The Guangzhou bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor opened in February 2010 after an extensive planning and design process by the Guangzhou Municipal Engineering Design and Research Institute in partnership with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). The Guangzhou BRT is the is the first ‘metro replacement’ level BRT system outside South America. The system carries more than triple the single-directional passenger flows of any other BRT system in Asia, and is second only to Bogota’s BRT, Transmilenio, worldwide.
Source : Worldwatch Institute
Rush hour is usually a nightmare for Beijing’s bus commuters. Squeezed from all sides, riders endure polluted air and chilly winter winds that seep in through gaps in the windows, or suffer en masse in the scorching summer sun. They look down in envy at their fellow residents, zipping through the paralyzed traffic in tiny sedans and enjoying much-coveted air conditioning and personal space. But with the opening of Beijing’s first exclusive Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line on December 30, car owners may soon be jealous of bus riders for the first time ever.
The new 18-meter-long BRT buses.
The 16-kilometer, 17-stop route, dubbed “Southern Axis BRT Line One,” links eight residential areas, with a total population of 200,000, and four bustling commercial circles in the city’s southern districts. In its two months in service it has attracted overwhelming ridership, with daily passenger flows averaging around 80,000 commuters. Officials originally expected the peak flow—estimated at around 150,000 passengers per day—to occur in 2007, but on the third day of operation, ridership already neared 130,000. “It’s very likely the flow will exceed 150,000 during the golden week of the Labor Day,” noted Yan Yabin, Vice President of Beijing BRT Company, Ltd., which manages the line, referring to the seven-day holiday in early May when Beijing sees a huge influx of tourists and commercial activity.
Bus Rapid Transit, the term for a high-speed bus system that operates within an exclusive right-of-way, was first developed in Brazil in the 1970s. But it has quietly taken hold in China, where more than 20 cities, including Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdou, and Shenyang, are now constructing or designing BRT systems. BRT combines the single-corridor quality of rail transit with the flexibility of buses. It is also considerably cheaper than rail, at one-tenth the construction and operational costs, and takes less time to set up—typically less than three years from design to completion.
Beijing BRT Company currently operates more than 40 buses and is expecting another 50 by April, bringing the total fleet to 90. According to Yan, the major attraction of the new line is that it is convenient, cheap, comfortable, and fast—taking 37 minutes to complete what is usually a one-hour journey. The 18-meter buses are equipped with an electronic stop announcement system and air conditioning, which most regular city buses don’t have. And the buses’ low entry step allows access for wheelchairs, a feature that Beijing only recently began incorporating into city transport. “We are trying to make BRT into ‘luxurious sedans for common residents,'” Yan proclaimed, expressing his pride and confidence in the new system.
Peter Jenkins (2012), Planning for Innovation: An Analysis of Bus Rapid Transit and Institutional Approaches to Transportation Innovation, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Columbia University. Full text of the master thesis available on line
Cities strive to innovate. As population centers and economic hubs, cities constantly evolve, and are in a perpetual state of development and adaptation. Whether to stimulate economic growth, overcome limited public resources, or address new and emerging policy challenges, planners and policy makers increasingly seek new and innovative ways to address urban planning needs. The transportation sector – constantly in motion by definition – is a fertile proving ground for innovative technologies, policies, and planning techniques. Given growing populations, congestion, air pollution, limited public finances, and inequitable access to mobility, amongst other planning problems, cities around the world face critical transportation investment needs. In many North America cities, transportation infrastructure is often in a state of disrepair, while local, regional and state governments are financially constrained and limited in their ability to invest in new services. Throughout much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, urban population growth is staggering, and governments struggle to provide sufficient infrastructure and services for their burgeoning populations. Sustained economic development requires an effective urban transportation system to maintain growth, without which cities face exacerbated congestion, pollution, and other negative externalities from increased motorization and automobile ownership rates.
As an alternative to rail-based mass transit systems (MRT), bus rapid transit (BRT) has emerged as an adaptable and cost-effective means of providing high quality urban mobility. BRT has been a particularly popular transportation innovation in developing cities, where the technology’s relatively low cost and simplified infrastructure requirements enable a quick and flexible implementation schedule. Yet while BRT technology is well understood, the role of actors, institutions, and planning processes is often underemphasized, despite holding the key to successful implementation. Using the emergence and diffusion of bus rapid transit technology as a research context, this study explores the institutional implications of innovation and the embedding of new planning practices into local contexts, focusing on the specific experiences of Bogota, Colombia and Johannesburg, South Africa in incorporating existing transportation service providers into new BRT system management. Understanding this process is of critical importance to urban planners and policy makers facing the complex planning and decision- making processes of the 21st century, and can also aid the growing number of non-governmental, multilateral, and private-sector stakeholders in improving the services they offer to cities. Thus, by addressing these questions, I hope to shed light on the processes of innovation and diffusion, so that planners, policy makers, and other stakeholders can be better informed when implementing new technologies such as bus rapid transit.
Bus rapid transit refers to “a flexible, rubber-tired rapid transit mode that combines stations, vehicles, services, running ways, and Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) elements into an integrated system with a strong positive identity that evokes a unique message” (Levinson et al, 2003, p. 12). By combining these elements, BRT provides a cost-effective means of providing fast, efficient, convenient, and comfortable urban mobility. The most successful BRT systems achieve travel speeds, service capacity, and passenger throughput levels comparable to rail-based mass transit services at a fraction of the cost, using roadway infrastructure and bus-based vehicle platforms.
While specific BRT characteristics vary from one city to another, BRT systems generally include the following elements, which when combined provide a level of service comparable to rail-based systems:
- Physical infrastructure including exclusive bus lanes or bus-only roadways, an extensive network of routes and corridors, enclosed stations with prepaid boarding areas, a level station-platform-to-vehicle-floor design, and multi-door buses for rapid boarding and disembarkation;
- Operational features including frequent bus headways (e.g. waiting time between buses) and rapid operating speeds, limited stop services, ample passenger capacity, fare integration between routes, modes, and feeder services, and coordinated land use planning;
- Technological features such as automated fare collection and verification, signal prioritization and/or grade separation at intersections to minimize bus stoppage at intersections, centralized tracking and system management using GPS and Intelligent Transportation System applications, and efficient, low-emission vehicles;
- Business and regulatory features such as roadway access restrictions to authorized bus operators (e.g. enforced exclusivity of bus lanes) and independent quality control oversight; and
- Marketing features such as unique and distinctive branding for BRT stations and service vehicles, excellence in customer service and operational performance, and ease of transfer between the BRT system and other transportation options (Wright & Hook, 2007, pp. 11-12).
Though such features are neither exhaustive nor absolute requirements, they represent “best practices” in system design, which urban transportation experts generally agree provide the ideal combination for effective bus rapid transit service.
Hodgson, Paul; Potter, Stephen; Warren, James and Gillingwater, David (2013). Can bus really be the new tram? Research in Transportation Economics, 39(1) p. 158–166. Full text available on line