Having written recent commentaries favoring streetcars and light rail and objecting to the Bush Administration's push for so-called Bus Rapid Transit, I have received email asking just what is wrong with Bus Rapid Transit anyway, especially since conservative and libertarian think tanks such as the Reason Foundation and the CATO Institute are all for it. My correspondents are correct. I owe my readers an explanation as to why I am against Bus Rapid Transit.
Let me count the reasons. First, as I have mentioned before, riders much prefer rail to buses when given a choice. If the object of transit is to get drivers to leave their cars at home, then rail is by far the better way to go. Second, rail attracts investment. I have cited Portland's multibillion stipulated investment but even in the smaller city of Kenosha, Wisconsin the single two-mile-long streetcar line has attracted a remarkable amount of investment and when a second line will go from downtown to uptown development will be yet more pronounced. There is no example anywhere of Bus Rapid Transit's attracting development. Riders know that a bus route can be changed overnight. Rail has a far greater permanence to it.
Streetcars are primarily neighborhood circulators. They stop every couple of blocks to bring people where they want to go. Bus Rapid Transit is more like light rail. Much of it has its own private right away. Some lines have high-level platforms like rail so passengers use fare machines and need not spend time paying the fare aboard the bus. Streetcars are not designed for speed yet the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) justifies funding bus rapid transit because it is faster. That alone shows FTA prejudice.
I mentioned that rail is more expensive to build but cheaper to operate. However, the highly respected transit consultant, Ed Tennyson, who served as Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation some years ago, contends that rail does not have to be more expensive to build.
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