On Tuesday, 17 January we posted “NEW AND USED MOBILITY IDEAS IN CONTEXT” on this Blog. Jim Bacon raised several questions to which we responded that evening. Bill Vincent, in his response to our attempt to answer to Jim’s questions concerning Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) shared-vehicle systems, raised several points that deserve further consideration.

First, we are pleased that Mr. Vincent agrees with the need to evolve fundamentally different and more functional human settlement patterns. We will return to this point at the end of this post.

After a careful reading of Mr. Vincent’s points it seems we agree on most issues, even if that does not appear to be the case from the tone of his post. We will address details in a moment but first the major difference:

We said “In Curitiba BRT has been so ‘successful’ on some routes that it is now being replaced by “heavy” rail.” I noted this to amplify the point that the native station area pattern and density of BRT is less than “Heavy Rail” (aka, METRO, Metro, Marta or The Tube.)

Mr. Vincent says the lines are not being refitted based on information he gathered in his recent visit to Curitiba. As we recall we read that information in either METRO or Mass Transit , two transit industry publications that we read on a regular basis. A quick search of their archives does not turn up a citation to that information. What I read (wherever I read it) may have been just a rail partisan’s wishful thinking.

We will take Mr. Vincent’s word that the original and most heavily used BRT line or lines are not being replaced by a rail system to provide more capacity. The fact remains that most BRT systems have less throughput capacity and thus support lower native station-area intensity than Heavy Rail unless it is specially designed to achieve similar capacities and then there is essentially no cost difference between BRT and Heavy Rail.

This brings us to the first point that needs to be made about alternative shared-vehicle transit systems:

Support and opposition of this or that system is a play ground for True Believers.

Those who champion Light rail, Bus Rapid Transit, Trolley, High Speed Rail, Catenary Electric Bus, Horizontal Elevator, Heavy Rail, Conventional (Gus) Bus, Personal Rapid Transit, Vacuum Tube or Commuter Rail all tend to pitch “their system” as the end all and be all for moving people.

That is silly because every one of those systems has a different “native” station area pattern and density. In addition every one of them has a role in providing mobility and access, depending on the station area pattern and density of land use.

In concept all are based on 19th century ideas except for PRT. In addition, all except PRT and some High Speed Ground (e.g. Mag Lev) are based on 19th century technology.

My concern is that instead of focusing on what is important – human settlement patterns – this infighting among shared vehicle system fanatics diverts attention to a side issue. The “which system” question can be sorted out based on facts once a settlement pattern for the New Urban Region and for the Balanced Communities is agreed upon.

The other downside is that the infighting keeps PRT and Vacuum Tube (especially for long distance freight) technology from being given a fair evaluation.

A quick search of the web suggests that Mr. Vincent’s hosts in Curitiba are among the True Believer supporters of BRT and that the detractors cite fundamental differences in settlement patterns as the reason that BRT is not suitable for New Urban Regions in North America. More infighting.

There is another issue that is obscured by inter-system infighting. Every major New Urban Region in the First World with efficient mobility and access – Stockholm, Vienna, Paris, Madrid, London, Toronto, among others with which we are familiar – all employ a combination of systems. London famously has the double decker buses and the Tube but also has added the new Jubilee Line which functions differently than the Tube and then there is the Docklands Light Rail (that is really a horizontal elevator), Commuter Rail etc. Paris has The Metro but also the RER interconnecting with the TGV, etc.

The need to use several shared-vehicle systems is a corollary to a more general axiom: No major New Urban Region functions (or could function) without extensive shared vehicle systems.

For years, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles were cited as examples of places with no “transit.” That was never true and all three New Urban Regions are now expanding shared-vehicle systems.

The settlement patterns in the Los Angeles New Urban Region were in large part determined by the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Electric Railway, topography, the size of Spanish land grants, water (or lack of it) and federal land ownership. The reason BRT, Light Rail and Heavy Rail are enjoying more success in the region than detractors projected is that Los Angeles has a higher density inside the Clear Edge than any other major New Urban Region in the United States. “Success” can not be attributed to BRT or any other specific system. As a Left Coast friend noted recently “It is the Settlement Patterns, Stupid.”

Over 40 years ago, Will Owen noted that “there are almost no transport facility solutions to transport problems.” There are only settlement patterns solutions, these are changes that match the pattern of travel demand to the capacity of the transport system.

In the context of today’s mobility and access crisis the important thing to keep in mind is that there are NO SHORT TERM, EASY, OR STOP GAP “SOLUTIONS.” None.

All the systems noted above can be part of a “comprehensive solution” but individually they perpetuated the myth that a “solution” is possible without Fundamental Change. That is also true for the “Omnibus Solutions” that have emerged over the past week which will be the subject of our next post.

Now back to Bill Vincent’s position on Fundamental Change: He agrees that Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns is needed but thinks it will take “generations.”

As the price of oil last week indicates, we do not have “generations” to abandon the current settlement patterns. We may have to toss Ford, GM and all the DOTs off the back of the sled but there is no time for multi-generational evolution.

It is not just an economic impossibility to prop up the current private-vehicle dependent settlement pattern, it is an environmental and social disaster as well. We will explore this reality in future work via PROPERTY DYNAMICS and other vehicles.


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One response to “WHICH BUS, GUS?”

  1. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist

    I know some people who are still on the Gus Bus

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