Understanding the Effectiveness of Bus Rapid Transit Systems in Small and Medium-Sized Cities in North America

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, mode - bus rapid transit, operations - frequency, land use - urban density, land use - impacts, ridership - demand


Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), North America, General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data, Ridership


In response to a lack of existing academic literature in relation to bus rapid transit (BRT) system success in small and medium-sized cities, this research examines the operational, demographic, and socioeconomic aspects of BRT at the route and system level in 16 small and medium-sized cities across North America. The results are compared with BRTs of large North American metropolitan areas to establish how the determinants of and requirements for BRT success differ. A wide array of factors collected from transit agencies, the Canadian and American 2016 censuses, and General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data are analyzed alongside ridership, which represents the primary determinant of BRT system success. The findings suggest that BRT routes of larger cities generally enjoy higher ridership levels compared with smaller and medium-sized cities in North America. Operational variables including service frequency were considerably higher in larger cities, with shorter route lengths, compared to small and medium cities. Higher population density, local accessibility, and percentage of rented households can also be observed in larger cities’ BRT system catchment areas in comparison with smaller cities. However, some BRT routes of smaller and medium-sized cities in North America exhibit comparable ridership levels with those in large cities. These routes have similar levels in relation to rentership, route length, and headway, with good local accessibility, while falling behind in population density. This paper expands on previous research on BRT systems, helping transit planners and policymakers to better understand the relationship between the city size and BRT ridership levels.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by SAGE, copyright remains with them.