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A special place for buses

The New York Times reported this weekend on the debut of a bus rapid transit system in the city designed to sidestep normal gridlock and boarding delays.

Various jurisdictions around Washington have been considering bus rapid transit as a means of alleviating congestion and expanding transportation options. It has been discussed as a possibility for a proposed Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton and the Corridor Cities Transitway in northern Montgomery County, although more expensive light rail lines have been identified as a preference for those projects. However, transportation officials have envisioned a bus rapid transit system on K Street as the centerpiece of a regional network to speed commuters to and from downtown.

The New York bus rapid transit system operates in special traffic lanes and riders purchase their fares from sidewalk kiosks instead of queuing to pay aboard the bus (you can't even swipe aboard the bus using an electronic fare card). Enforcement officers do random checks to make sure riders have paid. The rapid bus lanes are in effect during weekday rush hours.

The system started with several glitches, though, including a kiosk that was out of paper, and confusion among riders about proper procedures. The Times, reported, however, that the city department of transportation recorded a 20 percent time savings on a route in the Bronx.

What do you think of the bus rapid transit lanes? Would that work in Washington? Where would you like to see them, and how often would you use them? Post a comment below.

By Michael Bolden  | October 11, 2010; 10:54 AM ET
Categories:  Transit, Transportation Politics  
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The Purple Line as planned - a light Rail System - will:
Add green house gasses (Independent Study by World Resource Institute)
Cause more traffic due to planned development inside the beltway - look at developers' plans.
Requires the destruction of a 20 acre park inside the Beltway.
Why did NYC decide on Buses?
Why doesn’t the State of Maryland spend a fraction of the Train’s cost on a more efficient bus system with real and immediate relief on traffic?
We don’t have money to spend on inefficient, pollution causing permanent infrastructure – it’s 2010 we should know better.

Posted by: abhatt1 | October 11, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

My main problem with the idea of only being able to buy your ticket at a kiosk is the chronic problem of metro bus -- the bus not showing up. Then you've paid, have a time stamp ticket, and you have to find a different means of transportation. Circulator used to sell tickets from the parking kiosks, and one day I decided to buy tickets from them (I had some transit unsavy friends with me). Well, 45 minutes, no bus, and we all caught a cab instead.

It's a nice idea, but I think it would just add confusion. Most Washingtonians don't seem to understand how to take the current busses across town anyway. My experience in NYC was that people actually understand the busses, and use them.

I think the new style busses that metro bought are actually making confusion worse - they say "Express" on the side, but then are the regular bus; or they say "Local" but then are actually the express. So often the reader board on the front just says "Out of service" so the bus has to stop at EVERY stop while people go "Is this the 22A? No? The 16G? The 16H? Pentagon? What?" So I can just see metro buying fancy busses for the a rapid transit line, then running them on regular lines, further confusing people.

Posted by: anoel | October 11, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

A better questiaon is why doesn't Maryland stop wasting money on public transit and build another bridge over the Potomac.

Posted by: bill_h_pike | October 11, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

For me to use a BRT takes two things:
(1) a quick trip, which requires dedicated lanes and a reliable schedule, and
(2) parking at retail: if I could get off the bus and pick up my dry cleaning, a rotisserie chicken, a birthday card and mail a package, and THEN get in my car to drive straight home -- now that's real life. Otherwise, I could just drive straight from work, stopping for those errands along the way, and still get home faster than on public transit.
Bus or Metro is irrelevant to me; logistics are everything.

Posted by: Tori1 | October 12, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

I am all for the new generation bus rapid transit (BRT) over light rail. Both are comfortable and attractive. However, BRT outshines light rail with its significantly lower cost and quicker time to get up and running, nor would there be ugly, 24/7 cattenary wires. Building BRT would not cause the destuction of surrounding area. The current foolish plan for light rail for the Purple Line would destroy 17 acres of mature trees and cost $1.68 BILLION dollars (so far...) for a 16 mile line.) I could go on. Check out this facinating article by Allan Lichtman that ran in last Friday's Gazette:

Posted by: 3suns1 | October 12, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I have long been a rail enthusiast, at least since I rode my first Red Line train in 1976. But a couple of trips this fall exposed me to very effective alternatives. In Ottawa, Canada, a transitway runs between the airport and downtown and works remarkably well – not a stoplight the whole way, until the bus entered the downtown area; I’m convinced a train could have done no better. Going from the SEATAC airport to downtown Tacoma, Wash., I took a bus again: no transitway, but dedicated freeway lanes and intelligently placed stops at freeway ramps. All freeways should have such services. In the densely built-up area of the Purple Line, however, a rail system may be unavoidable—a half-baked bus rapid transit system would be worse than none at all.

Posted by: AshtonMD | October 12, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

With governments facing significant financial challenges, bus rapid transit makes more and more sense. we have a tremendous amount of transportation needs in Montgomery County and if we pursue light rail for the purple line, it is unlikely that we will have the resources for the Corridor Cities transitway project. (which of course has much greater beenfits than the purple line) Given all these transportation needs and the other financial challenges, we face, it is time for the Montgomery County Council and Maryland state government to revisit this issue and focus on a comprehensive plan for bus rapid transit for Montgomery County as a whole.

Posted by: bamboo3 | October 12, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

As long as the 'rapid' buses use any type of public street or road, there will be no rapid bus transit. Only a dedicated right-of-way will produce anything approaching rapid.

Posted by: DickieM | October 12, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Not only is BRT more versatile it is cheaper, too, than the proposed Purple Line light rail. With major employment decisions like BRAC made every day we need the versatility that BRT offers.

Posted by: PeggyH1 | October 12, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

As a professional I studied light rail systems extensively and know what it takes to make such a project successful. The light rail purple line in Montgomery County would cost a fortune and never attract sufficient riders to justify its cost and devastation to the wonderful wooded trail now used by many walkers, runners and cyclists. As proven in many places and by important studies a rapid bus alternative makes far more economic sense. Far more residents who do not live near the trail, as I do, should wake up; the many millions of dollars spent on the rail project would, in this time of economic stress, deprive state and county spending on a wide range of desperately needed infrastructure spending. This would make the lives of all road users more painful. Don't vote for anyone supporting the purple light rail line.

Posted by: JoelSHirschhorn | October 12, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Destroying a beautiful nature trail with a monstrously expensive light rail is foolish. BRT will do the job now, and be flexible as future needs arise.
Bethesda-Silver Spring have more children every year--preserve a linear urban park for them and their future.
Mary Rivkin

Posted by: rivkin1 | October 12, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

In a dynamic community, the last thing one wants is to invest heavily in an expensive, permanent and limited system that drives the nature of growth and development, ultimately leading to ossification and decay. The beauty of bus rapid transit is that it's basically flexible and can be rerouted as demand changes. It's also cheaper, both in initial outlay and continued maintenance. In spite of claims to the contrary, it's less polluting in that it requires less destruction to put in place and, especially with newer technologies, produces less greenhouse gases.
While in the Washington Metropolitan region, a mass transit system linking All the jurisdictions is a desirable outcome, spending large suns of money on strictly local systems would ensure that the larger system would never be built. So, another argument for bus rapid transit is that, while providing immediate transportation relief, it could also act as a placekeeper while the larger system is designed, funded and built.

Posted by: howiek | October 13, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

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