The ‘bus rapid transit’, or BRT, was first developed in Curitiba in Brazil. It’s a public transport system that treats buses a bit like trains, giving them dedicated bus lanes and stations where people can buy their tickets and then board from a platform. Curitiba’s came into service in 1974 and is used by 85% of the city’s residents. Plenty of other cities have copied the idea since, and BRT systems now operate in over 200 cities around the world. Here’s one in Belo Horizonte:
There are a number of advantages. Buses travel on their own lanes and don’t get snarled up in traffic. People buy their tickets in advance at the station, so boarding is fast and there’s no delay as passengers pay the driver. The time savings from direct boarding and skirting the traffic make buses quick, reliable and efficient – and able to directly challenge cars as a mode of transport. They become an express service across town, and a better option than driving.
BRT systems are good for equality too. In a big developing world city, only the richest can afford to drive. High quality bus services prioritise the needs of the poor. Because buses pull into platforms, the whole network is accessible to wheelchair users too.
Finally, BRT systems are a whole lot cheaper than trams or light rail. Or at least they can be. My own local service runs on a guided busway, and the laying of concrete tracks makes it more expensive. But most BRT systems don’t use those.
Bus Rapid Transport is a 1970s idea, but it deserves a place in my transport innovation of the week series because it’s now possible to combine BRT infrastructure with electric vehicle technologies for truly low carbon transport. BRT systems are already better for the environment, because buses are one of the most sustainable forms of transport available. Great bus services can and do get people out of cars. But most of those buses are diesel, and that’s where the shift needs to happen.
Take the Sunway Line in Malaysia, the world’s first electric BRT. It opened in 2015, with electric buses gliding along an elevated bus route into Kuala Lumpur. It won’t be the last. Add in electric charging lanes, solar stations, wireless charging at bus stops and at traffic lights, and we’ll have a public transport system fit for the 21st century.