Four agencies have good reason to study BRT

More than a few transit agencies in North America would like to prove the worth of Bus Rapid Transit

By David Hubbard

They cite convenience, job opportunities and environmental concerns as the driving forces to study express bus and coach service. Together these four agencies each with a different reason to incorporate BRT present a broad-brush view of the present thinking on the concept. In each area BRT advocates are particularly excited, saying the route service, ride quality and speed of BRT offers a solution at a fraction of the cost of light rail.

AC Transit BRT proposal connects three cities

AC Transit, Oakland, CA, has proposed an East Bay BRT project to serve the communities of San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley. The Oakland Tribune reported in February the agency is getting $15 million in federal funds for this project to connect the three cities with speedy and frequent service running in bus-only lanes. The three cities are presently reviewing the proposed alignments in relation to impact and benefits and come up with alternatives. The funding gives a boost to the $234 million project as planners and elected officials from AC Transit and the three cities try to agree on a final configuration for the project later this year.
AC Transit says its goal is to develop a route design based on what Oakland residents say they want to see. Officials say they will determine the issues to study from their comments. The City of Oakland has so far hosted four meetings to solicit feedback on the proposed BRT line.

Flint proposes BRT to enable a workforce

Mass Transportation Authority (MTA), Flint, MI, is deliberating high-speed bus service from Bay City to Detroit. The agency first wants to if commuters as far north as Bay City would support a high-speed bus service into Detroit.
According to the Bay City Times, a Genesee County committee has approved plans to study establishing a BRT transit system along I-75 that would feature a dedicated lane of traffic, more comfortable BRT coaches and new stations where commuters could catch their rides. The formal study begins later this year once the agency solicits its proposals.

MTA general manager Robert Foy says this bold idea may never come to fruition or could still be 10 to 25 years away. Nonetheless he sees the BRT mode as a vision worth pursuing because of growing demand from workers trying to get to jobs outside Genesee County.

The concern of Bay City MTA general manager Mike Stoner is if any new rapid transit system would drain money from existing, basic public transportation and adversely affect other operations. He says while the demand for BRT might be greater in a booming economy, with so few jobs in Michigan at the present time it might be a viable pursuit at this time. About 16,000 riders each month already take MTA buses to jobs in Oakland and Saginaw counties. Transit agency officials in Bay and Saginaw counties want to see the study.

Meanwhile Foy says someone has to start somewhere to determine the demand for BRT and where the jobs might be in a better economy. MTA officials also say they want to be better prepared in the future if the price of gasoline drives more workers out of their cars and into public transportation as it did two years ago.

The prevailing attitude toward BRT through southeast Michigan appears positive where the transportation buzzword is regionalization. Stoner and Foy said it is not clear yet whether the study will show enough demand presently for BRT to work.

“Our purpose is to see if there will be demand 15 to 20 years down the road,” says Foy “MTA has the responsibility to take the lead and see where we need to go.”
Foy also wants to find out how a bus rapid transit system could tie into a light rail system he says Detroit has been talking about, which could lead to an extension of light rail to the Flint area sometime in the future.

Milwaukee County plans for BRT despite downturn

While Milwaukee County endures a stringent budget cutback, the transportation-minded officials continue to plan for BRT service. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the will soon present the county board options for a one- or two-route system using $36.6 million in federal funding. Milwaukee County Department of Transportation and Public Works officials say this money is its portion of $91.5 million in long-idle federal transit assistance. The money cannot go toward operating expenses.

When local officials could not agree on how to spend the funds, Congress divided the total between the city’s planned streetcar line and the county bus system. County executive Scott Walker has long advocated using the federal money for BRT, touting modern, energy-efficient buses as having all the advantages of light rail but at a lower cost.

The Milwaukee County version would run in regular traffic but with automatic green lights for buses. BRT buses would stop every one-third to one-half mile, compared with stops every one-eighth to one-quarter mile on existing routes.

Transit officials recently presented three options. One option would have used
all the federal money to buy new buses without adding BRT service, saying the need to replace aging buses is a factor in a cash crunch. Using federal stimulus dollars, the county already has plans to buy more than 150 buses by 2013.
The other two options focus on the original $43.1 million one-route plan and a two-route plan that would include a line from the Midtown Center through downtown Milwaukee and west to West Allis, which would cost $64 million and require additional federal aid. To hold down costs, the County says it would use clean-diesel buses instead of the originally planned diesel-electric hybrids and drop plans for ticket kiosks.

Because the BRT routes would replace major chunks of the existing bus routesofficials say the addition of the BRT routes would not add significantly to bus operating costs, and quite possibly attract new riders. The Milwaukee County Board says it needs more details before deciding whether to invest millions of dollars in BRT.

BRT from DeSoto County to Memphis maybe

Meanwhile in Mississippi, DeSoto County has $70 million in federal funding earmarked for a transit project along I-69, and is looking at transit alternatives along the Interstate corridor. Included is an 18-month study project that will evaluate BRT services from northwest Mississippi to Memphis, TN.

DeSoto County projects its population to increase nearly 100,000 by 2030. Mississippi DOT officials maintain innovative transit alternatives are a must to sustain that kind of growth that will surely bring about greater highway congestion. DeSoto County planning director Jim McDougal sees BRT as an ideal solution for this area over the next 20 years, calling it very advantageous and very efficient for commuters.