This article published in The Guardian newspaper looks at the future of BRT and how it is working successfully over in Latin American cities. I am not pro-BRT or anti-LRT but I believe that once a city has decided on an approach to a transit system be it LRT or BRT, there needs to be a realisation that it can work and introducing a new transit mode without getting the existing transit mode up to standard simply a wrong and unjustified approach.
Recently there has been several media articles in my city of Brisbane where certain members of the public are now calling for the City Council and State Government to look at a future where light rail exists. Brisbane ditched the idea of light rail many years ago when the then mayor Clem Jones removed the extensive tram network. Over the last decade we have seen Brisbane invest heavily into BRT with the creation of busways that serves the population relatively well. I say relatively well, but this is where the problem lies.
The current BRT network is great but there could be much more done to improve and add to it. For a start, it’s not a complete network as there are many areas in Brisbane that are still not serviced by busways. I understand that a busway like a light rail line doesn’t necessarily have to cover every corner of a city but there should at least be in place 4 major busway lines that can service major activity areas to the north, south, east and west of a city. At present the southern and northern busways are suitable but there exists no busway lines to the west and there’s a half-finished one to the east with the completion of it not known due to budget constraints.
Further to this, the routes that utilise the busways have not been planned efficiently and as a result the citizens perceive Brisbane’s BRT to be at capacity. Instead of running a few dedicated line-haul services (one bus service at 1 or 2 minute frequency going up and down the busway line) to reduce the number of suburban services using the busways, at present it operates where the vast amount of suburban bus routes enter the busway at various points and adds unnecessary bus traffic into the busway network. What should be the approach is to plan suburban bus services to start and terminate at each busway station along the network. Yes passengers do have to change services in order to commute into the city, however with proper planning, services would integrate well and you would see very minor delays when changing services as opposed to the longer delay times as a result of busway congestion. In many other cities around the world where LRT works, they have feeder buses that only operate on suburban routes which start and terminate at light rail stations. This same theory can be adopted to Brisbane whereby suburban bus routes link up to busway stations and you have buses running up and down the busway in high frequency similar to what light rail would but, with just the one or two services to eliminate confusion of end destination.
Curitiba-style BRT showed that a relatively low-cost, bus-based infrastructure could move masses of people through a city with the speed and capacity of a much more expensive metro system, while maintaining a flexibility no metro can ever muster.
It can be done well, and there is no need to adopt LRT here in Brisbane. If we can get right what currently is there, the need for LRT would lessen and ultimately not be required. We already have a heavy rail network that exists that can also be improved to compliment the BRT network. Once again, proper planning is required instead of the poor planning our government has so far given us.