In the Fast Lane: Bus Rapid Transit


A bus stop in Curitiba, Brazil, the birthplace of Bus Rapid Transit systems.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Passengers exiting a specially designed bus platform in Curitiba, Brazil.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Cleveland’s HealthLine Bus Rapid Transit Line.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


In many places, public bus transportation has been practically deserted, and derided for being a slow and outdated mode of getting around. But Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems are changing this by offering high-speed service that is a cost-effective alternative to rail and subway systems.

Over 140 cities worldwide have implemented BRT systems, serving more than 23 million passengers daily. The first BRT system in the world was implemented in Curitiba, Brazil in 1974. City planners initially hoped to build a subway system, but prohibitively high costs forced them to think outside the box, and the BRT system was born. Dedicated bus lanes, traffic signal prioritization, and pre-board payment help prevent delays and reduce transit time for Curitiba’s BRT system. The city’s BRT is currently used by approximately 2.3 million passengers daily, or 75% of the city’s commuters. And it is estimated that the system has reduced the number of automobile trips by 27 million per year, saving drivers millions of liters of fuel and also substantially reducing pollution.

In Cleveland, the 7.1 mile-long HealthLine operates along Euclid Avenue, the city’s “Main Street.” Since its 2008 inauguration, ridership has increased 60% and transit times have been reduced by 34%. The success of Cleveland’s BRT has put it at the center of a significant urban revitalization trend. An estimated .2 billion dollars in real estate investments and new development are transforming the area around the corridor into a more active business district, and also into a public realm of green space with bike lanes, public art, street trees, and additional streetscape improvements.

In Los Angeles, the Metro Orange Line debuted in October 2005. Making use of a former rail right-of-way, the system features a dedicated roadway for buses only, which allows them to reach speeds of 55 miles per hour. All stations have bike lockers and racks, and a bike and pedestrian path runs adjacent to the corridor. The system has proven to be a success, with ridership averaging 25,000 passengers per day. A four-mile extension just opened, connecting with Amtrak trains and also the regional passenger rail system, Metrolink.

Other cities, such as Chicago, have recently unveiled plans for BRT lines and are leveraging public, private, and civic resources to transform congested corridors. And it is not just cities that are turning to BRT as a cost-effective way to address traffic congestion and promote greater connectivity—suburban regions such as Montgomery County, Maryland, are also planning BRT systems . The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a non-profit organization based in the New York metropolitan area, views BRT as “an ideal transit mode for… suburb-to-suburb and suburb-to-downtown trips.”