World Resources Institute Report: BRT is better choice for Maryland than light rail

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Everyone seems to be debating Bus Rapid Transit v. Light Rail and now the World Resources Institute has studied for Maryland’s proposed Purple Line and concludes that BRT is the preferred alternative. I think the report is overly dismissive of relative transportation oriented development (TOD) opportunities, predicted ridership and rider experience.

In the an interview that can be found on WorldChanging.com, the study’s lead author Greg Fuhs states, “one cannot assume that transit-oriented development would be sparked by light rail but not BRT.” and cites an American Public Transportation Association study that “indicates that both (bus and light rail) can lead to significant positive land use changes.” Fuhs does state that TOD was not explicitly considered in the WRI’s study. Clearly it should have been. While mass transit is about moving people, done well it also results in an exponential return on investment.

Fuhs also states that ridership estimates (62K daily for light rail and 52K daily for BRT) do not justify a 100% cost difference ($1.2B for light rail and $600M for BRT). I do not have the information available to question ridership estimates, but if TOD were not considered in the report it’s reasonable that ridership growth as a result of TOD may not have been considered. More importantly the effect of removing an additional 10K individuals from already congested roadways is not considered. Perhaps the 10K additional riders would lessen the need to widen arterial roads and highways, saving millions of dollars.

Concerning ridership in the U.S. Fuhs says, “The concept of bus rapid transit is not well understood in the United States, where there are only a few systems currently in operation. In reality, BRT would be designed more like a light rail than a standard bus system, with features like dedicated lanes, signal priority, pre-pay boarding, elevated station platforms, and efficient and comfortable vehicles that make it much more efficient and appealing than a traditional bus service.”

I have ridden BRT in both Boston and Cleveland and at least those BRT lines are much, much more like a standard bus system than light rail. BRT is an improvement over traditional buses, but much of that improvement comes in the form of covered stops and more streamlined ticketing. The ride experience itself is not much different than a traditional bus.

The WRI report and interview by World Changing is a good lead-in to the topic of my next few posts, a review of the HealthLine, Cleveland, Ohio’s new BRT. Check back for some photos, views and videos.

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