Bus Rapid Transit (a.k.a BRT) is a hot topic in sustainable transport. In Latin America alone, dozens of new BRT systems have recently come online or are under development, and numerous transport experts are hailing BRT as a cost-effective means for improving mass transit and fostering socially and environmentally sustainable transportation systems. In the broadest sense, BRT refers to the systematic combination of infrastructure (e.g. busways, stations, terminals) and vehicles, with well-organized operations and ‘intelligent transportation’ technologies. By combining these various elements, BRT is able to provide better service and greater efficiency than is possible with traditional bus operations.
While accurate, this general definition encompasses an extremely diverse set of applications. Thus, BRT as it is currently defined can refer to anything from simple improvements in bus technologies and user information systems, to so-called ‘high-end’ applications replete with features such as: exclusive bus lanes; frequent bus services; advanced bus ‘stations’ with electronic prepayment and level access to the buses; centralized control centers for efficiently managing routes and pick-up times; and a distinctive branding image for the system.
As a result of this ambiguous BRT taxonomy, wildly different systems, such Delhi’s controversial new Busway and Sao Paulo’s Expresso Tiradentes, are both referred to as BRTs. But Delhi’s new system does not have stations that allow level boarding (i.e. the station floor height matches the floor of the vehicle, and passengers are not required to take a step up or down to board the vehicle). These stations also lack a prepayment system, which forces users to spend time purchasing tickets on the bus. Furthermore, Delhi’s exclusive lanes are open to all types of public transport vehicles, not just specially designed, high-capacity buses like in a true BRT. Finally, a good BRT system must have an organized, centrally planned and supervised bus dispatch and control system, as well as clear and consistent signage and user information systems - all things that are conspicuously absent in Delhi. Sao Paulo’s new BRT, however, is quite comprehensive, with fully segregated lanes, plied exclusively by advanced, high-capacity hybrid buses, and advanced, high-capacity stations.