What is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System?

The term ‘Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)’ is used more generally to include conventional bus priority measures such as Bus Only Lanes (BOLs). It is a fast, safe comfortable and affordable system for making the best use of available road space to transport passengers on main trunk routes. The road is designed and engineered with dedicated bus lanes on which no other vehicles encroach, leaving separate lanes for cyclists, motorized vehicles and pedestrians. As the BRT is a flexible mode of rapid transit, there are a number of variations depending on the type of infrastructure provided and the type of buses operating on the busways. The term ‘High Capacity BRT (HCBRT)’ used in this toolkit depicts a BRT with specific characteristics, and indicates the original form of BRT developed in Latin American cities.

How does HCBRT compare with other forms of Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) System?

HCBRT is a relatively low-cost, flexible, mass transportation system that typically has an initial investment cost of only some 2% that of a Metro system. It can serve a much larger area than a rail-based system. Project development and planning are much quicker. Unlike rail-based systems, HCBRT can be altered or expanded at low-cost and at short notice.

Will the construction of a BRT System simply worsen traffic congestion?

On corridors where there are many competing bus routes and poor stopping conditions, traffic flow will actually improve as, at stops, congestion caused by buses (often extending to two lanes per direction) will be reduced or eliminated. Pedestrians will be able to cross the road more easily and safely, reducing conflicts with other traffic.

Is there enough road space for HCBRT in Indian cities?

The existing road network does play an important role in HCBRT planning: if there is no secondary road network that can be utilised for diverted or prohibited movements – such as right turns – more expensive grade-separated solutions may be required. However, imaginative planning can overcome most obstacles. Busways do not have to always follow the road network, but can use rail ROW, river drainage, green areas etc.

Why not simply put more buses on the road to improve service level?

When traffic congestion is very bad, passengers not only take longer to arrive, but the bus system loses capacity. If a bus takes an hour to make a trip, but in the peak takes two hours; for the passenger the effect is equivalent to only half the fleet on the road. A hundred buses running at 20kph perform twice as many passenger km (per hour) as a hundred buses at 10kph.

Does the introduction of a BRT affect commerce along the corridor?

Commercial value and rents have actually improved on BRT corridors in cities such as Curitiba, Quito and Bogotá. This may not be the case, however, when large numbers of units are operating as a congested ‘open’ BOL system.

Will BRT damage the quality of the environment by presenting an ugly “wall-of-buses”?

This is true of conventional BOLs or Busways that are choked with buses. On HCBRT systems maximum headways are about 1 minute per direction. Modern busways in fact not only reduce bus flows and emissions: they also provide a calmer and more attractive environment.

Why do passengers using central Busways have to cross to the middle of the road instead of just taking the bus on the sidewalk?

This is a common objection from non-bus users and it misses the point that for a round trip all passengers on conventional buses already have to cross the main road at least once, either on the way into town or returning. With a central, island platform, passengers cross half the road width on each trip, in safer conditions.

Would the introduction of the system force passengers to walk too far to get to their stations?

Frequent bus stops (every 200m or so) cause longer travel times and higher operating costs. Most subway systems accept that passengers will walk 500m to their station and 800m within the city centre. HCBRT, operating as mass transit, has similar characteristics to a metro, including passenger behaviour.

New, air-conditioned buses are more expensive; will these cause an increase in fares or government subsidies?

An 18m unit has lower operating costs per passenger-km than smaller buses. The efficiency gains in HCBRT can actually reduce overall public transport expenditure.

What are the criteria for selecting ‘Closed’ or ‘Open’ System HCBRT?

This depends on the number of buses and routes on the corridor. When the number of busway routes is greater than about six, experience has shown that passenger boarding is difficult, dangerous and uncomfortable. When more than about 100 buses per hour per direction use the busway, it tends to get congested and travel times increase.

What happens when there is a major obstacle on the corridor that makes Busway construction impossible?

A preserved monument or shrine can cause a localised bottleneck, however, the flexibility of the bus mode permits operation of units in mixed traffic, on one-way systems or even by means of special phases at traffic signals.

Can we call Busway construction with existing buses an HCBRT System?

This is bus priority in terms of space and may even offer high levels of passenger throughput, but if there are multiple stops, Busways are forced to operate at the speed of the slowest unit – which is not ‘Rapid Transit’. This is the case in several high-density Asian cities, such as Seoul, Taipei and Shijiazhuang.

Is HCBRT just a case of putting some new “hi-tech” buses and stations on an arterial or new highway?

If the routes are not planned to meet real demand, but only to “window dress” a highway project, the results may be disappointing, as in the case of some ‘BRT’ systems that have very low demand.

How can large (18m) articulated buses go around corners in narrow city streets?

The turning radius of a bus is determined by the distance between the axles. Articulated units in fact have axles that are closer than 12m units and can turn with lower inner and outer (swept) areas: if a street is suitable for 10m buses, then it can be used for HCBRT.

Can the System be Operated by More than One Company?

An integrated Mass Transit Network, including Metro and HCBRT should use a common smartcard-based fare. Thus a specific ticketing company handles all sales and revenues, and pays the transport companies according to delivered services. A system may therefore comprise several different operators on different routes, or even in the same corridor.

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