The Strangertakes a crack at Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)–an alternative to fixed-rail technologies like light rail and monorail—and finds it wanting. Severely wanting. And while the short article isn’t the paragon of balanced issue analysis, it raises some compelling objections. Among them: BRT tends to have lower ridership, longer travel times, and fails to create incentives for land-use changes. There may even be reason to think that BRT’s oft-touted cost-effectiveness may be illusory. 

The debate between BRT and fixed-rail is extensive and even somewhat acrimonious. Personally, I’m undecided (and, in truth, I’m unacquainted with the quantitative claims of BRT proponents) but I have a hard time believing that BRT is preferable.

Fixed-rail transit is not only good for transportation (where it probably out-competes BRT), but it can also catalyze and focus development strategically, just as streetcars once did. BRT, on the other hand, cannot act as an agent of smart-growth development because it lacks the permanence of a rail stop. To get that permanence, BRT must assume its most extreme form: grade-separated, exclusive right-of-way lanes, with large well-designed stops. But then BRT has sacrificed its main selling points and become expensive and inflexible, just like fixed rail. And it’s slower and less attractive to new riders too. So where’s the beef?