Mass Transit:

Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise

GAO-01-984: Published: Sep 17, 2001. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2001.

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To make buses a more reliable and effective high-speed transit alternative, a new concept-- Bus Rapid Transit--proposes (1) running buses on highways exclusively for them or on HOV lanes or (2) improving service on busier routes on city streets. Federal support for Bus Rapid Transit projects may come from several different sources, including the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts, Bus Capital, and Urbanized Area Formula Grants programs, but its use is constrained. Two Bus Rapid Transit projects have received about $831 million in funding commitments from the current New Starts Program. Few additional Bus Rapid Transit projects will likely receive funding commitments under the current New Starts Program, which expires in 2003, because few Bus Rapid Transit projects are ready to compete for funding; many projects are eligible to compete for the $462 million that is projected to remain available for fiscal year 2003; and some types of Bus Rapid Transit projects are ineligible for New Starts funding because projects are required to operate on separate right-of-ways for the exclusive use of mass transit and high-occupancy vehicles. The Bus Rapid Transit systems generally had lower capital costs per mile than did the Light Rail systems in the cities 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 because of differences among transit agencies, transit systems, and how they account for costs. The performance characteristics also varied widely, with the largest Bus Rapid Transit system ridership about equal to the largest Light Rail ridership. Each program offers various advantages and disadvantages. Bus Rapid Transit provides a more flexible approach than light rail because buses can be routed to eliminate transfers; buses can operate on busways, HOV lanes, and city arterial streets; and the Bus Rapid Transit concept can be implemented in stages. However, transit officials repeatedly said that buses have a poor public image.

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