8:44 am Mar. 12, 20131
Select Bus Service, New York City's version of "bus rapid transit," falls short of the new standards for fast bus service, according to a transportation think tank.
"Select Bus Service is not bus rapid transit," Walter Hook, the C.E.O. of the Institute for Transportation Policy and Development, told me in an interview last week. "That doesn’t in any way mean that it didn’t bring a lot of benefits, just that it is not B.R.T."
Bus rapid transit refers to a public transportation system in which riders pay fares before boarding buses that, unlike New York City's pokey behemoths, move in rapid succession along separated lanes from one elevated bus stop to the next.
The idea behind bus rapid transit is that buses can vastly improve mobility at a relatively nominal cost.
"You can get similar speeds to and similar capaciites to metros and light rail systems, but you can do it at a fraction of the capital investment and probably cheaper operating costs as well," said Hook.
New York City announced bold new plans for a bus rapid transit system in 2007.
According to Hook, it doesn't really qualify as true "bus rapid transit" at all.
Hook, a Brooklyn resident who regularly takes the G train from Clinton Hill to the L train to the First Avenue SBS line is not being arbitrary in his estimation.
His group issued a report Tuesday on what the institute calls the "BRT Standard 2013," a "scoring designation for bus rapid transit systems around the world."
Like the LEED designation used to rate the eco-friendliness of buildings, BRT systems can receive designations of "basic" BRT, "bronze," silver" and "gold."
"We think it will be similar to the LEED, in that it will give an incentive to other system developers to develop higher quality systems," said Hook.
Hook's organization released a draft set of standards in 2011 that also deemed New York City's B.R.T system "not BRT." Today's standards are the final version.
Cleveland's HealthLine B.R.T. was the highest-ranking system in America, winning a silver designation.
Internationally, systems in Guangzhou, Guadalajara, Rio de Janeiro, Bogota and Medellin, among others, were designated gold.
New York City's select bus service, which is run by the city's transportation department and the M.T.A., didn't win any designation at all.
What are we doing wrong?
"The most important thing that they need to do is, all the [SBS] lanes have to be actually exclusive lanes," said Hook. "They can’t be lanes that can be shared with other people."
Right now, many supposedly dedicated select bus service lanes are, basically, right-turn lanes for private vehicles.
"They would also need to build a bus-stop platform elevated with the floor of the bus," said Hook.
Elevated bus platforms significantly reduce loading time for passengers with strollers, wheelchairs or other mobility issues.
"It takes a certain amount of political courage to take road space away from mixed traffic," said Hook.
In a statement, transportation department spokesman Seth Solomonow indicated the B.R.T. label didn't really matter anyway: "Some 130,000 New Yorkers are already voting with their MetroCards for a more reliable and wildly popular system called Select Bus Service which, by any name, is already saving 371 years of annual commuting time," Solomonow said.
CORRECTION: Seth Solomonow's name was misspelled in the original version of this article.
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