Sunday, June 17, 2007

The 3500 South BRT Plan

One of the many projects the UTA is currently working on is two BRT projects, the Orem/Provo line and the 3500 South. The UTA has a request for proposal out on the 3500 South BRT line so construction is expected to start soon.

So what is BRT? Well that is a very open question. It can either be priority on traffic lights to dedicated right of way. What BRT promoters try to claim is that BRT is light rail at lower cost. However, most BRT projects that are in operation are barely limited service bus routes and only a couple are what many would consider comparable to a light rail line.

So what will the 3500 BRT line be like? Well, it is nothing but a glorified limited stop service. What the system will have is signal prioritization, frequent service, and few bus stops. So the buses will still deal with traffic, and will only be about 10-25% faster than current service. Currently the 37 (soon to be 35) takes 53 minutes to travel from Magna to Salt Lake City. The BRT on the other hand will only take 40 minutes. In other words you will only save about 13 minutes.

Since the BRT line will basically follow the route of the 35 there will be no new markets created by the line. While speed might create a slight ridership increase, there will not be a big increase in market forces because the route doesn't do anything that the current route does. My proposal was to run the route from Magna to the University of Utah which would have created new market forces, a new route matrix and actually brought new riders to the fold. Lets see the difference with that service. Under current conditions the bus takes 1 hour 38 minutes not counting the transfer from the 31 to the 14 (the 37 and 31 are through route so the bus just stops at TRAX, changes route numbers and continues). Now using the same 20% savings you are looking at 1 hour and 10 minutes which is a 28 minutes savings (also assumes a more direct routing). Not a huge change but the route would create a new matrix because it provides service where no existing service travels.

The BRT will most likely do nothing but rob ridership off the local Magna Route along with some ridership of the neighboring bus lines. Despite the fact that Metro Rapid has been praised as a super success story in Los Angeles, ridership numbers shows that the lines have done little but rob the local service in the area of riders. Because all but a couple of the Metro Rapid lines parallel existing service, no new matrix dynamics have been created. In fact even the CEO of the Los Angeles Metro agency has said that Metro Rapid is not creating ridership increases.

UTA could probably do more with precious resources by following the lead of the Portland Tri-Met. Take the high ridership lines line the 37, and redo bus stops so that the curbs conform to Low Floor Buses, make sure there are no bus stops on top of each other, and use exclusively low floor buses on those routes. This will do more to speed up the bus service at a lower cost than the BRT scheme, yet do the same thing as the BRT scheme.

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