Q.  What is bus rapid transit?

Bus rapid transit is an attractive, accessible, frequent, and reliable public transit service that minimizes user delay through the purposeful, incremental, flexible, and scalable development of station, intersection, and corridor level transit improvements with complementary street and highway investments.


Q.  I have never heard of bus rapid transit.  Have other communities implemented BRT?

Various forms of bus rapid transit are open or under development in several competitive regions including Nashville, Austin, Pittsburgh, Montgomery County, Md., Boston, Cleveland, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Eugene, Kansas City, Las Vegas, and other cities in the U.S. and abroad.  Click here for more information about bus rapid transit implementation in other areas, and click here for some photos of bus rapid transit in other markets. Given the success of BRT in other markets, and the lower implementation cost and timeline, RTA believes that bus rapid transit has substantial potential here.

Q.  How does a bus rapid transit-based approach differ from a light rail or commuter rail transit-based approach?

The key element is that bus rapid transit focuses on leveraging existing and future roadway infrastructure.  This allows for targeted transit and road improvements to be implemented in a scalable, flexible, and strategic manner – more quickly, more cost-effectively, and more broadly, with substantially less capital and operating risk than rail.


Q.  What is the “FASTER” transit network concept?

The Regional Transportation Alliance endorses the acceleration of steps to provide enhanced regional transit options to our community, including a broader distribution of significant transit investments as soon as possible.  A bus rapid transit-based “FASTER” transit network for Wake County would be a “Freeway And STreet-based Extended Rapid transit network”, an integrated network of bus rapid transit routes, corridors, and stations — continuously monitored and strategically enhanced through optimized bus rapid transit investments and complementary highway improvements — in order to accelerate our transit future.


Q. What are some examples of possible bus rapid transit implementation here?

Here are a few possibilities of how and where a bus rapid transit-based approach might be implemented in Wake County:

  • Freeway bus rapid transit stations along I-40 and 540, providing multiple express connections across the region
  • Reconstruction of Capital Blvd. as a transit gateway corridor to Downtown Raleigh
  • Transit station/corridor development examples such as Blue Ridge, New Bern/Knightdale, Six Forks/Midtown, Wilmington/Hammond/Timber, Kildaire Farm, Chatham, NC 54 west, US 70, and others
  • Bus lanes or transitways serving all NC State campuses directly
  • Transit priority measures in Downtown Raleigh and other locations to reduce intersection delays
  • Transitways and/for bikeways along the Atlantic and Hillsborough corridors
  • Express lanes or transit lanes along parts of I-40, 540, 440 Beltline, and other freeways

The City of Raleigh is actively studying various corridors for potential enhanced transit, with bus rapid transit a possibility for each one.


Q.  Why limit ourselves to bus rapid transit alone — why not pursue a plan that includes both bus AND rail?  Most growing cities and regions either have or are pursuing rail. 

Bus rapid transit is not a “fallback” or “second best” option to rail, it is a different form of enhanced transit that provides inherent benefits in flexibility and speed of implementation.  Our concern with an initial focus on rail for our market is that rail is expensive, geographically limiting, and not required to service projected transit ridership levels.  By eliminating or deferring significant corridor infrastructure costs and light rail operating costs, we can provide more transit for more people — and create a more robust transit network overall through improvements in service frequencies, especially for high-demand corridors — by focusing on a bus rapid transit-based approach.


Q.  Can bus rapid transit catalyze higher density, walkable development essential for our future?  Doesn’t light rail and/or commuter rail do a better job of focusing economic development for a community?

A September 2013 report by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) found that “Per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, Bus Rapid Transit leverages more transit-oriented development investment than Light Rail Transit or streetcars” (emphasis added).  The ITDP report also noted that government policies and support and the quality of the real estate market around the transit corridor were the two primary predictors of success in creating transit-oriented development, with transit quality third.

The findings from ITDP are consistent with a February 2013 Urban Land Institute article that noted that “many of the most widely recognized models of place making – especially in the suburbs – have compact, mixed-use centers with higher-density residential space, shared parking, and pleasant places to walk, but no transit….  There are many important qualities of such town centers, but light-rail service – or even bus transit – does not need to be one of them.  Rather they require the basics of planning, development, and redevelopment to create attractive places.”

Q.  Will a bus rapid transit-based approach offer robust regional transit connections to RTP, RDU, etc.?

Bus rapid transit has the potential to accelerate and enhance the number of regional connections over a rail-based approach.  By utilizing existing and future road networks we can apply the savings in local transit funds to provide more service frequency, new bus rapid transit stations, and better linkages to key destinations including RDU Airport and Research Triangle Park.  In fact, buses can already use existing freeway shoulders and auxiliary lanes during congested conditions via the Bus On Shoulder System (BOSS), which is available for use today along I-40 and Wade Avenue Extension between Raleigh and southern Durham to help keep transit vehicles on schedule.


Q.  How can we create robust transit connections across our region without implementing commuter rail?

NCDOT has commenced a feasibility study for express lanes on I-40, 540 and other regional freeways.  While express lanes would not be constructed primarily for transit use, express lanes would be able to maintain high quality traffic flow for transit vehicles and other express lane users through the use of variable tolls to manage demand on the express lanes and a separation between express and other lanes.  Northern Virginia has recently added separate express lanes on the I-495 Capital Beltway to keep buses and other express lane travelers moving.  Tampa, Florida has proposed bus toll lanes which prioritize bus service above all other uses.


Q.  How will bus rapid transit create a seamless transit link between Raleigh and Durham?

Both regional buses and commuter rail would require connections with other buses for many destinations.  However, bus rapid transit has the potential to provide direct service between multiple destinations and/or higher frequency service due to its flexibility, while commuter rail will be confined to the freight rail corridor, required to stop at each station and dependent on freight schedules.


Q.  Don’t we already have a vetted transit plan for Wake County?  Why is RTA supporting a new BRT-based plan? 

We are recommending a BRT-based approach, and we are supporting the development of a bus rapid transit-based alternative as a basis for comparison with the current draft plan for Wake County. While the current draft plan has been presented to municipalities across Wake County, there is no clear consensus on the current draft plan, nor has it been fully vetted with the community.  In addition, bus rapid transit and its potential benefits were not investigated during either the commuter rail or light rail alternative analysis processes, nor was it considered in a meaningful way during the development of the current draft plan for Wake County.  Our community cannot fully engage in the transit conversation unless we tell the whole story on transit options, ask the right questions, and gain the right information.


Q.  If we don’t include light rail and/or commuter rail, won’t we be falling behind other competitor cities that have or are pursuing rail?

Our goal should be to implement the right enhanced transit system for our community as soon as possible. We believe that a bus rapid transit-based approach would be more viable and effective than the framework of the current draft plan.  Indeed, the biggest risk would be to not ask what benefits we could realize from a bus rapid transit-based alternative.  Regions from Cleveland to Chicago to Nashville to Montgomery County, MD have asked that question and are now advancing bus rapid transit projects that will provide transit and land use benefits sooner for their communities — click on the following links for more information about bus rapid transit information, including photos and renderings of BRT implementation in other markets.


Q.  Could a bus rapid transit-based approach still include some rail?

Yes.  We would support the development of multiple bus rapid transit-based alternatives as a basis for comparison with the current draft plan for Wake County. While one or more of the bus rapid transit-based alternatives would be completely devoted to expanding and enhancing bus services, other BRT-based alternatives could include rail in some form: for example, commuter rail from Raleigh to Johnston County and/or to Durham County (see p13).

Q.  If we don’t move forward with the current draft transit plan for Wake County, will we have wasted years of planning and taxpayer resources?

The money invested on planning to this point has already been spent and is a “sunk cost,” and our focus now should be to determine what the best decision is for our community going forward, given that we know a lot more about transit options and new opportunities to bring more mobility to more people, sooner, than we did only a few years ago.  Based on our research, we recommend the development of a bus rapid transit-based alternative to compare with the current draft transit plan for Wake County.  With new advancements in bus rapid transit technology every year and increasing implementation examples across the United States and elsewhere, we can gain from their experience, develop our own bus rapid transit-based alternative, and accelerate our transit future.


Note:  RTA will be adding to and updating the FAQs on this page over time.