Chronicle’s BRT smear hides the truth

by AC Transit, from Oakland Local

by AC Transit, from Oakland Local

AC Transit’s proposed East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line got a cheap kick in the gut yesterday from the Chronicle’s Matier & Ross. The duo took aim at the cost of BRT, a “jaw-dropping $18.7 million per mile.” but didn’t take a minute to compare the project to anything else in the Bay Area. BRT is a steal compared to other planned expansions, like BART to San Jose, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the Chronicle.

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a bus route separated from traffic with using transit-only lanes with specialized boarding platforms. Where BRT is fully implemented, it functions like BART. Fares are paid before boarding and bus entrances are level with the platform, also like BART. When a BRT line runs along city streets, they turn lights green as they approach intersections. Each of these measures speeds the bus service, making it more reliable and faster than regular, mixed-traffic buses.

AC Transit’s BRT line will cost about $178 million to run 9.5 miles along International Avenue in Oakland and San Leandro. Though it will be a downgrade from what you’d find in poorer countries, there is still plenty of work planned. Planning, stations, new buses, signal infrastructure, medians, and other infrastructure will dramatically improve service along the corridor. In 20 years, it’s expected to attract 40,000 riders per day, 24,500 of whom will be new. For the number of riders AC Transit will attract, this is a long way from “jaw-droppingly” expensive.

The Greenbrae Interchange Project in Marin will cost $143 million and add capacity for 825 more trips per day, or $173,000 each. BART’s extension to San Jose will cost at least $7 billion and serve, at most, 78,000 trips per day, or $90,000 each (though Transbay Eric thinks this is absurdly optimistic). At only $7,265 per new trip, East Bay BRT is far and away a cheaper, more cost-effective undertaking than nearly anything else under way in the region.

It’s a double shame, then, that businesses along the corridor have sought to dumb-down the project and strip it of features and length that will attract more riders. They fear a loss of parking and worse traffic, but by reducing the scope of the line they’ve cut off a vital link to customers. It has been shown again and again – San Francisco on Polk Street and Columbus Avenue; Utrecht; Melbourne; New York; Toronto; and elsewhere – that the best customer base a business can have are those who walk, bike, or take transit to their shop.

The Chronicle would better serve the community by trying to inform rather than smear. The facts show that AC Transit’s plan is a coup for cost-effective transportation and will bring transit to a corridor that desperately needs better service. One would hope that a journalist (or two) would be interested in such things.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

4 comments to Chronicle’s BRT smear hides the truth

  • Ok, it was a hitjob, but don’t say BRT is just like BART. It’s not.

    • I didn’t mean “just like”, only “like”. Gold standard BRT, like Transmilenio, is totally separated from traffic, uses enclosed stations, and is a massive mass transit system. Muni Metro is a better comparison, but the part that actually functions separate from traffic is so short I thought a better-understood example would be BART.

  • BRT is a mode that is economically efficient only when there is not a lot of expensive infrastructure. It also suffers from a lower operating efficiency in that it does not support trains of vehicles, hence requires more “platform expenses”. And, if not electric, has shorter-lived and more maintenance-prone vehicles. Given the greater number of vehicle operators required, BRT as a trunk operation is suitable for lower traffic levels and a minimum of high-cost infrastructure. To often cheaper first cost and higher long term expense seems to be the way we think in the US.

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