I was absolutely thrilled with most of the proposals floated in this week’s lead Style article to improve Richmond public transportation.

Apparently, however, I’m out of the loop of public transit developments across the country and the world. Because the ideas that John Lewis, CEO of GRTC, proposed in Style, are already in place all over the world.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT- see it even has its own acronym and its own wikipedia entry) is a new trend in public transit that usually includes these characteristics*:

  • Dedicated bus lanes
  • Enclosed stations
  • Signal Priority technology (to keep lights green)
  • More attractive and comfortable buses

Sound familiar? It should, these are the ideas Mr. Lewis mentioned in his interview. In most cities that have implemented BRT, ridership has increased by around 30% and commute times have decreased.

In fact, a program manager at the American Public Transportation Association has said “This decade will be the decade of BRT.”*

Here’s some pictures of BRT buses from different cities:

Bogota, Colombia- notice the separate lanes and enclosed shelters:

The picture below highlights the new design which gives buses wider appeal and helps overcome their stigma. This is the type they’re using in Las Vegas as well as in several EU cities:

And finally an artist’s rendering of a proposed BRT in Eugene, OR, also with a sleek design and separate lanes. This one, at least in the conceptual rendering, looks almost like a train, which I suppose is a big part of the point. Americans are notorious for favoring trains over buses (while simultaneously eschewing the taxes required to pay for the enormous upfront cost for trains, one major reason our country has little functional & well-used transit):

And from Wikipedia, a list of American cities with BRT:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Austin, Texas (opening 2008)
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Chicago, Illinois (BRT connecting convention center with downtown for private buses since 2002)
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Eugene, Oregon
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Miami, Florida
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Oakland, California
  • Orlando, Florida
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Providence, Rhode Island
  • San Jose, California
  • Santa Monica, California
  • Seattle, Washington

So this seems a big undertaking for Richmond. I don’t know how much you can do BRT half-way and still be successful. And I’m really skeptical that the political will exists to make changes this drastic happen. You will notice, of course, that no other cities in Virginia have BRT. It’s pretty clear that neither our state government nor VDOT are promoting this type of transportation choice. We’re still pretty stuck on the road-building model- from the state to the local level (which is clear in the Style article as well , exemplified by Rt. 288).

But in any case, the ideas are great and I’ll be a cheerleader for them.

*From the article: Spivak, Jeffrey. “New Trend in Transit.” Urban Land. April, 07. P. 123-4.