Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where all the buses are above average

In February, Streetsblog ran a series of interviews about "Bus Rapid Transit" with Walter Hook, director of the Institute for Transportation Development Policy. This series was disappointing in many ways, but there was one thing Hook said in Part 2 that stuck with me:
A rule of thumb should be whether or not a map company would include the BRT system in a map of New York City. If it doesn't appear on any map other than as a standard bus route, then it has failed to enter the public consciousness as something above and beyond normal bus services.
Let's compare this with Hook's definition of BRT in Part 3:
To be called BRT, a line must be a package of physical and operational components (stations, vehicles, running ways, passenger information, services, fare collection, traffic signal priority and other Intelligent Transportation System applications) that form a permanently integrated, customer-friendly, high performance system with a unique identity. BRT operations are generally tightly controlled by a technologically advanced system to keep service regular and reliable.
All of these improvements are good, so we would want them on every bus route, right? But then it wouldn't be "above and beyond normal bus services," it would be normal bus service. It would be a standard bus route.

Why aren't standard bus routes marked on maps (other than bus maps)? Because there's too many of them. So if every route was BRT, they wouldn't all be marked on maps.

The fact that some mapmakers decide to mark certain routes means that those mapmakers think they're special. Do we really not want all the bus routes to be customer-friendly, high-performance, regular and reliable? Why shouldn't they all have signal priority, prepayment, decent vehicles and adequate passenger information? For that matter, why shouldn't they all have decent stations and running ways?


BruceMcF said...

Skimming past parts of the package aren't you?

Answer to the question of whether I'd want all buses to have:

* investment in bus stations
* investment in Quality Bus vehicles
* investment dedicated running ways
* investment in active passenger information services
* investment in more efficient fare collection
* investment in traffic signal priority

... hell no, of course not. For lots of local buses, I would rather that money go into more frequent bus services.

For the same extremely obvious reasons that I don't want every city street to be a boulevard and I don't want every State Route to be a limited access, divided expressway.

If we had the investment in local and regional rail that we ought to have, and taxed gasoline consumption at the level we ought to tax it, and charged for congestion on congested roads the way we ought to charge, then we'd have ample demand to support a large number of local loop routes to the closest dedicated transport corridor.

And, no, it would be NOT be an improvement to allocate bus stations, ticket machines, signal priority, dedicated running ways, or even Quality Bus level buses to each of those routes ... if they are half hour frequency loops, better spend the money making them 20 minutes loops, or 15 minute loops, or 10 minute loops.

Now, there will be some corridors where the patronage along the corridor does not justify a light rail line, yet the corridor is too long to be served by a purely local bus. And where that is the case, establishing a distinctive and recognizable BRT line makes perfect sense.

OTOH, if New York city built all the heavy and light rail corridors that would be justifiable under a rational transport policy, few of those BRT lines would be in New York City. In that scenario, they'd be a far more important part of the transport mix Upstate.

Cap'n Transit said...

To clarify, Bruce, I am not assuming a constant budget. Since BRT includes frequent service, that's already a given. The question is, if you had the money, wouldn't you want all the routes upgraded to the same standards?

BruceMcF said...

No. If I had the money, I would want to invest in a denser route grid for the local bus network.

That is, if there is already a bus route within half a mile of every resident and there is (somehow) money to blanket the city with "bus stations" with electronic displays of when the next bus is coming and automatic ticket stations and their own distinctive "BRT" branding and either GPS or signpost priority signaling with variable signal patterns at every traffic light ... then if I had that money, I'd not spend it that way. I'd take that money and work toward bringing a bus within a quarter mile of every resident.

"Quality Buses" are a way of establishing a corridor along a route that does not have the patronage to support the capital cost of even a trolleybus line. Rather than being a one-size-fits-all solution, its a "size that fits some well" solution. Trying to roll all of those features out for every bus line in an area is not a sensible allocation of resources.

Or, in other words, if it is determined what level of investment is appropriate for any of those features for the local bus route system ... there will be a smaller collection of routes where a distinctively higher level of capital investment is justified in order to establish a recognizable Quality Bus route or routes.

neroden@gmail said...

Hmm. But mapmakers put *every street* on the map. And they put *every subway line* on the map (after some pressure). And they often put *every trail* and *every sidewalk* on the map.

The reason they don't put every bus line on the map is not that there are too many bus lines. It's that the bus lines suck.

Their routes are confusing, the payment schemes annoying, and the speeds absurd. And worst of all, they *change constantly*. If a bus line could be guaranteed to stay put, with consistent stop locations for 5 years, ran faster than walking, was "turn-up-and-go" frequency, and had simple pricing.... they might show up on the maps.