An Overview of Bus Rapid Transit in the United States (3)

Physical components such as vehicles and stations can impart a tangible quality to the image of BRT service, setting it apart from competitors. Sleek, rail-inspired vehicles with modern interior designs can distinguish BRT from older “shoebox” styled buses and project an upscale identity. Examples of advanced vehicle features include larger sizes for greater carrying capacity, aerodynamic designs, panoramic windows, multiple sets of doors with level boarding platforms, covered rear wheel wells, comfortable seats and roomy, open standing areas. Discussions with transit officials indicate that the overwhelming popularity of rail-like BRT vehicles plays a strong role in increasing the use of BRT services, particularly by choice riders (Federal Transit Administration, 2005). This supports the idea that vehicle design is central to conveying a service that provides the style, amenities and capacity of rail.

Clearly, BRT offers numerous different opportunities for creating a positive image. However, there is limited research knowledge regarding the impact and cost-effectiveness of BRT in terms of image improvement. Current research at NBRTI aims to (1) quantify the impact of different BRT system design elements on overall image and (2) assess the extent of the relationship between positive image and ridership gain. It is hoped that this will allow agencies considering BRT to determine how best to convey a quality image in the most cost-effective manner. In order to discern the role of image in mode-choice decisions, the research will assess differences in perceptions between BRT and other modes, particularly rail transit and the private automobile. Because the success of BRT in reducing congestion depends heavily on attracting choice riders, the NBRTI study intends to examine the image perceptions of this group to determine the extent to which image plays a role in their mode-choice decisions.

Technology *

Assist and automation technologies provide automated lateral and longitudinal control of the BRT vehicle, either to assist the driver in safely operating the vehicle or to directly control the vehicle. The different automation technologies are described below:

  • Collision Warning and Avoidance

Collision warning alerts the vehicle driver to the presence of pedestrians or other obstacles, while collision avoidance directly controls the BRT vehicle to avoid hitting these obstructions. Collision warning and avoidance technologies comprise forward, rear or side impacts, or 360-degree system integration. Driver notification devices and infrared, video or other sensors are required for both technologies, while collision avoidance requires the added provision of automated controls within the vehicle. Although collision warning systems have some limited commercial availability, collision avoidance systems are still being tested and are not yet on the market.

  • Precision Docking

Precision docking uses either magnetic or optical-based methods to assist BRT drivers in lateral and longitudinal positioning of vehicles at stops or stations. These technologies require magnets or paint markings to be installed on or in the pavement, vehicle-based sensors to detect the markings, and connections to the steering mechanism. The Civis vehicle used by the Las Vegas MAX BRT system is equipped with an optical guidance system that enables precision docking at station platforms. The availability of these systems is currently limited to international suppliers as an additional option for new vehicle purchases. Commercial availability from U.S. suppliers as an add-on option is expected in the next two to five years.

  • Vehicle Guidance

These systems use a variety of technologies to guide BRT vehicles on running ways. Also known as “lane assist technologies,” automated guidance systems allow BRT vehicles to operate safely at sustained speeds on limited right-of-way. There are three primary vehicle guidance technologies: magnetic, optical and GPS (global positioning systems). As with precision docking, the magnetic and optical technologies require magnets or paint markings every few feet along the roadway, vehicle-based sensors and a steering actuator. GPS methods rely on wireless communications, highly accurate GPS-based maps, on-board software and a steering actuator to guide the bus. Magnetic, optical and GPS guidance methods are comparable in terms of cost. However, magnetic and optical systems appear to be more reliable than GPS, which is vulnerable to wireless signal failure due to uneven terrain or other natural and man-made obstructions.

Elements, Performance & Benefits
Example of transit-oriented development in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Vehicle Prioritization Technologies

This class of technology enhances operational efficacy through the provision of preference or priority to the BRT vehicle. By reducing the traffic signal delay experienced by the BRT vehicle, these technologies can achieve increased operating speeds, decreased travel times and greater schedule or headway adherence. Signal retiming, synchronization, phasing and transit signal priority (TSP) help BRT systems to minimize delays caused by having to stop at controlled intersections. Access control provides BRT vehicles with unencumbered entrance to and exit from dedicated running ways and/or stations.

Source :

(to be continued)


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