Bus Rapid Transit and Economic Development: Background and Webinar

Healthline BRT, Cleveland. Image – Greater Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority photobucket.

An upcoming webinar will examine the pros/cons of Bus Rapid Transit, including its advantages over rail and economic development potential. Medium and large cities across the U.S. and world have initiated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and an increasingly number of U.S. cities are interested in possibly pursuing it. One reason is that it can be easier to acquire federal funds for a BRT system than a regular bus system.

The webinar, “Bus Rapid Transit: Planning and executing a successful system,” is Thursday, November 29, at 2pm (ET). You can register here. See bottom for more details.

In general, BRT features “can include improvements to infrastructure, technology, and passenger amenities over standard bus service to improve service and attract new riders.”  Some contend that BRT has the speed and comfort advantages of rail, while providing more route flexibility and significant capital savings over rail. Others contend BRT is just a fancy rebranding of bus service, undertaken in an effort to secure more funding. It appears that either can be true, depending on how it is implemented.

Last August Ryan Holeywell of Governing Magazine wrote a very good overview looking at where BRT stands at a time when nearly every major metro area is considering the service. Holeywell also explores whether cities are actually making a serious commitment to BRT, or if they’re just using the trendy term to rebrand traditional buses (“Bus Rapid Transit Gaining Traction Despite Concerns“).

Earlier in 2012 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied U.S. BRT systems and found that BRT generally carries fewer total riders than rail transit projects (and international BRT Systems), and that capital costs are generally lower compared to rail. The GAO also found that “although many factors contribute to economic development, most local officials we visited believe that BRT projects are contributing to localized economic development. You can find the July 2012 report here: “Bus Rapid Transit – Projects Improve Transit Service and Can Contribute to Economic Development.”

The GAO concludes in part:

“The flexibility of BRT has allowed cities and regions across the country—with differing public transportation needs and goals—to improve transit service and demonstrate investment in surrounding communities, often at a lower initial capital cost than with rail transit [however] project sponsors in cities with limited transit funding sources and without major congestion issues may find the added cost of these features worthwhile only if economic development is among their projects’ primary objectives.”

The State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) is sponsoring the November 29 webinar.  From the announcement:

“What do cities need to think about to make it a success? What are the advantages over rail, and what are the risks of not making enough investment in your BRT? And what is the economic development potential for BRT?

 Join Annie Weinstock U.S. BRT Program Director at the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy to hear about the most critical elements for a successful BRT system. She will be joined by Joe Calabrese from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, who will share Cleveland’s experience with the Healthline BRT.”