It’s rare for former Massachusetts transportation secretary Jim Aloisi to endorse articles from the Pioneer Institute and it’s just as rare for them to write a post supportive of public transit. The post notes that Bus Rapid Transit systems are often cheaper to implement than building rail infrastructure and produce high returns on investment.
The post also correctly notes that BRT projects can be subject to BRT creep, where transit agency cost cutting (such as promoted by certain think tanks?) results in a loss of key BRT features, undermining the entire project. This happened to the Silver Line.
BRT is essentially a hybrid of existing bus systems and heavy rail transit. The sytstems use high capacity buses, dedicated rights-of-way, off-board fare collection and frequent service, but on existing roadways. It was pioneered in South America, but bringing it to the United States has seen a variety of political obstacles and funding issues.
Last year, the Barr Foundation-funded Greater Boston BRT Study Group released a BRT report that identified five key corridors for implementing gold standard service: Harvard to Dudley via the Longwood Medical Area; Forest Hills to Readville via Hyde Park; Haymarket to Dudley; Sullivan to Ruggles via Central Square, Cambridge; and Mattapan to Dudley. Aloisi, in his article, “If Bogota can do it, so can Boston”, suggested one long route from Mattapan up Blue Hill Avenue to Dudley Square, then to South Station via Washington Street and down Summer Street to Logan Airport via the Ted Williams Tunnel.
That approach combines two or three existing Silver Line routes into one while extending it to Mattapan.
Both approaches have merit, but they also have two fatal flaws: Firstly, they rely on Boston’s politicians and civil servants being willing to incur the wrath of drivers in order to prioritize transit. Secondly, and more importantly, the MBTA has no excess capacity at its bus yards.
The problems are not insurmountable, but the second represents a hard limit that will govern the bus system. As the Pioneer post noted, it’s good for the MBTA to think abut the future, but the real opportunity for Boston BRT is to get thinking about the improvements that will make the whole system better.
For example, transit signal priority could be implemented on all key bus routes; the Silver Line could get better dedicated busways along Washington Street, some rationalization of the bus system could be done and it cannot be beyond the wit of man to improve the One bus down Massachusetts Avenue. These are matters more of cooperation and political courage and are hence more solvable than the current hard limits of the system. Besides, one must start somewhere.