2002): ‘Sustainable Transport: A Sourcebook

for Policy-Makers in Developing Cities’,

Eschborn, Germany. Tiwari, Geetam (ed) (2002): Urban Transport for

Growing Cities: High Capacity Bus Systems,

Macmillan India, New Delhi.

Economic and Political Weekly May 20, 2006

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