Cori Bush’s new bill would fund bus rapid transit projects like Tampa Bay’s SunRunner which opened in October.
Credit: Peter Titmuss/Alamy Stock Photo
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Cori Bush spent a lot of time waiting for the bus. “It took forever – if it ever happened,” she recalls, but it was the only way to get to and from her grandmother’s house. “It was basically the bus or nothing.” It was partly for this reason that Bush made reliable public transit a priority when she entered Congress in 2020. Other people were also trying to visit their grandmothers. But even though more money has been allocated to public transportation under the Biden administration, not enough went to improving the buses she says her constituents depend on. A bill she is proposing on Wednesday would make it a priority by specifically funding bus rapid transit — faster, more efficient bus systems using dedicated lanes that can be installed relatively quickly and at much lower cost. compared to other transit improvements. “People depend on the bus to function in their daily lives,” she says. “They deserve great service.”
the Bus Rapid Transit Act would allocate $12 billion a year for five years to BRT projects, funneling dollars directly to transit operations and helping cities invest in the design and construction of new BRT systems, including bus route reviews current. (Funding can also help fairly compensate overworked bus drivers.) identical invoice introduced by Bush for light rail lines would also allocate $12 billion a year for five years. But the BRT program gives cities more flexibility and more options. The money can also go further. Indianapolis, a city without a railroad system, built its very popular 13-mile IndyGo BRT line in just a few years and at a fraction of what rail would have cost. The system runs a bus every ten minutes and the city is currently inaugurating a second 15-mile line. In terms of public transport interventions, expanding and improving bus systems are low-hanging fruit. But the country is not funding them as the priority they should be. To get the United States moving again, 2023 must be the year of the bus.
According to a report According to Transit Center, which has long advocated for federal operations to support public transit, only 10% of Americans currently live within walking distance of public transit that runs every 15 minutes or less. Building high-capacity trains with short distances would solve this problem, but not all American cities have rail systems. US cities of all sizes have bus systems, and access to public transport could increase immediately for millions of people simply by increasing the frequency of these buses, expanding their routes and updating fleets. . Over the past decade, some US cities have tried to speed up their buses with dedicated bus lanes, such as New York. 14th Street Busway, but there are few true BRT systems in the United States in terms of functionality, infrastructure and frequency – among the most successful are the HealthLine in downtown Cleveland which connects local medical campuses and the Orange line of the subway from LA (now the G line), which serves the city’s San Fernando Valley. And capital investments in bus systems generally follow investments in trains. One reason for this is that communities served by buses often have lower incomes than communities served by rail, which means cities don’t prioritize them for improvements. This “spatial shift,“, as described in a 2020 Urban Institute report on transit fairness in four U.S. cities, means longer wait times and more expensive rides that affect black riders the most: workers blacks are four times more likely to rely on public transportation than white workers in the US
The benefits of BRT also go beyond more on-time trips. More buses mean cleaner air, fewer emissions and safer streets, as cities with higher rates of public transport use have lower rates of road fatalities. “Every day, millions of people ride a city bus – the most effective tool we have to stem the climate, road safety and equity crises in the United States,” says Corinne Kisner, executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “Raising, funding and prioritizing high-quality bus service means better access to jobs, faster trips to family, less pollution in our cities and a more vibrant quality of life for everyone. In 2022, NACTO released the report “Move! This! Bus! Tactics to Transform Public Transit in Two Yearswhich is replete with case studies where cities from Boston to Seattle saw immediate benefits by redesigning streets to prioritize buses and providing more frequent service all day. But even though BRT is one of the best ways to increase transit ridership and get people out of their cars, there hasn’t been a dedicated flow of BRT money so far. now. Current federal funding mechanisms often include BRT improvements as relatively small capital grants or in concert with multi-modal streetscape projects allocated corridor by corridor. Minneapolis, in particular, recently won a U.S. Department of Transportation grant to expand its hugely successful BRT system in the city’s lake streetbut it could dip into the BRT bill to finance the much larger expansion it is planning.
For transit systems that truly prioritize buses, the best examples are still found internationally, especially in South American cities like Curitiba, Braziland Bogotá Colombia, which invented and popularized BRT lines that repurposed freeway lanes with iconic station designs for long, colorful buses that pass every few minutes. While some BRT-only cities have ridership numbers that rival comparable rail networks, even cities with metros can benefit. In Guangzhou, China, a well-planned BRT system that serves almost a million passengers a day reduces traffic congestion by 29% simply by creating better connections to the existing rail system. Bush’s policy team worked with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, which has developed global standards for BRT systems, to craft the bill around key elements of these and other successful BRT systems. Items eligible for funding include features that enhance the bus ride experience – train-like stations with plenty of seating and shelter, boarding platforms, ticketing kiosks located outside the bus – as well as infrastructural improvements, like split lanes that allow buses to steal past traffic, keeping them on schedule. New buses purchased must be electric, in the same way federal grants are currently electrifying fleets, eliminating emissions. Also included are improvements to adjacent pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
A boost for BRT would also help transit agencies struggling to recover from the pandemic. Since dropping to 20% in March 2020, national transit ridership is now 67% of pre-pandemic numbers, according to to data from the American Public Transportation Association. Many major city agencies, including the MTA, are having trouble retrieving their numbers. But bus ridership has rebounded much faster than rail ridership and remains higher to this day, which transit advocates have attributed to buses serving more people without access to a vehicle who depend public transport to get to work or school. And it is not because the traffic has recovered that the service has necessarily been restored. Transit agencies, which do not receive the same federal support as other transportation investments such as highways, have struggled with budget shortfalls and labor shortages that have affected the frequency. (Lately the MTA and NYCT Bus Twitter accounts are basically a endless stream of service delay announcements.) Buses bear the brunt of any transit service cut because, on top of everything else, they are also stuck in traffic, torpedoing their reliability. While rail passengers may never return in the same numbers as before, bus riders return — often because, like Bush’s childhood trips to see his grandmother, they have no choice. They shouldn’t have to wait.