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Focus: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Systems - A Bit More Than Just Segregated Lanes?

BRT systems are once again making the headlines. In the UK the Cambridge – St Ives system, the longest BRT line in the world was launched in August 2011, while the city of Rio de Janeiro just announced a public concession to implement and operate an Olympic BRT.

So what is BRT?
At first glance BRT is a public transport system based on buses running in segregated lanes. However, behind the day-to-day operations there is a complex interaction of bus services, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), lane management policies, Public Private Partnerships (PPP) procurement and a strong political will to redesign public transport in a city.

It is the blend of these elements that makes a BRT system successful.

There are three main reasons behind the increased interest in BRT systems: 

  • Higher Performance Services: A combination of high-frequency, high-capacity bus services, overpass lanes and station designs can lead BRTs to have a capacity of more than 40k pax/hr/dir. This compares with Light Rail Transit (LRT) (15k pax/hr/dir) or metro (80k pax/hr/dir).
  • Cheaper than alternative solutions: A BRT system entails a construction cost ranging from $1 to 12 million per km. This is up to five times cheaper than LRT and 10 times cheaper than metro. The cost varies with the specific characteristics of each system and, in particular, the level of segregation and integration with other modes.
  • Shorter Implementation Times: As with construction cost, the implementation time is driven by the complexity of the system, but in general a BRT project can be delivered in less than half the time of any of the alternative solutions (metro or LRT).

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