Light Rail Lite or Cost-Effective Improvements to Bus Service? Evaluating Costs of Implementing Bus Rapid Transit

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - service quality, place - north america, mode - bus, mode - rail, mode - tram/light rail, mode - bus rapid transit


Service quality, Quality of service, Passenger service quality, North America, Improvements, Implementation, Costs, Cost effectiveness, Bus rapid transit


Bus rapid transit (BRT) is growing rapidly in popularity because it is viewed widely as an efficient and effective means to improve both transit service and patronage. This paper argues that two distinct views of BRT are emerging: (a) BRT as a new form of high-speed, rubber-tired, rail-like rapid transit and (b) BRT as a cost-effective way to upgrade both the quality and image of traditional fixed-route bus service. These two views carry different price tags because the cost of planning, constructing, and operating BRT depends on the complexity of new service features and on rises for BRT that offer service characteristics approaching those of light rail. This study fills a gap in the literature on the costs of BRT by examining in detail component costs—actual costs for recently implemented services and projected costs for planned new services—for a sample of BRT systems in North American cities. The study examined BRT costs of 14 planned and recently opened BRT systems to determine how the wide range of BRT service and technology configurations affect costs. The study found that although some of the most successful and popular new BRT systems are high-quality services operating in mixed traffic and implemented at relatively low cost, most BRT projects on the drawing boards are more elaborate, more expensive systems than many currently in service. Most new BRT projects emphasize elaborate LRT-type improvements to lines and stations in one or a few corridors rather than less splashy improvements (such as next-bus monitors, signal preemption, queue-jump lanes, and so forth) affecting more lines and modes in local transit networks. Among the 14 systems examined here, most could be characterized as light rail lite.