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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Study: BRT equals bang for your rapid transit buck

Guiding economic development along permanent corridors is among the principle reasons supporters cite for favoring light-rail transit over other forms of mass transportation. Tracks are laid, stations are built, business booms and that's that.

But suppose communities got a similar boom from bus rapid transit — modern coaches traveling dedicated lanes and getting favorable treatment from traffic signals; passengers pre-purchasing tickets at well-spaced weather-proof kiosks — and, at least in part because capital expenses were far less, the return on investment was several dozen times higher than for light rail?

Standing on the threshold of a new path for getting around the Tampa-St. Petersburg region, who wouldn't love to know that sort of information? If only someone had performed a reliable study. Wait. What? Somebody has?

Indeed. ITDP, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, dedicated since 1985 to “ implement[ing] projects that reduce poverty, pollution, and oil dependence,” released a survey of 21 North American transit projects in September that found BRT routinely produced bang for the government buck that summons up Gulliver in Lilliput.

Two extremes: A BRT project in Cleveland, completed in 2008 (just as the Great Recession was sinking its teeth into America), had, as of the time of the study, generated $5.8 billion in development, or $114 per transit dollar. A LRT project in Portland, Ore., completed in 1986 leveraged just $3.74 per transit dollar.

Stipulated: This example constitutes an apples-to-oranges comparison. The larger point, however, remains: The flexibility of routes does not automatically cause developers to regard BRT as something to avoid, particularly — as the study shows — when government actively pursues redevelopment efforts along BRT corridors.

All of which is simply to say: Let’s keep our eyes open out there.