The Institute for Transport and Development Policy has joined Brookings in publishing a completely pointless transit system ranking, this time focusing on the quality of BRT, the mode of transit ITDP advocates.
I want to like ITDP for its BRT planning guide tome, but this BRT ranking uses random criteria, with bad weightings. Every system is ranked out of 100 points, with points divided into small criteria and subcriteria. On page 17, we see the following:
Off-vehicle fare collection 7
Multiple routes use same BRT infrastructure 4
Peak period frequency 4
Routes in top 10 demand corridors 4
Integrated fare collection with other public transport 3
Limited and local stop services 3
Off-peak frequency 3
Part of ( planned ) multi-corridor BRT network 3
Performance-based contracting for operators 3
Enforcement of right-of-way 2
Operates late nights and weekends 2
Operational control system to reduce bus bunching 2
Peak-period pricing 2
Bus lanes in central verge of the road 7
Physically-separated right-of-way 7
Intersection treatments (elimination of turns across the busway and signal priority) 4
Physically-separated passing lanes at station stops 4
Stations occupy former road/median space (not sidewalk space) 3
Stations set back from intersections (100 feet min) 3
Stations are in center and shared by both directions of service 2
Platform-level boarding 5
Buses have 3+ doors on articulated buses or 2+ very wide doors on standard buses 4
Multiple docking bays and sub-stops ( separated by at least half a bus length ) 3
Branding of vehicles and system 3
Safe, wide, weather-protected stations with artwork (>/=8 feet wide) 3
Passenger information at stops and on vehicles 2
Bicycle lanes in corridor 2
Bicycle sharing systems at BRT stations 2
Improved safe and attractive pedestrian access system and corridor environment 2
Secure bicycle parking at station stops 2
Those criteria are for the most part not bad, but they’re weighted wrong. Observe that off-peak frequency counts for only 3 points, the same as contracting out the operations. It’s actually worse: a system gets 1 point for having any off-peak frequency, even if it’s worse than 15 minutes; 15 minutes is enough for 2 points. Peak-period pricing, which is absent or all but absent from many well-run rail and bus operations around the world, gets 2 points. The core elements of BRT – level boarding, physically separated median lanes, off-board fare collection, signal preemption – have 36 points between them.
In first-world cities, BRT has two uses. One, lower-capacity, slightly lower-quality transit on corridors with less demand. Two, dedicated guideways that can branch out and make local stops in shared lanes in lower-traffic areas, on the model of Brisbane. The full-fat BRT in Guangzhou and Bogota cited by BRT proponents requires a lot of concrete and many operators, and is best-suited to a city with low labor costs.
Many of the features touted for BRT can and should be used for all buses. Off-board fare collection with proof of payment is practiced systemwide in such cities as Singapore, Paris, Berlin, Zurich, and Florence; in conjunction with multi-door boarding, this reduces bus dwell times and increases speed with zero investment in concrete. Signal priority can be practiced independently of all else. Physical separation of lanes requires barriers only a few centimeters wide, and can be done selectively on the most congested and highest-demand segments.
Buses can be great buses; they make bad trains. By all means first-world cities should increase frequency, procure better buses with low floors and more doors, make sure riders know which routes are frequent and which are not, and give buses dedicated lanes when necessary. But the focus on specially branded rail-like BRT only detracts from this goal.
In American cities, BRT is more often than not an excuse to not implement those features on local buses. In New York, not only does the MTA rule out proof-of-payment on non-SBS buses, but also backroom state legislative dealings banned bus camera enforcement of painted lanes except on a closed list of six SBS routes. All this while SBS service levels are comparable to those of local buses in Singapore and many European cities – in fact lower if those local buses have signal priority. This and not low scoring on an arbitrary rubric is what ITDP should have complained about.