Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tales of Transmilenio

I think the post below to the Light Rail_Now Yahoo Group is important. The BRT phenomenon is getting out of hand with people saying that its just like LRT but cheaper. Well its not just like LRT for several reasons.

Non Level Boarding - You can't build a bus that lines up exactly with the curb. And taking a bus like Oakland has and just painting it rapid isn't the same. I'm not sure why the equity people are letting them get away with this given that LRT is first class and BRT is obviously third world.

Ride Quality - You can make roads as smooth as possible but in terms of ride quality its night and day. Buses lurch forward, trains glide on the rails. I took buses in Austin to school for 5 years, it wasn't always pleasant during stop and go traffic. Now I take BART and Muni Metro and its amazing the difference.

Operating costs - Operating costs on LRT are lower. It's proven by the data in the National Transit Database. You can hook trains together, buses are limited to 60 meters and no one would allow anything longer on the roads. Labor is the biggest factor in costs and buses cost more because there must be more of them in order to reach the capacity of LRT. This is something critics often ignore.

Attraction of Passengers - When the Yellow line opened in Portland, it was the ultimate test. It basically replaced a bus line that had operated the same route giving a somewhat real comparison of ridership between the two. Guess what happened? 100% ridership increase. That's right, the line doubled its ridership by putting in LRT.

Attraction of TOD - Buses don't do it because developers don't trust them. Even fixed guideway BRT isn't trusted. The reason is because that road can be opened to cars, and that bus line could be moved. Rails in the ground signify people are in it for the long haul and investing in their future.

There are many more but let me continue by saying that these comparisons to third world countries systems are way off base. This is proven by the Hartford Example. Hartford is building a BRT line and guess what the cost per mile is according to the FTA. $55 million a mile where they paved over a rail right of way. Why not build rail? Eugene just completed an BRT line that is single tracked. They are saying you can do it too! But they never tell you the tricks. Below is a comment from Lyndon Henry responding to arguments for BRT in an article by US News and World Report. Enjoy.

The promotion of "BRT" as some kind of "just as good but cheaper" alternative to LRT is a swindle.

The Bogota Transmilenio "BRT" system featured in the article would easily cost more than LRT in fully allocated lifecycle costs while delivering far fewer benefits. Transmilenio consists of a fully segregated 4-lane busway with specially designed extra-long buses operated by dirt-cheap Third World labor. Loadings are far beyond
what US urban travellers would tolerate and ADA compliance is dubious. Average speed is 26 km/hr, or about 16 mph - about as fast as a slower LRT.

The busway was installed by appropriating existing street lanes for transit - no wonder it's hailed for its "low cost"! Where is there a large American city in which the transit agency can simply appropriate four lanes out of a major central-city arterial for dedicated transit use?

The costs of surface Transmilenio are almost invariably compared with those of an underground metro - and, gee, the surface busway always seems to come out ahead. Duh. How about comparing with the cost of a comparable surface electric LRT?

Not mentioned in the article is the fact that Bogota has an extremely transit-dependent population - Colombia's per-capita motor vehicle ownership is approximately 6% that of the USA. And the country is very poor, with per-capita income about 1/5 the US average. Factoring this into the $350 million cost of Bogota's Transmilenio busway system results in an equivalent cost of about $1.3 billion in the USA, or about $55 million per mile for Bogota's 24-mile system. That's about on a par with some US LRT systems with subway sections - such as Minneapolis' s Hiawatha line.

Why is it that just about every "BRT" promotion I see boils down to a huge flim-flam for dummies?
Don't fall for the BRT sham. It's too good to be true.


M1EK said...

When the guys in that group let Lyndon get away with calling our commuter rail line "light rail", while continuing to rail on efforts to call guided buses, BRT, whatever "just like light rail", they lost all credibility with me, obviously.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I know you don't agree with them. But there are a lot of people out there who are still buying into the BRT myth. I thought these were good words that others should read.