Buses Mean Business

Rapid private vehicle ownership and fast population growth have stretched city infrastructure thinly over the last few decades. The need to regenerate urban boundaries has seen a massive uptake in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems that provide out of the box solutions that are favourable with citizens. BRT systems provide several economic benefits such as a lower investment to operating costs ratio, efficient performance, fast construction turnaround as well as greater flexibility with the usage of existing roads. Challenges still remain nonetheless on improving boarding techniques, vehicle design to accommodate more passengers at higher speeds, route and timetable management and express lane construction costs. Since the pioneering Curitiba, Brazil, BRT system in the 1970s, which propelled a global trend, many more system innovations have been brought to life, which I would like to share.

A notable BRT implementation strategy was deployed in Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya, which aimed to reach more than 80% of city residents and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.6 million tonnes by 2020. In a city dominated by private taxi and minibus vehicles, the BRT required extensive collaboration between the government and operators to ensure smooth and efficient implementation. To manage the re-distribution of public transport users to the BRT, the city of Johannesburg allocated all of its company shares to the independent taxi operators. Similarly during its construction, ‘Corridors of Freedom’ were established to ensure priority routes were established among poorer communities to foster more system engagement. Re-fits of the station shells have delivered revolutionary value such as large identifiable station markers to improve accessibility containing touch screen information podiums on routes, times and support. Automated door opening systems at stations ensure more comfortable passenger experiences minimising roadside pollutants, weather impacts and noise. The enclosed station shell format allows for voice-overs to support accessibility with future potential to accommodate different language supports.

Rea Vaya stop in Johannesburg CBD on Commissioner Street at Ntemi Piliso Street, Courtesy of Keizers https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rea_Vaya_stop_in_CBD.JPG

Rea Vaya stop in Johannesburg CBD on Commissioner Street at Ntemi Piliso Street, Courtesy of Keizers https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rea_Vaya_stop_in_CBD.JPG

One of the fastest BRT systems is located in Adelaide, Australia through an investment in guided bus technology lanes forming what is termed the Adelaide O-Bahn. The specially built track system combines elements of both bus and rail infrastructure with an L-shaped track resting on sleepers that keeps bus movement steady and higher speeds safer. It works by locking in place with a guide-wheels cushioning buses on the track. The guided bus technology allows for an average BRT speed of 80km/h and a maximum speed of 100km/h. A number of interchanges along the system allows buses to enter and exit the busway and continue on suburban routes providing more comfort for passengers with direct routes. Along the O-Bahn system, station stops are infrequent with its core aim to deliver express services with the interchanges allowing transfers into more frequent suburban stops.

Example of Guided Technology: Stagecoach in Huntingdonshire bus, Courtesy of Bob Castle https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guided_bus_Oakington_to_Longstanton.jpg

Example of Guided Technology: Stagecoach in Huntingdonshire bus, Courtesy of Bob Castle https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guided_bus_Oakington_to_Longstanton.jpg

The Guangzhou BRT system represents one of the first systems in China to engage with the multi-modal system to integrate with metro trains as well as a bike share system and bike parking facilities integrated into the design. It maintains a direct service system rather than a trunk model, meaning passengers do not need to transfer and the buses come in and out of the corridor. The corridor has focused on developing plazas around the BRT system, which integrate well with the bicycle facilities. An integrated contactless card the Yang Cheng Tong can be used to store value on it and pay for the bus fare at the turnstiles to the bus terminal and can also be used to collect and pay for a bicycle.

Guangzhou GBRT Tianhe Sports Center Station, Courtesy of Efilm https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GBRT_Tianhe_Sports_Center.JPG

Guangzhou GBRT Tianhe Sports Center Station, Courtesy of Efilm https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GBRT_Tianhe_Sports_Center.JPG

The Brisbane, Australia BRT system maintains an operating strategy focusing on a trunk bus route that runs the full length of the route to a main interchange point usually the business district. The system was developed to complement robust pre-existing urban rail for a multi-modal system and thereby providing a consistent and standardised interchange point across suburbs and the main business district. To accommodate BRT growth, major infrastructure works have provided express BRT lanes as well as underground corridors for greater connectivity. This core inner-city infrastructure supports a dynamic network of suburban networks that provide a wide catchment and on-street pick-up points.

Exterior view of Greenslopes busway station, Courtesy of Reubot https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Greenslopes_busway_station.jpg

Exterior view of Greenslopes busway station, Courtesy of Reubot https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Greenslopes_busway_station.jpg

One of the upcoming underground tunnels represents a world first combined dual bus and train track into a single, double-decked, 15m-wide tunnel. By managing both rail and bus simultaneously, the project drives cost-efficiency and extends the infrastructure’s usage lifespan.  Similarly, the system runs a number of high-frequency express services that improve interconnectivity and connection synergy across other transport modes in the city. The Brisbane system maintains a notable high-quality station design with grade-separated pedestrian access between platforms and covered overpasses with accessibility lift. Buses also utilise low-floor designs and fold-out ramps which connect up with station platforms to improve accessibility for people with a disability. Similarly the system is heavily deploying natural gas powered buses which lowers road-side pollutants and irritants for passengers making the journey more comfortable.

The BRT systems provide significant support to infill development and transit-oriented developments to manage urban sprawl. In the case of the Brisbane BRT systems property value growth of up to 20% was identified in bus route corridors. Significant in-fill development was recorded around the routes as well as property values in area within 6 miles of stations growing at 2-3 times faster than those at a greater distance. Brisbane has recorded some strong increases in density growth in the inner-urban areas that are well connected and served with the BRT. The Brisbane BRT performs both a central CBD radial function from sprawling suburban areas on the edge of Brisbane to the CBD as well as a short distance function to provide traffic-free, fast, high-quality city links. BRT is considered a far more versatile and flexible technology system to serve spread-out development patterns than urban rail or car and can assist in slowing down urban sprawl and extending infrastructure lifespan. This is further incentivised by a reduce travel time from the suburbs to the City reduced from 60 minutes on the motorway to an 18 minute express service. The flexibility, efficiency and latest technology in BRT ensures that it is a consistent mode of choice for rapidly growing cities in the Asia-Pacific. The scope and system innovations since Curitiba provide strong support for the continued roll-out of BRT systems into the future.

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By Grant Duthie
Grant is from Australia who has lived and worked in Asia studying the cultural drivers, new social perspectives and trends in Asia-Pacific urban communities. Through his experience in social living environments, Grant writes on regional urban themes on his blog Urban Billion https://urbanbillion.wordpress.com/.

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