From Buses to BRT: Case Studies of Incremental BRT Projects in North America

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Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) uses different combinations of techniques to improve service, such as bus-only lanes and roads, pre-boarding fare collection, transit priority at traffic signals, stylish vehicles with extra doors, bus stops that are more like light rail stations, and high frequency service. This study examines five approaches to BRT systems as implemented by public transit agencies in California, Oregon, and Ontario.

The case studies as a group show that BRT can be thought of as a discretionary combination of elements that can be assembled in many different combinations over time. Every element incrementally adds to the quality or attractiveness of the service. This latitude provides transit agencies with many benefits, including the ability to match infrastructure with operating requirements. For example, a BRT service can combine operations serving free flowing arterial roads in the fringes of the downtown with dedicated lanes in areas closer to city center where congestion is greatest. Buses can operate both on and off the guide way, extending the corridors in which passengers are offered a one-seat ride with no transfer required. Transit agencies also can select specific BRT components and strategies, such as traffic signal priority and increased stop spacing, and apply them to existing local bus operations as a way to increase bus speeds and reduce operating costs.

The specific elements selected for a BRT route can be implemented all at once, or in incremental stages either or both geographical extensions or additions of features. All of the case studies showed ridership improvements, but the Los Angeles Metro Rapid bus system illustrates the wide geographic coverage, improved ridership, and moderate cost per new rider that is possible with an approach that includes fewer BRT features spread over more miles of route. Quantitative results from the case studies suggest that incremental improvements, applied widely to regional bus networks, may be able to achieve significant benefits at a lower cost than substantial infrastructure investments focused upon just one or a few corridors.



John Niles, MTI Research Associate, is founder and president of Global Telematics, a contract research and policy consulting firm based in Seattle, Washington, that focuses on the interaction of transportation and information technology applications. He was a founding member of the Telecommunications and Travel Behavior Committee of the Transportation Research Board. His work focuses on the responsiveness of transportation policy decision making and public investments to the network economy. He has led research studies on the relationship between personal travel and the expansion of telecommunications applications for several Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the United States Department of Energy. He earned his M.S. from the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon University and his S.B. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Lisa Callaghan Jerram, MTI Research Associate, is a Washington DC-based policy research analyst focused on sustainable transportation solutions including hybrid and fuel cell vehicle power, clean fuel buses, and bus rapid transit. She has held positions as senior market analyst at Fuel Cell Today, technology director at Breakthrough Technologies Institute, project director at the Northeast Advanced Vehicle Consortium, and communications and membership coordinator at the Electric Transportation Coalition. Her publications include A Preliminary Evaluation of the Los Angeles Orange Line BRT in Transportation Research Record and The Potential for Bus Rapid Transit to Reduce Transportation-Related CO2 Emissions in the Journal of Public Transportation. She earned her B.A. from University of Virginia.

June 2010
Bus rapid transit
Case studies
Cost effectiveness
Public transit
System design



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