Municipal bus systems in America aren’t known for being especially fast. They’re inexpensive and reliable, but if you need a fast mode of transport they’re typically not your best option. In any case, rapid is not an adjective most Americans would be likely to apply to their city’s buses.
In other parts of the world however, bus transit is actually quite speedy. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems were first developed in Brazil, and have since been adopted in many other countries in South America, Europe and Asia.
So what differentiates a BRT line from the bus transit systems we’re familiar with?
There are three defining features of a BRT system. Passengers pay before they board, there are dedicated lanes and traffic signal priorities for buses, and bus stop platforms are level with bus doors. In essence, a BRT line acts as an above-ground metro rail system. BRT lines also have a few distinct advantages over subway systems. Most notably, they are far less expensive to build and maintain. It’s also easier for city planners to adapt BRT lines to changes in the future. In spite of these virtues, BRT lines have remained conspicuously absent from America’s roads until recently.
When it opened in the spring of last year, Connecticut’s BRT system became the longest of its kind in the country. It’s called CTfastrak, and it stretches nearly 10 miles between Hartford and New Britain. CTfastrak has only been operating for a little over a year, but it’s already been very successful. The bus lanes were built over an abandoned Amtrak commuter line which made the project especially cost effective. State transit officials have plans to extend the system with other lines in the future.
Some cities such as Boston and Chicago have tried to develop BRT systems in the past, but they’ve struggled to implement them effectively. Many analysts in the transit industry are arguing that CTfastrak is currently the best, most effective BRT system in the country.
Hopefully before too long we’ll see more of these fast, efficient and affordable transit systems in other American cities as well.