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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Special Projects: Bus Rapid Transit

RapidRide bus on SR 99

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a way to add high capacity transit to roadways cheaply. It involves running buses with limited stops, like express buses, down their own right of way. Some systems include ways to guide a bus, similar to a train. If the system is implemented on city streets the buses are usually given signal priority systems.

The advantages of BRT are numerous. Construction of such a system, even inside its own right of way, is usually cheaper than a rail based system. Buses could travel on normal city streets if needed, and can be pulled from existing fleets. The system usually runs a fixed schedule, just like a rail-based system. If there is an accident or incident buses can usually route around them, unlike fixed rail systems.

There are some disadvantages however. Rail systems usually have higher capacity as it is difficult to make a bus very long and still have it be controllable, especially if it is not guided, although examples do exist of double-articulated buses. While costs can be lower, building a separate right of way and especially a guidance system is close to the cost of a rail based system.

BRT systems exist all over the world. Where they have been implemented they have been very successful.

In the Seattle area there are some examples of BRT-like systems and an upcoming, street level system on SR 99 and other major routes in the area. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and its related Busway are grade separated roads just for buses. These also include direct ramps to Interstate 90.

The RapidRide A Line has recently launched on SR 99 from Federal Way to the Airport. This implemented bus-only lanes on SR 99, special bus stops and buses, and signal priority for the buses. They run at regular intervals, much like a train system. It remains to be seen however how well the system will fare in heavy traffic.

I have ridden the A Line a couple times and have found it to be fast and reliable. The buses are comfortable and they have WiFi on board, which lets you get some work done. While not as fast as a grade-seperated system, it definitely runs faster than a standard bus.


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