Capital Metro Update-
Transit vs. Elevated Monorail
November 19, 2003, John Almond gave an update on Capital Metro's Light-Rail
/ Commuter Rail plans. This plan also included a 'Rapid Bus Transit'
element. See the recent 'Getting There' column that appeared in the Austin
Ben Wear: Getting There- 11/24/03. Part 1 of this article will comment
on their Rapid Bus Transit section of their plan and Part 2 (upcoming) will
comment on the Commuter Rail section of their plan.
Comments on the Capital Metro Rapid Bus Transit Route
Compare Capital Metro's proposed rapid bus transit route with
our Monorail 'Red' line route:
Capital Metro's Proposed Rapid Bus Transit Route
Austin Monorail Project's Proposed Monorail Route and
We would like to think that our organization's efforts have
indirectly and positively influenced Capital Metro's planned routes. Capital
Metro's rapid bus transit route map is the first that we have seen that
directly mentions a 'North IH-35 Park and Ride' and a 'South IH-35 Park and
Ride' near the intersections of Howard and IH-35 and Slaughter and IH-35,
respectively. In addition, Capital Metro's rapid bus route almost directly
mimics our proposed Monorail 'Red' line1.
We have had this route and these Park and Rides listed on our
website from almost the very beginning of AMP in early 2001 [This route also
differs from Cap Metro's original year 2000 light rail proposal which
utilized more railroad right-of-way instead of following North Lamar, for
We do like Capital Metro's emphasis on serving the East
Austin community in anticipation of future growth and development in that
What is Rapid Bus Transit?
What is Rapid Bus Transit?
Rapid Bus Transit is a system
that gives priority to transit vehicles (busses). It does this by:
(Usually) putting busses in their own dedicated
right of way (i.e., removes a lane of traffic from automobiles),
Manipulates traffic signals, and
Reducing the number of stops
As the buses approach traffic
lights, emitters installed on the vehicles send signals to detectors
placed on the mast arm of traffic signals. Depending on different
factors, a traffic light will remain green until the bus clears the
intersection, or a red light will turn more quickly.
What Does Rapid Bus Transit Look Like?
Click on Thumbnail Below for a Larger Image
bus on an exclusive bus lane.
is Monorail Superior to Rapid Bus Transit?
Let's look at the goals that Rapid Bus Transit intends to
accomplish and compare these to Elevated Monorail:
||Rapid Bus Transit
A lane on an urban
arterial or city street is reserved for the exclusive or near-exclusive
use of buses. Less room and more congestion for automobiles.
No lanes of traffic are
removed. Automobile traffic unimpeded.
Preference and Preemption
treatment of buses at intersections can involve the extension of green
time or actuation of the green light at signalized intersections upon
detection of an approaching bus.
The FTA reports:
signal control systems are tightly interconnected, however, in order to
provide progression of general traffic (automobiles) through urban grid
networks. Therefore, bus signal priority treatments would have to be
constrained to modest variations within the context of maintenance of
progression (of Automobiles)"
None needed in this
grade-separated system. Automobile traffic unimpeded.
Less than traditional busses
similar to that in a light rail or Monorail system.
Probably similar number of stops
Rapid Bus Transit
Faster than regular busses, but
still limited to urban speed limits due to safety concerns
Not limited by urban speed
limits. Can easily reach 55 MPH or more if distance between stations is
sufficient (1/2 mile or greater).
Lower initial cost but higher
operating and maintenance costs due to driver salaries. Typically,
higher maintenance costs because of diesel or clean-burning but more
complex 'hybrid' electric technologies.
Higher initial capital
construction cost but system
will likely pay for itself out of the farebox due to:
Lower operating expenses-
Automated, no drivers required.
Lower maintenance costs-
Powered by simple electric motor which rarely requires maintenance.
Tires running on smooth concrete beams only require changing every
150,000 miles (compare to bus tires running in pothole filled city
Capital Metro Statement Regarding Bus Rapid Transit
Interestingly enough, Capital Metro makes the following
statement about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) technology on their
Rapid Transit Project - Questions and Answers webpage:
"Why Was Bus Rapid Transit Not Chosen as
the Preferred Technology? "
"Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a mode that has a useful place in the toolbox of
transit options for the Austin area, but not necessarily for the Central
Line corridor. The reasons for this include operating cost and capacity and
in addition to right-of-way (space) requirements. The operating cost is
greater because of the larger number of operators needed to move high levels
of ridership in individual buses with lower capacity relative to light rail
with higher capacity. Because of the high volume of potential ridership on
the central lne the number of buses required would also have an impact on
traffic operations in the corridor. A light rail train running every 6
minutes will have only slight disruptions through the corridor. To
accomplish the same mobility through the corridor with BRT would require at
least double the frequency, which would result in significantly greater
traffic disruption through the corridor."
"A full-fledged BRT system will still require dedicated ROW to keep vehicles
separated from traffic to maintain operating speeds comparable to rail. In
fact, the ROW requirement for BRT may be slightly higher than for LRT
operations. BRT and or rapid bus systems will play a role in the development
of transit service in the Austin area and Capital Metro is currently
examining several corridors for introduction of upgraded, rapid bus
Although called 'Rapid Bus Transit' and not 'Bus Rapid
Transit', the new Capital Metro proposal for rapid bus transit technology
appears to be exactly the same technology as BRT.
In contrast to their statement that BRT has a 'useful place
in the toolbox of transit options for the Austin area, but not necessarily
for the Central Line corridor', the new Rapid Bus Transit line IS running in
the Central Line corridor.
BRT will either have higher operating cost [than LRT] due to
'larger numbers of operators' than light rail or will provide less mobility
unless run more frequently. Note that modern elevated Monorail, because it
is automated, requires ZERO operators [monitoring is performed from a small,
central control station], and according to the same argument, will have
lower operating cost than either BRT or LRT. In addition, automation enables
less waiting at the station- the time between trains can be as little as 90
seconds, although 2-4 minutes would be more typical.
A 'full-fledged' BRT system will still require dedicated
right-of-way to maintain operating speeds 'comparable for rail'. In fact, 'the
ROW requirement for BRT may be slightly higher than for LRT operations'. If
BRT is to become a fast system for riders, it will remove lanes of traffic
or parking. To be as truly effective [as LRT], BRT would result in
'significantly greater traffic disruption', If dedicated
right-of-way is not given to BRT, then it cannot be a fast system even with
traffic light preemption, due to safety concerns with surrounding traffic.
Note that elevated Monorail requires NO dedicated right-of-way to be removed
from the roadways (and due to grade-separation, can safely reach high
operating speeds- thereby guaranteeing a rapid system).
Capital Metro has carefully retreated from using the words,
'light rail' in any of their transit plans. Their goal is to get 'something'
on the ground (i.e., a non-optimal solution) in the hopes that Austin
citizens will get used to the idea of mass transit. The long term goal for
Capital Metro will always be 'light rail' (in our opinion). We believe in
mass transit and in fact believe not only in mass transit, but truly rapid
mass transit. However, we believe in not wasting money on a short-term,
non-optimum solution as it applies to Austin (i.e., Rapid Bus Transit), only
to spend more money later in upgrading to a (still non-optimum) light rail
We believe that Elevated Monorail will always be the superior
Monorail is FASTER
Monorail means LESS WAITING
Monorail is SAFER
Monorail WILL NOT REMOVE LANES OF TRAFFIC
Monorail can PAY FOR ITSELF
Monorail can RUN ANYWHERE PEOPLE WANT TO GO
difference in the routes is that the Monorail traverses South First street
until Oltorf. At Oltorf, the Monorail transitions to South Congress. This is
due to the Capital View Corridor on South Congress in which the top of the
Capital Dome must be visible from every point on South Congress until the
view corridor ends at Oltorf. We believe that running a Monorail down one
side of South Congress MAY satisfy the letter of the view corridor
legislation (i.e., only the TOP of the Capital Dome must be viewable, not
the entire Capital building and the Capital building itself will still be
visible from most of South Congress), however, to avoid ANY potential
conflict with the view corridor legislation, we propose running the Monorail
down South First street until the view corridor ends at Oltorf. We have
analyzed all other possible conflicts of the Monorail with the Capital view
corridors, and concluded that there are no other conflicts.
Austin Monorail Project Home
Austin American-Statesman: Ben Wear: Getting There- 11/24/03
Metro's Proposed Commuter Rail Map
Capital Metro's Rapid
Bus Route Map
Vehicle Alternatives Report- Prepared for Sonoma Marin Area Rail
Transit and Prepared by LTK Engineering Services in Association with HDR
Colorado Railcar - DMU
Stadler GTW Articulated Railcar