Capital Metro Update- Part 1:

Bus Rapid Transit vs. Elevated Monorail

On 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 American-Statesman: 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 Station List

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 example].

We do like Capital Metro's emphasis on serving the East Austin community in anticipation of future growth and development in that area.

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:

  1. (Usually) putting busses in their own dedicated right of way (i.e., removes a lane of traffic from automobiles),

  2. Manipulates traffic signals, and

  3. 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

 

A double-articulated bus on an exclusive bus lane.

 Why 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:

 
Feature Rapid Bus Transit Elevated Monorail

Dedicated Bus Lanes

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.

Bus Signal Preference and Preemption

Preferential 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:

"Today’s traffic 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.

Reducing Number of Stops

Less than traditional busses similar to that in a light rail or Monorail system.

Probably similar number of stops as Rapid Bus Transit

Speed

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).

Cost

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 streets).

 

Capital Metro Statement Regarding Bus Rapid Transit

 

Interestingly enough, Capital Metro makes the following statement about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) technology on their The 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 service."

 

Analysis

 

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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).

Conclusion

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 system later.

We believe that Elevated Monorail will always be the superior solution because:

  1. Monorail is FASTER

  2. Monorail means LESS WAITING

  3. Monorail is SAFER

  4. Monorail WILL NOT REMOVE LANES OF TRAFFIC

  5. Monorail can PAY FOR ITSELF

  6. Monorail can RUN ANYWHERE PEOPLE WANT TO GO

 

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1One slight 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

Resources:

Press Coverage:

  1. Austin American-Statesman: Ben Wear: Getting There- 11/24/03

Maps:

  1. Capital Metro's Proposed Commuter Rail Map

  2. Capital Metro's Rapid Bus Route Map

Vehicle Technologies:

  1. Vehicle Alternatives Report- Prepared for Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit and Prepared by LTK Engineering Services in Association with HDR Engineering, Inc
  2. Colorado Railcar - DMU
  3. Stadler GTW Articulated Railcar
 

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Last updated: 10/24/03.