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Mass transit : bus rapid transit shows promise
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  • Abstract:
    The U. S. General Accounting Office (GAO) was asked to (1) examine the federal role in supporting Bus Rapid Transit; (2) compare the capital costs, operating costs, and performance characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail systems; and (3) describe the other advantages and disadvantages of Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail. Briefly, the GAO found that federal support for Bus Rapid Transit projects may come from several different sources, including the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA's) New Starts, Bus Capital, and Urbanized Area Formula Grants programs, but its use is constrained. The Bus Rapid Transit systems generally had lower capital costs per mile than the Light Rail Systems in the cities that GAO reviewed, although neither system had a clear advantage in operating costs. Precise operating cost comparisons for Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail systems within and between cities are difficult due to differences among transit agencies, transit systems, and how they account for costs. The performance characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail systems also varied widely, with the largest Bus Rapid Transit system ridership about equal to the largest Light Rail ridership. Finally, Bus Rapid Transit routes showed generally higher operating speeds than the Light Rail lines in these cities. Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail systems offer various advantages and disadvantages. Bus Rapid Transit provides a more flexible approach than Light Rail because buses can be routed to eliminate transfers; operated on busways, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and city arterial streets; and implemented in stages. However, buses have a poor public image. Because of this image, transit planners are designing Bus Rapid Transit systems that offer improved service from standard bus service. Transit officials believe that because Light Rail is permanent in a given corridor it could influence economic development over time, thereby justifying the higher capital cost of light Rail.

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