Sunday, May 13, 2007

BRT Lobby Lobs Accusations

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer states that BRT is better than rail for addressing a number of urban ills. However this misinformation attempt by the BRT Lobby led by Bill Vincent is starting to get scared by the rapid expansion of rail. I imagine they feel like they have to turn up the talk since they are getting pushed back into a corner by actual riders and citizens who don't want more buses.

The first whopper comes from Vincent himself, vehemently explaining that BRT can bring the same amount of riders as rail, however as proven in Los Angeles, the Orange Line only attracts half of the riders it should when compared with the population living around the Gold Line LRT. Also, his claim that you can cut greenhouse gases with diesel buses versus electric railcars is laughable at best. In San Francisco where the Muni is run at least partly by renewable energy, this argument falls on deaf ears. In Oakland its another story as the local folks think that a network of BRT will bring people out of their cars, however the first rapid line on San Pablo is just a bus with a red paintjob.

He also compares a number of rapid transit projects with each other and compares cost per passenger in operating cost. But what he doesn't say is the cost of replacing buses every 12 years versus double that for rail, the costs of replacing pavement torn up by heavy vehicles, and the type of BRT project that he is comparing to a type of rail project. Comparing the New York Second Avenue Subway to the Silver Line is hardly an accurate apples to apples comparison given the capacity constraints of 60 foot buses versus multi car trains and cost sharing with the Big Dig. In the past, BRT projects like the Pittsburgh Busways and the Los Angeles Harbor Freeway busway have failed to garner the passengers that were promised. In fact, the LA Harbor Busway has now been changed into an HOV lane instead of a dedicated bus only lane due to low ridership. In an interesting 2003 transit comparison, Houston's 6 HOV busways carried 43,225 transit passengers, but Portland's Max System with 3 corridors carried 79,600. While the HOV lane carried almost 75,000 people in individual vehicles, that increased auto use also contributed to sprawl and arterial congestion when they got off the freeway. On the other hand, Portland's light rail system has aided a massive downtown revitalization and led to lower congestion costs to each person that costs in Houston.

In addition, from 1990 to 2005, 73% of the ridership increases have come from increased rail usage. Even with the consent decree in LA and much investment in buses around the country, bus ridership has stayed flat while rail ridership has soared.

While some of those who promote BRT mean well, most of them believe transit is for the poor are out to kill good rapid transit. The citizens of this country as evidenced by the transit space race have shown their preference, its up to us to make sure those investments get the best possible return.

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