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Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners on Friday unveiled a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit.

Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional transit project for Tampa Bay.

BUS RAPID TRANSIT: First look at Tampa Bay’s next, best hope

READ THE REPORT: Check out the Regional Transit Feasibility Plan

Representatives from Jacobs Engineering, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will brief local leaders on the potential project that they say has the best chance of success. Members of the Transportation Management Area Leadership Group — which includes politicians and transportation planners from Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas — will then discuss the merits of the project.

Here’s what you need to know about BRT:

What makes BRT different from regular buses?

Often the buses look sleeker and have more amenities, like automatic glass doors on the stations, than regular buses. But the main distinction is they travel in their own lane, as opposed to merging in and out of regular traffic.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tampa Bay Transit: How rapid buses left light rail in the dust (Jan. 12, 2018)

Will it actually have its own lane?

In order to qualify for federal funds, a BRT system has to have its own, dedicated lane for at least 50-percent of the route.

RELATED: Breakdown lanes may help Pinellas buses give cold shoulder to traffic (Nov. 11, 2015)

This could be an entire lane, or it could be a managed toll lane, like those proposed for the Howard Frankland Bridge. On other parts of the interstate, it could use the shoulder or breakdown lane, a concept that transit agencies have used in cities like Chicago.

How does it compare to rail?

BRT advocates tout the fact that it is less expensive, quicker to build and more flexible than light rail.

TAMPA BAY TIMES REPORT: Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in America. Here’s why. (Feb. 16, 2017)

Because the system isn’t rooted in the ground, like fixed-rail options, it might not bring the same transit-oriented development that light rail supporters are so fond of — though both systems can be built around robust stations.

Where else does it exist?

BRT lines are used all over the world, including China, Brazil, South Africa and several cities in the U.S., including Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

RELATED: Long-awaited Tampa Bay transit study identifies five corridors for future transportation systems (April 22, 2017)

Transit leaders in Boston have been working for years to develop a five-corridor "gold standard" system in the northeast city.

How much will this cost?

That’s the big question for supporters and opponents alike. The exact specifications of this proposal are still unknown, but BRT is generally less expensive to build than light rail, by as much as half the per-mile cost.

The capital cost depends on existing infrastructure and other factors, but can range from $11.9 million per mile in Boston to $26.50 in Salt Lake City, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Higher-end BRT vehicles can range in cost from $370,000 to $1.6 million, depending on the size and technology.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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