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BRT vs. Rail: depends on the ridership levels

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"When you look at the size of Honolulu (and) you look at the transportation problem they're seeking to solve, BRT is almost certainly a better investment," Taylor said Friday in a telephone interview with KITV4.

For Taylor, whose research examines travel behavior, transportation finance, as well as politics and planning, the superiority of BRT boils down to the amount of ridership Honolulu's rail project is expected to draw.

According to the rail project's final environmental impact statement, the 20-mile, elevated system from East Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center will see 116,300 trips per day on an average weekday by the year 2030.

While the overall number of projected riders appears impressive, Taylor says it's not nearly enough to offset the tremendous capital cost needed to build the system, as well as the additional expenditures required to operate and maintain it.

Taylor said heavy rail is much better suited for large, metropolitan cities like Tokyo, New York and London, which generate extremely large numbers of riders. The professor points to Mexico City as yet another example, where trains 10 cars deep run on 90-second headways with "crush-loads" at almost all hours of the day.

"These investments are essential to keep these very large, very densely developed cities functioning effectively, and so they're often the best investment that can be made," explained Taylor. "You have to take all that capital cost for the system, and you have to divide it over the riders you have."

Taylor said with bus rapid transit, the system can expand as demand for public transportation increases. However, he cautions the cost of such systems tend to escalate with the construction of exclusive lanes for express buses.

"A big part of it is the amount of right of way that's exclusive," he said. "The more it's exclusive, the faster operation you have, but the more you have to pay for it."

Taylor's research shows one of the greatest factors in determining a transit system's appeal is the ease with which riders can get to a transit line, whether it's BRT or rail. If a rider needs to go through various steps like walking, driving or transferring to get to a final destination, the less likely he or she is to use public transportation.

"So, making the vehicle a little bit faster is not nearly as important as having a cutting down of the wait time," he said.

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In other words, "More Buses please! Lets have a bus come by every 10 minutes, on every route!"

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Well, Honolulu is a big city, but also a big tourist magnet during the dry season so ridership tends to go up when tourist season is in town. As the world's population grows, the passenger demands grows as well and it might be a good idea to invest in Rail if by chance more tourists come. Hawaii has the second strongest economy next to Los Angeles in California. Well LRT trips are faster than BRT trips since LRT is rail-based and rarely runs in mixed traffic. Here's an example based on the 20-mile (32 km) stretch:

Average speeds:

18 mph (29 km/h)

20 mph (32 km/h)

That's what Brian Taylor didn't mention. I doubt tourists would use that system since they rarely leave their hotels.

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The community planners have to look at the opportunity costs. Do they want to spend all lot of money for one line and have nothing left for other improvements or spend an equal amount for system wide improvements. Some things in transit planning can't be compromised on. If exclusive lanes are expensive, then figure out a way to pay for it. BRT without an exclusive right of way is a cynical ploy to fool the public. Transit must be given some advantages over traffic or people will continue to commute in cars.

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The community planners have to look at the opportunity costs. Do they want to spend all lot of money for one line and have nothing left for other improvements or spend an equal amount for system wide improvements. Some things in transit planning can't be compromised on. If exclusive lanes are expensive, then figure out a way to pay for it. BRT without an exclusive right of way is a cynical ploy to fool the public. Transit must be given some advantages over traffic or people will continue to commute in cars.

Well said! Although I am in favor of most any plan that increases the frequency and speed of buses, including perhaps incremental moves toward full BRT. Don't want to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

I will say that I rode a "Rapid Ride" line in Albuquerque on Monday and did not notice any way in which it was faster than a regular transit bus. And that was disappointing.

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The court has ruled portions of the Honolulu rail plan have got to go.

http://www.hawaiirep...deral-court/123

It's too bad really, they could have gotten one helluva deal on some slightly used Rapid Transit Trains from Scarborough.

Las Vegas has both a monorail and BRT. The bus lines are very successful and the monorail is a dud. The lesson the monorail provides is it needs to connect to places where people want to go.

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Looks like the Honolulu election for Mayor pits a rail advocate against a guy touting BRT. Its a good reminder that this weeks election has big ramifications for transit everywhere.

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If a rail system that is built in Honolulu becomes a white elephant that system will be a loss for rail elsewhere. What rail advocates don't need are examples of failure for opponents to point to. Modes of transportation should be determined by geography and geometry and not political contests, unfortunately politics often decides such matters in the USA.

I could not find a map of the entire Honolulu transit system online. If there are service updates needed for modernization and those go wanting while an expensive rail project soaks up resources that is a loss for public transit. I am not anti-rail, but the reality is busses are still the backbone of public transit in most American cities. Transit modes should be complimentary and offer seamless connections to places people want to go to.

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