Light Rail Transit beats Bus Rapid Transit on key metrics: FTA

July 20, 2015

For several decades, U.S. proponents of “bus rapid transit” (so-called BRT) have waged a veritable war against light rail transit (LRT), relying particularly on a claim that BRT is “just like light rail, but cheaper.”

LRT defenders have responded with data-based evidence, of which some of the strongest has been the operating and maintenance (O&M) data reported by transit agencies and published annually in the National Transit Database (NTD) of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Consistently, this has shown LRT systems averaging significantly lower in unit O&M costs compared to urban bus services. However, past NTD reports have consolidated BRT with “regular” bus performance data, leading bus partisans to argue that BRT’s supposed O&M cost advantages were being obscured in the big all-bus mix.

Actually, in 2012 FTA began separately reporting BRT whenever it was separately provided by the reporting agencies. By 2013, a total of seven agencies were separately reporting their BRT data—enough to facilitate an analytical comparison of average costs between LRT and BRT.

Such an analysis has now been performed by the Light Rail Now (LRN) Project of the Texas Association for Public Transportation (for which I’m a technical consultant), with summary results posted on the Light Rail Now blog. And these early results show LRT leading on what are arguably the two most critical performance measures—average annual ridership per system and average O&M cost per passenger-mile.

Read Lyndon Henry’s full report in Railway Age magazine by clicking here.

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