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Old Posted Jan 25, 2018, 11:37 PM
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Cirrus Cirrus is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 18,109
Your friend is both right and wrong:

1. Light rail *is* substantially better than buses. BRT is absolutely not rail-like and absolutely should not be considered a peer of or permanent substitute for rail. Saying it's rail-like is a counterproductive shortcut that ends up justifiably turning off anyone who likes rail, which is most of the people who support transit in the first place.

2. But fiscal reality being fiscal reality, we cannot build rail everywhere we want to have a good transit line. Sorry.

3. The "good BRT is just as expensive so you may as well do rail" argument only holds water above a level of around 25,000 riders/day. Above that, it's sort of true sometimes, depending on circumstances. Below that, not really.

4. Seattle's RapidRide is not BRT. But it *is* just about the most efficient thing you can do in terms of increased ridership per dollar spent, and it's easy & fast to implement. Every city should absolutely mimic RapidRide on all its major bus lines, starting yesterday. The trick/subtlety to the RapidRide concept is that it's really just doing buses correctly, as opposed to a major investment in new rapid transit. Don't think of it as mutually exclusive with building rail or even with building BRT. Think of RapidRide as the pretty good improvement to existing buses that you can make right away, while you spend the next 20 years planning and funding your big new line (or the next 40, if you're dealing with a corridor that's several spots down your list of priorities).

But you're both asking the wrong question:

The problem with staking out a hard-line position in any "rail vs bus" debate is that a hard-line position presupposes that transit quality is a simple black/white duality consisting of either "good trains" or "bad buses" (or vice versa), and you're stuck with bad buses up until the day your open your train. But the reality is that transit quality is a continuum with a lot of gray in-between the black and the white, and there are many many places where it makes sense to spend the money to be somewhere in the middle of the continuum, rather than all the way at one side or the other.

Everyone instinctively understands that. Because even light rail is just a spot on the continuum, far below the theoretical maglev subways that occupy the extreme high-end of the quality spectrum. And even the most hard-liner rail advocate knows that it's completely impractical to replace *every* bus route with rail. Put in those terms, nobody can argue with the continuum. Unless they're trolls who just want to argue.

So stop making it about BRT vs rail and start making it about finding the spot on the continuum that makes the most sense given the specific technical, political, monetary, and temporal facts for each individual corridor you're dealing with.
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