A reader writes:
The express bus lines in York Region, Ontario (north of Toronto) uses the system suggested by Yglesias. Transit Enforcement officers usually board the bus right before the doors closes or two-three stops down the line to inspect tickets and see if they’re valid. Drivers have nothing to do with tickets and don’t even inspect. The fine is $155 for not having a valid ticket or monthly/weekly pass. From a report last year, the enforcement and security manager said about the system: “‘Now, we’re ingrained in transit,’ he said. ‘People call us now. They take great offense to those who would try to abuse our system.'”
In Vancouver, the subway (Skyline) has a similar system – no gates, just validation stations. Then, once you’re in the waiting area, an officer comes up to you asking to see your ticket. The fine is $173 and if you don’t pay, they can stop renewing your driver’s license. My experience is that it’s faster and better, but I’ve seen people who obviously didn’t pay (didn’t validate ticket at stop and just boarded the bus) and I’ve seen people getting caught.
Several more readers weigh in with examples:
Finally a subject on which I am an expert. I work at an international research center on Bus Rapid Transit in Santiago, Chile, but am currently in India looking at their examples.
The problem with getting rail level capacity out of bus systems instead the engineering (that we can do), it is the political will. Bogota didn’t start BRT, but developed a model system due to the leadership of its mayor Enrique Peñalosa. He famously said, “An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.”
It is politically difficult because it usually requires taking space away from car users and giving it to bus users. Even in a city like Delhi (where I am now) where the majority of the population don’t have cars, this has proven to be politically unpopular. Now imagine in a US city where even a bicycle lane can prompt accusations of a “war on cars.” Since there is a set amount of space for surface mobility conflict over whose needs should be met or prioritized is inevitable. Clearly historically in the US the needs of car users have been prioritized. But if we think about it democratically priority for buses is not only fair, but make sense in terms of efficient use of limited resources.
The funny thing about the Delhi BRT corridor is that while there is congestion on all the major streets people complain about it more there because they can look over and see the buses moving faster… and that makes it unfair. The trick is making it make them want to take a bus.
“Worst of all, even though a bus is a much more efficient use of crowded space than a private car, it ends up stuck in the same traffic jam as everyone else.” I’m sure there are other examples (I think the idea came from Bogota), but in Mexico City, the buses have their own lane in the centre of the road, and there are regular bus stops which basically work like train stations. This makes the buses much faster than in other cities. I read somewhere that setting up a subway-like system that uses public roads instead of building an underground network costs less than 5% of what an underground, train-based equivalent would, and I can attest to the fact that the system is very popular and works well.
Saw this post and thought of Chicago’s plan for 16 miles of Ashland Ave, a major north-south corridor. Due to the setup of Chicago’s “L” trains, my boyfriend has to take a train into downtown and then another out to get to UIC, where he works. The idea is almost exactly as Yglesias recommended: remove a lane of car traffic and use it exclusively for bus travel, removing the traffic component that my drives my boyfriend into such a rage (seriously, don’t even mention buses to him if you don’t want an earful).
Since Chicago is nowhere near able to afford more above-ground train lines, which may not be feasible anyway due to a shrinking population, this seems like a wonderful (and MUCH cheaper) alternative. I even caught my boyfriend, who told me about the plan, mentioning it as an alternate way for him to get to work. Here’s the link to an overview of the project.
Update from another:
I’m surprised no one has emailed yet about the Bus Rapid Transit system in Curitiba. It was the first large-scale system with buses in separated rights-of-way (1974) and is still a model across the world. The system was designed by architect Jaime Lerner, who would go on to be the mayor. Here’s a great TED Talk he gave. It’s cheaper than a subway, with decent capacity. Not as high as a subway, but if designed correctly similar to many light rail at a fraction of the cost. The issue is with design: the places where a bus needs rights-of-way most – in narrow, congested sections – are the places where it’s most costly to place them. So a lot of systems wind up with bus lanes where there isn’t traffic, and mixed lanes (slow) where there is.