The problem with Bus Rapid Transit

Because of its lower cost, many cities and transit authorities are looking at bus rapid transit as a way of promoting mass transit. There was also the example of Curitiba, Brazil which successfully implemented a comprehensive BRT system. This is been followed by similar systems in Mexico City and elsewhere. BRT received a major boost in the United States during the Bush administration, which promoted as a more flexible and cheaper alternative to light rail which was becoming more popular across the US.

I have to admit that my feelings about BRT systems will be forever compromised by my experience with Boston’s silver line bus rapid transit. As implemented, BRT has been anything but rapid and illustrative everything that’s wrong with transit. The silver line was meant as a replacement for the old orange line elevated which was moved a rebuilt as a subway line were Massachusetts decided not to build a new highway connector into the city from the south west. At first the neighborhoods were promised a light rail line, so they thought. But eventually the MBTA came up with a bus solution as an alternative because it was cheaper.

There are many problems with the silver line BRT and they are indicative of the problems of PRT as implemented in the United States. For one thing, it is not well integrated into the rest of the system. There is a silver line spur that goes from South Station all the way to the airport, but that’s birth does not connect to the spirit echoes to Roxbury. The airports spur does have direct access from the subway. The Roxbury spur does not, and actually consists of two alternatives one that drops you off across the street from South Station and about a five-minute walk from the subway. The other drops you off a couple blocks from the downtown Crossing subway station. There also other places where one can transfer from the silver line to the subway but none of these offer the chance to do so without going through a turnstile.

The silver line was supposed to have a system to change the traffic signals to green for the buses, but for some reason, this has never been activated (or used).  When going to the airport, it is regularly the case that the bus will sit for a couple of  minutes waiting for a green light while no cars are using the cross street.  I’ve never been on the bus when it has made these lights.

There were many compromises in getting the silver line built and these are what make it such a problem. There are portions with a dedicated lane, but only a couple blocks where there was a dedicated lane that is kept free of traffic. A much longer stretch consists of buses the middle of the street sharing the road with cars in Boston’s Chinatown and theater district which is highly congested and often brings the bus to a complete stop. In portions of the South End, there is a bus lane, supposedly shared with bicycles, but there is nothing to keep cars from double parking in it and I’ve never been able to take a trip with her has in the least one car forcing the bus to go around. The MBTA and the city periodically say they are going to enforce the busway, but they rarely do so.

This doesn’t include the problems of overuse. The bus lines are always overcrowded which causes the buses to slow and bunch up and leads to the wonderful situation with the bus driver yells at the passengers to move further back and blames them for the problems of the overcrowded buses. The bus line is not of sufficient capacity to meet the needs of the neighborhoods it serves and is not clear that anything will ever be done to fix this. The other problem was the peculiar design of the bus shelters which were the product of a committee of people who probably have never waited for a bus. They had no sides, evidently to keep the shelters free from graffiti. And their roofs were so high that they provided no shelter from the sun, rain, or snow. The MBTA has announced they are going to remedy this.

It bus rapid transit is to become a viable alternative to fixed rail systems, we are going to have to do better.

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.