Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is an efficient, comfortable, and cost effective type of public transportation that moves a lot of passengers faster than normal bus service. BRT has features that are similar to light rail, such as dedicated lanes which get priority at traffic lights, prominent stations, and off-board fare collection. Unlike light rail, buses are used instead of trains.
BRT is an excellent public transit option due to its adaptability. Since tracks are not laid down as they are for light rail, BRT is much more flexible. Since dedicated lanes are typically used for buses only, traffic lights can be programmed to give buses priority over cars. This allows for a more efficient movement of people.
Rather than giving priority to cars with one or two people at a traffic light, BRT gives priority to moving more passengers at a quicker pace. Last, BRT is also cheaper than light rail. Taxpayers feel a reduced burden and more bus routes can be operated. This leads to a more extensive transit network and opens up many more destinations for riders.
Listed above are just a few reasons that BRT is such an attractive option for the City of Tempe. What makes BRT the best option for Tempe is the way the city is laid out. The city has multiple wide and straight corridors which typically intersect every ½ mile to 1 mile. These corridors are excellent for BRT which works well with station stops about ¾ of a mile away from each other. Riders can hop on a line and know exactly where they are going without much planning because the routes can follow straight corridors.
Take Rural Road for example. If you live on Rural Road in South Tempe near Chandler, you could hop on the BRT and go north towards ASU/Scottsdale understanding your bus won’t be taking twists or turns that can catch you by surprise. You will strictly be traveling down Rural Road.
Riders wouldn’t have to plan their trips to the bus stop because the time between each bus arriving would be much quicker. The time between buses in Tempe on Rural Road, Route 72, can vary but are typically between 20 and 30 minutes (with delays occurring often). For BRT, those times can be brought down to anywhere between 5-15 minutes. The more the city chooses to provide for their citizens, the closer they can get to that 5 minute mark which requires almost no trip planning.
BRT Around the World
BRT is not a novel concept, it has already been implemented to much success in various parts of the world, including in large US cities like Los Angeles as well as smaller cities such as Eugene, Oregon and Cleveland, Ohio. BRT systems exist in Africa, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Australia.
At this point, it is much easier to list the parts of the world where BRT doesn’t operate.
Curitiba, Brazil (Rede Integrada de Transporte)
Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil, is often seen as one of the world’s most successful (and one of the earliest) modern BRT systems. Established in 1974, and improved over the 80s and 90s, the BRT system in Curitiba is credited as a success story.
The BRT lines spurred massive growth along the corridors it served, showcasing the symbiotic relationship between effective public transportation and urban growth. Local officials credit the development of the BRT for preventing the city from being overrun by traffic jams, claiming that without it, gridlock would have been inevitable.
From the easily accessible “tube stations” (sometimes with little libraries in them) to the use of electronic panels with real time arrival and departure information, Curitiba continues to serve as an example to other cities in South America and around the world.
Curitiba is a large and very dense city that has a vastly different political, economic, and social climate than Tempe. It is best to take lessons from Curitiba with the understanding that it would not look or operate the same way in Tempe. Nonetheless, the city can and should take lessons from Curitiba as it is a pioneer of this type of mass transit.
An early challenge in Curitiba was an outdated payment method (passengers buying tickets while boarding the buses) and ticket affordability for lower income riders. In response the city launched an electronic ticketing system and offered reduced fares for lower income riders.
Buying your ticket before boarding allows for much faster service. Currently, on Valley Metro buses, passengers looking to use the bus for a single ride must pay in cash upon boarding or purchase tickets at local stores. This is unacceptable for users, especially the less wealthy riders who report higher bus usage. BRT would save passengers the hassle of making a trip to Circle K prior to arriving at the bus stop.
Cleveland, Ohio (Healthline)
There are BRT success stories right here in the US. These have occurred not only in America’s largest cities, but in smaller cities as well. Cleveland’s “Healthline”, is a BRT route that follows Euclid Avenue, one of the most important corridors in the city.
The City of Cleveland spent decades trying to find a way to connect their two most important activity centers. They tried to secure funding for all sorts of transit types—a subway, light rail, a trolley and more. Eventually the city decided to pursue BRT due to its affordability and practicality.
The route connects two vital activity centers in Cleveland: Downtown and University Circle. University Circle contains Case Western Reserve University), multiple museums, and two world class hospitals which inspired the naming of the BRT line: The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. The other center, Downtown Cleveland, houses the city’s professional sports teams, nightlife districts, the city’s largest theater district, and an active culinary scene.
The Healthline was completed in 2008, spanning approximately 7 miles. The project cost $200 million yet spurred $10 billion in real estate development along the Euclid Avenue corridor. This includes both new real estate development and rehabilitation of old structures. In addition, the Healthline serves one of the lowest income areas in the Cleveland metropolitan area, the City of East Cleveland.
Not only did the Healthline connect two large hubs, it has helped spur a new one in the middle. Between Downtown Cleveland and University Circle, Midtown has been emerging. In an area that was previously looked at as a pass-through space, a new library and multiple apartment projects will dot the corridor with further investment likely to follow.
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Stations along the Euclid Avenue Healthline corridor resemble rail transit. Features include raised station platforms for accessible entry, collection of fares before boarding, and real-time updates of bus arrival times. Public art is installed along the Healthline, improving the travel experience. There are dedicated lanes which speed up travel time: bus travel time along the corridor dropped by about 26% after the Healthline’s implementation. What formerly took 46 minutes, now takes 34, saving riders precious time.
The route runs 24/7, with buses arriving every ten minutes at peak hours. 108 bus stops were replaced by 36 stations, increasing the efficiency of the route. Ridership along the Euclid corridor increased by around 60% over the Number 6 bus line, the bus route which previously served Euclid Avenue.
It’s no wonder that the Healthline has been called one of the best BRT lines in the United States.
BRT For You & Me
The City of Tempe should take immediate steps towards implementing BRT. Considering BRT’s success across a variety of cities (and continents), it is clear BRT would thrive in Tempe. For too long, Tempe has settled for subpar public transit options.
Tempe residents deserve public transportation befitting of a growing city in a major metropolitan area. Tempe has the unique opportunity to be a leader in The Valley by becoming early adopters of this very efficient form of public transportation.
It is up to decision makers to decide if they want to embrace it or become roadblocks to progress. And it is up to the community to let them know that we do not want a majority of Tempe to be one big suburb that blends into the rest of the valley.
An improved public transportation system makes society more equitable. If Tempe is serious about creating a city for all, they will use everything within their power to bring BRT to fruition. They must act so passengers can move about the city without needing to own and operate a personal vehicle. Implementation of BRT is a win environmentally, socially, and economically. There are no negatives to acting on this matter and the city’s residents only stand to gain.
Tempe must act fast. The city prides itself on being a leader in sustainability, so it is time to put up or shut up. This is just one small step to making good on the promise of being a sustainable, equitable, modernized city for all.
About The Author
Jason Barr earned his Masters of Urban and Environmental Planning from Arizona State University in 2017. Jason has experience in land use planning with several cities across the valley. His interests include the interaction between land use and transportation, quality of life, and city planning’s impact on public health.
Want to write for us? We are always looking for writing about urbanism, housing policy, and related issues impacting Tempe and our state. Email us at TempeYIMBY(at)gmail.com
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