What is Bus Rapid Transit?

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a term used to describe a wide range of bus based transportation systems. There is still some debate as to what exactly qualifies as BRT. One of BRT’s strengths is that it is flexible and adaptable making it hard to define. It is widely accepted that BRT bridges the gap between an ordinary bus and a light rail transit (LRT) system. There are a number of characteristics which BRT systems should and do feature. The best systems have them all in abundance, most offer a mix appropriate to the situation. They include:-

Segregation: This could be from all traffic or just general traffic. Measures should be appropriate to the environment and the situation. The key thing is ensuring BRT vehicles can bypass congestion.

Flexibility : All BRT systems are different but many allow different  bus services to join and leave the routes at different points. Operations can be changed to complement changes to demand in the area.

Priority at intersections: Modern technology allows signals to detect an approaching vehicle and either extend a green light allowing it through or change the signals altogether.

High quality infrastructure: Shelters with real time information, CCTV, lighting, seating, help points, off board ticket machines, made from premium materials in an improved environment.

High demand routes: Occupies a transport corridor along which people want to be transported. Some BRT systems carry up to 40k passengers per hour!

Integration: Forming part of a wider network which may feature trams, ordinary buses, heavy rail and active modes like cycling and walking. Most systems feature large park and rides which many people forget is an interchange in itself.

Distinct branding: Distinctive brand supported by liveries and street furniture help differentiate BRT from a conventional bus system and attract new passengers.

High quality vehicles: Comfortable seating and standing facilities, wifi, multiple access points, level boarding are just a few of the things the best systems have. They should be quiet, low or zero emissions and clean!

High quality stops: Seating, ticket validation machines, real time passenger information, help points, CCTV and where appropriate cycle facilities.

Smart ticketing : Oyster card style systems allowing seamless transition between different services and modes work best. More recently systems have begun to offer contactless card payments and mobile phone ‘e-ticketing’.

The benefits of BRT

We could write pages and pages on the benefits of BRT for cities, for commuters, for tourism, for everyone. Here are just a few of the key ones, in no particular order.

The economy: With faster journeys come time savings. When successfully implemented on high demand routes systems can help boost a city/town/regions GVA and create thousands of new jobs.

Environmental & health : Shifting car drivers to high capacity eco friendly vehicles can help alleviate congestion and the harmful emissions associated with it.

Road safety: Fewer private cars means fewer accidents. Not only this but well designed systems can help reduce interactions between BRT vehicles and general traffic.

Increased physical activity: BRT stops are usually spaced further apart than conventional bus systems meaning passengers have to walk further to them. The journey time savings make this worthwhile. The best systems have well integrated cycle facilities encouraging people to cycle and ride.

Flexibility: Tram systems can grind to a halt when cars break down or park illegally in on-street sections. BRT systems, using buses are more flexible. Even systems using trolleybus technology offer more flexibility than a tram. Some BRT systems allow conventional bus services to use part of its route, benefiting from its infrastructure.

Deliverable: They are more affordable than light rail systems yet when designed well can deliver similar benefits. They can often be introduced without the need for costly and prolonged acts of parliament or orders. There is no need to dig up every utility under the road surface, work can take months rather than years.