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Monday, October 4, 2010

Bus Rapid Transit Is Basically Just Like Bus Transit

Posted by on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 11:21 AM

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On Saturday, I woke up early to take the light rail down to Tukwila International Boulevard Station and take the A Line of RapidRide down to Federal Way Transit Center. It was the first day of operations for RapidRide, and while I'm not nearly as wonky as the good folks at Seattle Transit Blog—read their account of RapidRide here—I am a bit of a transit nerd in that I like to try out new public transportation options as soon as they're available.

And to hear King County tell it, RapidRide is the next big thing. The A Line is the first in a series of 6 bus rapid transit (BRT) lines that will be opening in and around Seattle and Bellevue between now and 2013. (Here's a PDF map of all the lines.) The selling points: BRT runs frequently (every ten minutes during peak times, every fifteen minutes for the rest of the day, every half hour late nights, and the bus stops will be equipped with real time information about the arrival of the next bus); is more accessible for the handicapped and infirm; will come equipped with sensors that will cause traffic lights to favor the buses (green lights will stay green for longer); and all the payment is done at the dedicated bus stop "stations," which means that all three bus doors will open at every stop, supposedly solving the bottleneck-at-the-front problem Metro currently has. The stops, too, are spaced further apart—about a half-mile apiece.

The rapid part is all in theory right now. As I understand it, the traffic-light-changing technology was not up and running yet, and there were of course a lot of first-day glitches (the A Line replaces the old 174 route, and confused regular 174 riders were waiting at the decommissioned stops), which made the RapidRide trip to Federal Way Transit Center about forty minutes long. (According to schedules, the 174 took 45 minutes to do the same route.) And while the people who will depend on the A Line for their rush-hour commuting will no doubt become very good at boarding and deboarding quickly and in the pay-at-the-station style RapidRide requests, there will no doubt always be a series of confused people who will need the experience explained to them.

The bottom line is this: Except for the shiny, fancy stations at each stop, the RapidRide experience is basically the exact same as riding the bus anywhere else in Seattle. It may shave minutes off the trip—which, don't get me wrong, is important!—but it's still going to get stuck in traffic jams, it's still going to fall prey to problematic riders, and it's not going to change anyone's mind about taking the bus in Seattle. The thing that worries me is that anti-transit politicians will point to BRT as a reason why we don't need light rail service in Seattle, and that's bullshit. BRT will hopefully alleviate some rush-hour commuting problems Seattle is facing, but it should just be one item on a broader menu of options, including rail and streetcars. It's not a solution to transit problems.

Still, I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend the afternoon walking around Federal Way. Did you know that the World Championship of Sand Sculpting is going on there right now? And that the Federal Way Commons—a mall with lots sad-looking closed storefronts—has a pretty nifty arcade and a big movie theater? And that they have a creepy Mormon thrift store (side note to Mormons: I know it's your history and all, but has it ever occurred to you that making a beehive your logo sends a really disturbing message to outsiders?) And lots of Canadian geese? This kind of exploration—22 miles from my house and back, for $4, round trip—is why I think public transit is awesome.

 

Comments (17) RSS

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Julie in Eugene 1
"Problematic riders" are certainly not unique to buses. At least, not in Chicago they weren't. In fact... when I lived there, I would say there were definitely more "problematic riders" on the El than on the buses (though, supposed it depends on which train lines vs. which bus lines we're talking about).
Posted by Julie in Eugene on October 4, 2010 at 11:28 AM · Report this
YakHerder 2
Bogotá, Colombia has had a BRT system (called the TransMilenio) in place for 10 years, and, while everyone agrees that it has made commuting in that city somewhat less hellish, it's clear that BRT alone can't solve the city's transit woes. Our populations aren't comparable (Bogotá has over 7 million inhabitants) but the principle is the same: Light rail, BRT, bike paths--having multiple, quality transit options makes a city a better place to live! And, unlike Bogotá, at least we aren't trying to build a subway.
Posted by YakHerder on October 4, 2010 at 11:43 AM · Report this
Baconcat 3
@2: I see your Bogotá and raise you one Ottawa.
Posted by Baconcat on October 4, 2010 at 11:46 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
Yeah, but it's frickin cold in Ottawa in the winter, Baconcat.

Mind you, a lot easier to get around than Quebec City ...
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on October 4, 2010 at 12:16 PM · Report this
5
BRT lost me at "bus".
Posted by Pol Pot on October 4, 2010 at 12:20 PM · Report this
Tingleyfeeln 6
From what little I have read, isn't having lanes used ONLY by transit an important ingredient in the BRT formula? Sure, the lights may be timed for it, but there is still plenty of opportunity for jackasses in private cars to screw everything up.
Posted by Tingleyfeeln on October 4, 2010 at 12:28 PM · Report this
Martin H. Duke 7
RapidRide only makes sense if it is viewed not as an alternative to light rail, but a long overdue improvement to conventional arterial bus service.
Posted by Martin H. Duke http://seattletransitblog.com on October 4, 2010 at 12:29 PM · Report this
Tingleyfeeln 8
Yak, @2, you have the right idea, that transit solutions cannot rely on one mode of transit. I feel that BRT is a good option to the eastside, provided there are DEDICATED LANES! Dedicated lanes are an important part of BRT.
Going on with the idea of multiple modes of transit, we need to consider the monorail for certain routes. I live in Ballard, hear the calls for a light rail line between Ballard and West Seattle, and look at the road between Ballard and downtown, and still feel that this is the best technology for this route. Also, it needs to be 2 lines meeting in the middle, not one line like the old Seattle Monorail Authority plan.
Posted by Tingleyfeeln on October 4, 2010 at 12:33 PM · Report this
cressona 9
My understanding is that RapidRide is not and has never been envisioned as true BRT, unless you define down the meaning of BRT the way we're defining down the meaning of victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Few litmus-test criteria:
1. Readily accessible boarding for wheelchair-bound individuals. Is this the case? I read on the RapidRide site: "RapidRide buses have low floors and three doors, so you can get on and off quickly."
2. Pay before boarding. I recall reading on Seattle Transit Blog that the drivers still have to be able to take payments. Is this true?
3. A dedicated right-of-way or some means by which the buses don't get stuck in general-purpose traffic.

On #3, isn't RapidRide a fail? Now, I'm not blaming King County Metro for this failure. They don't control city streets. And I can't help but think about the RapidRide route that's supposed to replace the 358 bus route on Aurora Ave. N. I find it hard to imagine that the Seattle City Council is going to have the guts to give that route the kind of right-of-way it deserves beyond the concessions the 358 currently gets during rush hour.

Community Transit in Snohomish County has its own Swift BRT, and if you did a checklist or scorecard, you'd find that Swift is better than RapidRide and could probably be considered genuine BRT.
Posted by cressona on October 4, 2010 at 12:34 PM · Report this
orino 10
@8 & @9--typical Seattle, obsessing on insignificant details. :-P

The thing that seems to occur to no one is, standard 40-foot bread boxes can provide the same level of service if they run frequently, have their own lanes, can override the traffic signals and require payment somewhere other than on the bus (like they do everywhere in Europe). No gazillion-dollar fetishized buses that look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss required. And no light rail, either.
Posted by orino http://www.scootinoldskool.com on October 4, 2010 at 12:50 PM · Report this
cressona 11
Orino @10, let me get this straight. In one breath, you take issue with me for "obsessing on insignificant details." And then in the next breath, you obsess over much the same details yourself: run frequently, have their own lanes, can override the traffic signals and require payment somewhere other than on the bus (like they do everywhere in Europe).

Oh, and why the need to take a shot at light rail? 'cause you know, it's not like they ever bothered to build light rail anywhere in Europe.

And how exactly are those conventional buses you so flatteringly describe as "40-foot bread boxes" going to provide anything approaching rapid or reliable service when they're required to accommodate wheelchair-bound passengers?

Anyway, I eagerly await the opportunity to be enlightened by your answers. You're obviously smarter than the rest of us here.
Posted by cressona on October 4, 2010 at 1:31 PM · Report this
Dougsf 12
The bus sucks. Buses can be made better, and in some places they're necessary, but the bus will never not suck. It's the bus.
Posted by Dougsf on October 4, 2010 at 1:33 PM · Report this
rara avis 13
I'm sorry. I have to: it's Canada geese, Paul, Canada. They don't have a passport.

Phew, I feel better. Now I can maybe go back and read what you wrote about buses.
Posted by rara avis on October 4, 2010 at 2:32 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 14
The thing that worries me is that anti-transit politicians will point to BRT as a reason why we don't need light rail service in Seattle, and that's bullshit.


Uh, Paul? We have light rail service in Seattle. And lots more on the way. Billions and billions of dollars worth (being installed in--OH MY GOD! TUNNELS!! TUNNELS DRILLED BY GIANT TUNNEL-DRILLING-THINGIES!!) Do you actually live here?
Posted by kk in seattle on October 4, 2010 at 4:06 PM · Report this
15
This will solve our transportation problems because everyone knows the tortoise really beat the hare because he changed his name to Lightning Turtle.
Posted by JesseJB on October 4, 2010 at 5:08 PM · Report this
orino 16
Okay, cressona, you're on.

run frequently, have their own lanes, can override the traffic signals and require payment somewhere other than on the bus (like they do everywhere in Europe)

Those are not "insignificant details," that is the business model of successful public transportation, something that is understood everywhere EXCEPT Seattle.

and why the need to take a shot at light rail? 'cause you know, it's not like they ever bothered to build light rail anywhere in Europe

In Europe, they didn't tear up the tracks they laid 75-100 years ago. Granted, a bad decision on the part of most cities in the U.S., but it is what it is.

What I object to is how light rail is being financed on the backs of the poor through a regressive sales tax, and how after all is said and done it will still account for only about 6% of trips throughout the region, at a cost many, many times that of "40-foot breadboxes." (Which, BTW, is how my Metro bus driver friends refer to non-articulated 40-foot coaches)

And how exactly are those conventional buses you so flatteringly describe as "40-foot bread boxes" going to provide anything approaching rapid or reliable service when they're required to accommodate wheelchair-bound passengers?

I imagine the same way the fetishized RapidRide® buses do. Every company in the world that builds transit buses has a 40-foot flat-floor model with a simple ramp that deploys in a few seconds, and have for a decade or more. It's just that Metro, for whatever their perverse reasoning is, chose not to buy them. And it's not at all difficult to raise the sidewalk to the level of the bus floor/ramp.

As for the quesiton of my I.Q. vis á vis other posters here, let's just say I am aware of a world outside Capitol Hill...
More...
Posted by orino http://www.scootinoldskool.com on October 4, 2010 at 8:16 PM · Report this
17
All I can say is that I road the rapidride today and any kind of time saving that could have been had because of the bus' frequent stops was completely negated by the fact that it moved extremely slowly down 99.... I guessed that this lack of speed had something to do with staying on a time schedule, a fact the was confirmed by the shiny new fare enforcement officers.... :) To add insult to injury everyone still boards at the same door and we stopped at nearly every light, not to mention we paused for upwards of a few minutes at various stops (to keep the spacing between buses). The final thought I am left with is it sucked, plain as that, my ride usually takes about 20 minutes and today (without traffic) it was at least 30.
Posted by kc86 on October 6, 2010 at 2:06 PM · Report this

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