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Rapid Bus Proposal
ABOVE: This newly delivered AC Transit transbay bus is a prototype for a new generation of top-of-the-line vehicles designed to attract commuters to a regionwide network of rapid bus routes. (Photo: Dino Vournas, Oakland Tribune)

Bay Area Rapid Bus Proposal
March 29, 2000

Table of Contents

Rapid Bus Transit (RBT) is an emerging transportation concept which is gaining in popularity throughout the world. RBT ties the speed and reliability of a rail service with the lower cost and more flexible nature of bus service. MTC research suggests that, of all candidate Blueprint scenarios, a RBT transportation alternative will attract the most new riders to the public transit system at the lowest cost to the region.

A RBT system basically removes buses from mixed flow traffic and allows buses to move in their own right-of-way, improving travel times for patrons and simplifying service delivery for transit operators. Stops are limited, which allows a bus to move quickly through a corridor. Vehicle designs allow for quick passenger boarding and unloading and more passenger seating. Passenger facilities are of a higher quality to make waiting more comfortable. Buses are of a higher quality with more comfortable chairs and passenger amenities. Local streets and the regional High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) system function as the guideway for the regional express bus service, thus eliminating the need for the expensive design, engineering and construction of a fixed guideway facility. This transportation option offers Bay Area commuters and the region a new choice in the transportation marketplace.

A common complaint about bus service is that it is slow, makes frequent stops, provides an uncomfortable ride, doesn't offer comfortable waiting areas, and frequently requires a number of transfers to reach a desired destination. Local bus service by necessity must serve numerous stops and destinations along a given route. RBT offers a faster, more reliable option for traveling longer distances throughout the region and functions as a complement to local bus service and the regional rail, ferry and HOV network. RBT systems are characterized by the following:

  • Exclusive bus lanes, including grade separated busways
    Allows for rapid movement through a corridor improving speed and reliability
  • Frequent service
    Greater convenience and more attractive to travelers. Service frequency is repeatedly cited as a primary factor when people choose a mode of transportation.
  • High-quality passenger amenities
    Comfortable and attractive waiting areas.
  • High-quality vehicles
    Provide a more comfortable ride for the longer, interregional trips. Interiors have high back, airline-style seating, luggage racks, reading lights, lap top plug-ins, and other amenities to make the longer trips more comfortable and enjoyable. New doorway configurations and low floors allow for quick boarding and unloading and maximize the number of seats.
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) including signal priority and real-time passenger information
    Improve operating speed and reliability and provide information to the public.
  • Limited stops and timed transfers between systems
    Improve travel times and increasing comfort
  • Park & Ride lots
    Provide a link from areas with limited local bus services to the regional transit network
Cities that choose to adopt a RBT system typically do so to provide a high-quality and frequent transit service without significant capital costs. These systems also attempt to leverage other regional investments in the transportation system. The most common facility to leverage is the HOV networks which were built over the last decade in many major metropolitan areas. The San Francisco Bay Area already has 270 freeway miles of HOV lanes with another 150 freeway miles to be constructed in the next 15 years, thus providing the framework for a potential RBT system.

Exclusive Bus Lanes Exclusive bus lanes remove buses from mixed flow traffic and allow buses to move unimpeded by traffic throughout a corridor. Bus lanes are typically marked with special striping and are signed to indicate that only transit vehicles are allowed. Bus lanes are in certain transit rich areas of the region. HOV lanes also function as bus lanes. The HOV network for the Bay Area is detailed in Figure 1 at the end of this proposal.

Grade-separated transitways also provide the advantages of busways and increase the overall performance of the transit system. Transitways are physically separated from roadways or freeways and are dedicated exclusively for bus use. Along a given corridor, passengers board and alight transit vehicles at transfer centers similar to boarding BART or SCVTA vehicles at rail stations.

RBT also offers high levels of service, which minimizes waits at stations and ensures the rapid movement of people from trip origins to trip destinations in a given corridor. Local feeder bus service can be modified to have a timed transfer between local service and service on the busway. All regional routes can feed the busway to ensure a high level of service for transit patrons. This is known as interlining. The service schedule allowed for bus service at the RBT stations at an average of a bus every three minutes during peak periods.

New transportation technologies allow traffic signals to "communicate" with transit vehicles. Corridors where signals are equipped with this technology can offer signal priority to transit vehicles. This allows a signal to cycle to green or to hold a green when a transit vehicle approaches moving the vehicle quickly through the corridor and minimizing the delays for transit patrons. In addition to optimizing performance, ITS technology allows transit providers to provide real-time bus information to transit patrons.

High Quality Passenger Amenities
Given the regional significance of transfer points between local and regional express bus service and the large volumes of passengers who use these facilities, higher quality passenger facilities are needed. Shelter from weather, seating, real time information, and vendor activity all support the activity and comfort of passengers using the regional bus system.

RBT functions on a limited-stop basis to improve the overall travel time along a route or corridor. Timed transfers between local and regional service reduces the wait time for transit patrons.

Passengers ride these buses for a longer period of time, they are traveling farther, and they are paying for a premium service. Higher quality vehicles are consistent with the transportation market being targeted by a RBT strategy. In the long haul, inter regional travel market, to be competitive with the automobile RBT buses must offer a higher level of amenities and comfort to the traveling public.

The regional express bus network for RBT should utilize a series of Park-and-Ride lots and key bus transfer points to move people from outlying areas with limited local bus service to major activity centers and key transit transfer points. Buses can enter and exit the HOV network to travel throughout the region and pick up or drop off passengers at key distribution points. Buses would then continue back on the HOV network to the destination to regional activity centers.

Several regions in the US and around the world are applying rapid bus transit to meet regional transportation needs. One lesson to be drawn from the examples below is that RBT can be implemented in phases or along corridors with dense trip patterns. RBT can augment local service or become another regionally significant form of transportation.

Curitiba, Brazil: The most famous RBT example is the city of Curitiba, Brazil. In Curitiba, the RBT system is known as the "surface subway." This system carries an average of 1.9 million passengers a day on local and regional bus service. The city has a series of different types of RBT lanes providing for express, regional express and local bus service all of which are separated from automobile traffic. The system of lanes created an "express bus only" middle lane with two outer lanes for local traffic and outside lanes for automobiles. There are now 36 miles of exclusive lanes which crisscross the city along its north, south, east, west and southwest axes. The impacts of this system are significant. While Curitiba is one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil and has the highest rate of automobile ownership per capita, vehicle fuel consumption is 25% less than other urban areas and it has the cleanest air of any urban area in Brazil.

Los Angeles: Los Angeles has the oldest busway in North America, the El Monte Busway. It travels along the I-10 corridor linking downtown Los Angeles to eastern LA County. The busway is a shared right-of-way with carpools. Three bus companies use the busway and currently carry over 45,000 passengers daily, translating to 11.5 million annual weekday passengers. Along the busway corridor are several transit stations where patrons transfer from local to express bus service, where local buses become express and enter the transitway and where transit patrons can park their cars to board regional express bus service. The El Monte Transit Center marks the beginning of the El Monte Transitway. The Center provides connections between nineteen different bus lines serving local and regional needs and three Greyhound bus services. The Center also offers 2,095 parking spaces for residents of the El Monte area to park and then use a regional bus service to reach downtown Los Angeles or other stations on the Transitway.

In addition to the El Monte Busway, Caltrans recently completed construction of the Harbor Freeway Transitway. Constructed in the median of the I-110 freeway, four bus routes currently serve transit stations along the freeway. These median stations are located within the grade separated HOV network which allows buses to pick up and drop off passengers without leaving the HOV network, speeding travel times through the corridor and making for a smoother ride. In addition, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is currently developing a regional bus network that will be built on old railroad right-of-way and in the median of Wilshire Boulevard - one of the busiest bus corridors in the country with over 70,000 passengers per day.

Ottawa: Canada's capital also demonstrates the potential for bus rapid transport. Ottawa's busway is among North America's most successful new rapid transport systems, carrying 200,000 riders daily, and nearly 10,000 per peak hour in the peak direction. The busway links downtown Ottawa to several of the region's major activity centers and offers three-minute service intervals during the peak periods.

Houston: Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority was one of the first agencies in the US to use competitive rapid bus transit. Nearly 100 commuter express buses operate on Houston's extensive busway and HOV network. The Houston system enjoys nearly 20,000 boardings per day on their regional rapid bus transit system.

Vancouver: Vancouver, British Columbia is implementing a different type of RBT system. Unlike many cities in North America, Vancouver has very limited freeway facilities. Most transport occurs on local streets and arterials. The B-Line was developed to serve regional trips between the University of British Columbia, the Sky Train, and major cross-town bus routes on local arterials. This service utilized 22 new articulated buses and carries 18,000 passengers a day with minimal capital expenditures and right-of-way acquisition. The B Line service proved so popular that lobbying efforts by residents of Vancouver and the surrounding suburbs yielded the development of another new RBT service known as the Richmond - Vancouver Rapid Bus. Similar to B-Line bus service, the Rapid Bus will offer frequent, reliable, limited-stop service linking downtown Vancouver, the Vancouver International Airport, Richmond City Center and points in between. Forecasts indicate over 30,000 trips a day will be served on the new RBT line.

Other cities in North America that have implemented some form of RBT system or are planning RBT system expansions include: Miami, Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Eugene, San Diego, and Toronto.

We have defined a preliminary rapid bus system for the MTC region that exploits all the aforementioned attributes of the rapid bus concept. Our proposal extends the reach of BART by providing vastly improved feeder buses in potential future BART corridors, connects the far flung parts of the region to the region's core employment centers using an expanded carpool lane system, and fills in gaps in the region's trunkline transit system.

The concept includes a number of elements, such as buses on carpool lanes, improved bus access into and out of carpool lanes, expanded Park-and-Ride lots at convenient locations to the freeways, hubs for timed transfers, long-haul bus service in lengthy corridors, and late-night service in certain corridors. In a number of corridors, the buses also provide local circulation at the origin or destination end of the route. At the Super Hubs, the rapid buses connect to suburban bus systems, BART, Light Rail Transit (LRT), commuter rail and ferries, depending on the location. The rapid bus system takes advantage of the regions investments in the HOV network. The HOV network is detailed in Figure 1 following this proposal.

The total capital cost of our proposal is about $178 million, including $108 million for comfortable buses with high back seating, and $70 million for Park-and-Ride costs and direct HOV access facilities. In terms of operating costs, we have estimated over a 15-year period, the rapid bus system would need about $722 million in net operating subsidy, or approximately $48 million per year.

The system as a whole would generate about 26,600 new daily transit riders in 2020, which means the bus system would convert this number of daily trips from autos to transit. The actual number of passengers boarding the bus system would be larger, but our analysis has focused on the new rider number as a measure of the comparative effectiveness of different transit investments.

We next describe the rapid bus concept in each individual corridor in terms of the services provided, support facilities required, and costs.

Bay Area Rapid Bus Corridors

Here we attempt to replicate the comfort and convenience of a rail system by operating frequent buses on carpool lanes that extend all the way from Santa Rosa to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge on US 101. We assume the bulk of the new carpool lanes would be funded by state and local sources. A critical project is the completion of the San Rafael gap-closure project, as this project would convert the reversible lane into a separate northbound and southbound HOV lane necessary for all day bus service. Rapid bus service would run from Sonoma and Marin counties into San Francisco via the San Rafael transit center and from Sonoma County to the Larkspur ferry. The buses would operate on several city routes in San Francisco to provide the widest distribution of passengers. Super hubs would be created at the Santa Rosa Transit mall, San Rafael Transit Center, and Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

Costs: Costs include vehicles ($14.1 million) and funds for upgrading Park-and-Ride lots and transit centers ($10 million).

I-80 Corridor In this corridor, rapid buses would provide service from the Fairfield Transit Center, down the I-80 HOV lane expanded from the Carquinez Bridge to the Bay Bridge, connecting to BART at the del Norte station, and terminating at the San Francisco Transbay Terminal. This key commuter route would operate with extended hours and serve Park-and-Ride lots adjacent to I-80 throughout the corridor. Additional components of the service include a route between the Vallejo Ferry Terminal and Sacramento and strengthened linkages between local Solano County communities along the I-80 corridor. A new West Contra County line in the East Bay is envisioned, traveling on San Pablo Ave. and the I-80 carpool lane, connecting to employment and activity centers in West Berkeley and Emeryville, and continuing on to San Francisco.

Fairfield's Transportation Center would be the "anchor" Super Hub in the corridor with supporting hubs at such locations as the Vacaville Downtown Transit Center, Vallejo Ferry, and Curtola Park-and-Ride lot.

Cost: Costs include new vehicles ($19 million), a slip ramp at University Ave. in Berkeley to provide easy bus access into and out of the I-80 carpool lane ($10 million), and a set-aside to improve Park-and-Ride facilities and transit centers ($5 million).

SR 92/84
The rapid bus proposal expands bus service in the congested San Mateo-Hayward Bridge and the Dumbarton Bridge corridors. While there are no special lanes for these services on Bay Area bridges, the toll plazas provide bus bypass lanes giving bus riders a significant travel time advantage. The routes are designed to connect to Caltrain and BART, intermediate Park-and-Ride lots, and employment centers. The BART and Caltrain connections are critical links in the Bay Area's trunkline transit system.

Cost: The main cost is for vehicles ($14.1 million).

This is another long-distance corridor, with buses originating in Central Contra Costa County, serving the Bishop Ranch business park, Dublin BART, the Hacienda business park, stopping at the ACE station in Pleasanton and continuing over the Sunol Grade and into Santa Clara County. Each of these locations provides convenient transfer access to dozens of other suburban bus routes. The rapid bus route has a twofold purpose: 1) linking Contra Costa County with the Tri-Valley, and 2) linking fast-growing residential areas in the Tri-Valley with the jobs in Silicon Valley.

HOV lanes would extend from the Benicia Bridge down I-680 to the Silicon Valley. Construction of a southbound carpool lane over the I-680 Sunol Grade is on a fast track, and there is also interest in expediting the construction of a new northbound HOV lane in the opposite direction. The rapid bus system would be enhanced by an HOV gap closure project from Route 84 through the I-680/580 interchange to connect with the existing carpool lanes at the Contra Costa County line. This extension will permit express buses originating as far north as Concord/Pleasant Hill to use carpool lanes to Milpitas where the buses would branch off to major employment destinations along I-880, Route 237, and the Montague Expressway. The only HOV gap would be a short stretch through the I-680/24 Interchange in Walnut Creek. In addition to the Bay Area buses, the San Joaquin SMART buses would also use the carpool lanes over the Sunol Grade.

The major support facilities in this corridor include a super hub in Pleasanton at Bernal Ave. which will provide parking space for Tri Valley residents and provide intermodal transfers with suburban buses and ACE commuter rail. There would also be slip ramps off of I-680 to access the Bernal hub and the Montague Expressway HOV lanes in Santa Clara County.

Costs: Costs include vehicles ($14.1 million), the cost of the Bernal Super Hub, direct access to/from I-680 ($10 million), and the slip ramp between I-680 and the Montague Expressway ($5 million).

This service connects residents of Central Alameda County to growing employment centers in the Silicon Valley. The route would travel along the I-880 corridor taking advantage of HOV lanes to optimize time performance. The buses would connect with the Tasman Light Rail line at I-880 and provide timed transfers between local bus service and VTA Light Rail vehicles. The route would access local arterials to connect with major employment sites in downtown San Jose.

Costs: The main cost would be for vehicles ($8.7 million).

The rapid bus concept for this area focuses on increasing service on the extensive system of freeway and expressway carpool lanes that have already been constructed. Many of the existing county express routes would see expanded hours of service to accommodate work schedules in Silicon Valley. There would also be new bus service connecting Caltrain to San Benito County as this county experiences new housing demand from Santa Clara County job holders.

Support facilities include freeway HOV-to-HOV connectors on Route 85, one in South San Jose and one in Mountain View. A number of existing transit hubs would be further developed for timed transfers and real-time transit information, including Eastridge Mall, Great Mall Light Rail, Mountain View Light Rail/Caltrain, Diridon intermodal, Stevens Creek/Wolfe Park and ride, and others.

Costs: The main cost is for vehicles ($15.8 million).

This service is intended to connect the growing East Contra Costa County area with BART at the existing Bay Point station as a possible precursor to further extension of the BART system. The rapid bus service would essentially replicate BART frequencies with Park-and-Ride lots located at the site of potential future BART stations. An extension of the Route 4 carpool lanes would lengthen the HOV lanes from Railroad Ave. to Loveridge Rd.

Cost: Costs include vehicles ($6.2 million), and Park-and-Ride lots ($10 million).

This is a highly congested interregional corridor where we propose upgrading express bus service from the rapidly growing San Joaquin Valley to the existing BART station in Dublin /Pleasanton. The service would replicate a future BART system with Park-and-Ride lots located at the three sites of these stations off of I-580. There would also be an ACE commuter rail connection at Greenville Rd. allowing ACE riders to transfer and reach BART via a short bus ride and connections with suburban buses. The rapid buses would be able to take advantage of a new I-580 HOV lane.

Costs: Costs include vehicles ($2.5 million) and the cost to develop new and improved Park-and-Ride lots along I-580 at future BART station sites ($10 million).

The Peninsula will be well served by the proposed upgrading of Caltrain, hence the rapid bus proposal adds service in the I-280 corridor both north to Colma BART and south to the Palo Alto industrial parks. These services would travel on I-280 HOV lanes on the south end of the Peninsula.

The main infrastructure needed would be additional park and ride lot development along I-280.

Cost: Costs include vehicles ($13.3 million) and the costs for park and ride lots on I-280.

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