Do Governments Underplay Buses, Favor Rail?

May 11th, 2016 by Leave a Comment
In an editorial below from Transportation Reviews  that was published online in March 2016, author David A. Hensher opines on, “Why is Light Rail Starting to Dominate Bus Rapid Transit Yet Again?” Read the full text here:
Below are some excerpts that are relevant to Georgia governments in making sensible choices among transit modes. This highlight sums up his viewpoint:  “The value for money proposition should deliver the best outcome for society regardless of whether it is rail or bus based, in their light and heavy configuration.”

Almost weekly, we see proposals to build light rail in many cities, and Australian cities are no exception. It is also quite marked how absent any serious consideration of bus rapid transit (BRT) as an alternative is. The old chestnut of emotional ideology is resurfacing as part of the ongoing debate on choice vs. blind commitment (Hensher & Waters, 1994; Hensher, 2007). … What is the logic? It seems to start with the assumption that trains are sexy and buses are boring, and that light rail offers a much better value for money than BRT.
However, in almost all cases, where there has been a detailed benefit-cost analysis of light rail, there appears to be an almost token gesture to consider, but reject, BRT. The value for money proposition should deliver the best outcome for society regardless of whether it is rail or bus based, in their light and heavy configuration.
The question on which is better, less expensive, etc. must depend on the unique city characteristics (demand mainly) and choice of Right of Way, but must at least be put to the test rather than ignored or effectively sidestepped by a very light assessment and rejection. …
Despite the plea for a rational debate on the role of alternative PT modes, to ensure that the service levels offered represent best value for money and deliver on key criteria such as connectivity, frequency and visibility within a network, there is often great resistance to some options on essentially ideological and emotional grounds. There is a strong sense of imagery conditioning modal preferences for LRT without a full appreciation of the equivalent or better benefits that might flow from the frequently less-favored BRT (Hensher, Ho, & Mulley, 2015).
Part of the problem may appear to be a perception that any PT option associated with the word ‘bus’ … conjures up images of noisy polluting buses in mixed traffic congestion; yet BRT can, if designed appropriately to serve the market with relevance (just as LRT should), deliver a service that is equivalent or better than LRT and/or heavy rail where the evidence can show a clear and strong case of delivering relevant service levels (with a focus on service capacity and not vehicle capacity), with built-in growth prospects, that competes very favorably with the cost outlays of rail solutions. …
Too often, policy-makers pushed by politicians and the media, commission studies that pre-select the modal solution (which is increasingly rail) and reject without evidence the possibility that another option such as BRT might provide considerably a better value for money given an appropriate level of service, in terms of frequency, connectivity and travel times. …
In terms of evidence on service capacity, Brisbane’s BRT system runs 200 buses per hour carrying 9000 persons per hour (pph) at the peak load point, although one corridor has achieved over 14 000 passenger trips in the peak, while Ottawa’s BRT carries 10 000 pph at the peak load point. Pittsburgh has been running 96 buses per hour at the peak load point on the east busway. The associated passenger volume is 3700 pph. Available data show that BRT operating on an exclusive lane has a demonstrated one way capacity of 25 000 pph and a theoretical capacity well above 50 000 pph (although close to this has been achieved in Bogota).
There is growing evidence around the world, in origin–destination density contexts similar to locations proposed for light rail, that a dedicated BRT system (i.e. road infrastructure dedicated to buses only like in Brisbane, Curitiba, Bogota, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, etc.) can carry the same number of people as light rail for one-third of the cost. It is flexible, it is as permanent as light rail, and it can have the image of light rail (rather than image of boring buses) if planned properly. The USA General Accounting Office (2001) audit of BRT and light rail in six US cities found that the capital cost per mile for LRT compared to BRT in its own lane was 260% more costly. Comparisons with BRT on street or on a high occupancy vehicle lanes are not useful and have been excluded. Given the lower costs of running BRT in many jurisdictions, for institutional and maintenance reasons, the case to not even consider BRT is unacceptable. …
In summary, buses, especially bus-based transitway systems are arguably better value for money, and if designed properly, can have the essential characteristic of permanence and visibility claimed to be important to attract property development along the route which is compatible with medium to high-density corridor mobility. To achieve this, however, the bus industry in many countries needs a ‘wake-up’ call. All I ask is that bus-based and rail-based systems are treated equally in an assessment of their merits, rather than judged on some pretext that is shrouded in emotion and modal bias.

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