Why busways? Styles of planning and mode-choice decision-making in Brisbane's transport networks

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - australasia, mode - bus rapid transit, infrastructure - busway, land use - planning, ridership - mode choice, planning - history


Bus rapid transit, planning styles, transport planning, mode selection, Brisbane


Why did Brisbane build busways? And what does the city's experience reveal about mode-choice decision-making and transport planning in Australian cities? This paper reports on the processes and decisions taken to introduce bus rapid transit (BRT) in Brisbane in the 1990s with specific focus on the styles of planning involved. Using theoretical frameworks provided by Innes and Gruber, Forester, and other planning theorists, different planning styles are identified. These concepts are used and tested in the case of the South East Busway, Brisbane's first and very successful introduction of BRT. The research involved archival reviews of reports, plans and media articles showing the development and adoption of busways in Brisbane, and interviews with politicians, state and local government bureaucrats and consultants involved in the decision as well as a key independent observer who was critical of the project and its planning. The results suggest that Brisbane may never have adopted BRT without a clear political champion in Brisbane City Council, who intuitively adopted BRT as a ‘solution’ for Brisbane and who directed a strong bureaucratic effort to co-opt and win support from others including the then state transport minister. Technical–rational analyses were used only to help support pre-determined positions, not to provide mode comparison and assessment for a later mode selection decision. There was no real community social movement supporting the move, and negligible collaborative planning involved. The results highlight how during recent decades planners have shifted away from traditional technical/analytical roles to become facilitators of politically motivated decisions in the transport decision-making process, and the risks and benefits this provides.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Taylor&Francis, copyright remains with them.