In a recent post, A Tale of Two Modes, we discussed why gondolas and heavy rail aren’t being considered for future high-capacity transit service as part of Project Connect’s regional transit system plan.
Now, we want to talk about two types of transit we ARE considering for Project Connect.
“What is Fixed-Guideway Bus Rapid Transit?”
A step up from Capital Metro’s MetroRapid service, Fixed-guideway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is designed to operate much like a rail service, travelling in its own lanes and providing frequent service – every 10-30 minutes. It’s faster than traditional and rapid bus service both because the stops are placed approximately ½ to 2 miles apart, so it makes fewer stops, and because it operates in dedicated lanes, uninterrupted by other traffic. Yes, you read that right: No getting stuck in traffic! Because fixed-guideway BRT moves a lot of people, at a greater frequency in its own lanes, it is considered a high-capacity transit mode.International standards are different and designate bronze, silver or gold status to a BRT service depending on the percentage of the dedicated lane it uses.
To develop this type of service, however, Capital Metro must first secure right-of-way to locate and install the definitive dedicated lanes. What seems simple – changing a lane of an existing road into a dedicated transit lane – takes more than just a new coat of paint. Just as we did to construct transit-priority lanes for MetroRapid, Capital Metro would need to work with regional transportation partners like the city of Austin and TxDOT to develop inter-agency plans to secure the right-of-way, all while ensuring that other forms of transportation still have safe and efficient use of surrounding lanes.
Fixed-guideway BRT stations can be designed and built to include safe drop-off/pickup and waiting zones for riders. Stations on major roadways can be built above road-level.
“Why are you considering Fixed-guideway BRT instead of Light Rail?”
A lot of you want to see Capital Metro add sleek, innovative modes to its transit mix and feel that BRT buses don’t fit the bill.
Fixed-guideway BRT and Light Rail share some of the same qualities: Both operate in dedicated lanes, connect local activity centers and feature stops approximately ½ to 2 miles apart.
While BRT buses are flexible and can easily travel on winding roadways, light rail trains demand straighter tracking. Other key differences are the building and maintenance costs. Light rail requires performing major excavation, building an electrified track, having a constant electrical supply, constructing sub-stations, installing overhead wires and buying and maintaining more expensive vehicles. Cha-ching! Fixed-guideway BRT is a lot less expensive.
Even so, light rail can carry many more passengers than BRT. So, if all the required resources are available – the corridor has enough demand (read: LOTS of people in densely developed areas) and is a “straight shot” between activity centers, land can be dedicated and converted to tracking, electricity is in constant supply, ample funding is available and the public has voted to support the project (see Texas Transportation Code Section 451.3625) – light rail can be part of Project Connect’s regional high-capacity transit system.
The bottom line: The Project Connect team is considering fixed-guideway BRT and light rail where appropriate.