Bus rapid transit creep

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BRT creep comprises several types of gradual erosions in service that sometimes affect a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, resulting in a service that is not up to the standards promised by BRT advocates. In its ideal form, BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of a light rail system with the flexibility, cost and simplicity of a bus system. BRT creep occurs when a system that promises these features instead acts more like a standard, non-rapid bus system.


An S79 SBS bus at the Staten Island Mall. The degradation of SBS service is sometimes cited as an example of BRT creep. Note the lack of prepaid ticket machines, lack of level-boarding platforms and lack of articulated buses.

The most extreme versions of BRT creep lead to systems that cannot even truly be recognized as "Bus Rapid Transit". For example, a rating from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy determined that the Boston Silver Line was best classified as "Not BRT" after local decision makers gradually decided to do away with most BRT-specific features.[1]:45 The study also evaluates New York City's Select Bus Service (which is supposed to be BRT-standard) as "Not BRT".[1]:47

Worried about similar circumstances, Virginia writer Kevin Beekman urges residents in areas planned for BRT development to use the ITDP scoring worksheet (BRT Standard) as an assessment tool.[2] Another Washington-area writer, Dan Reed, furthers this sentiment, writing that if BRT creep is allowed to reach its full conclusion, it's "bad for commuters, but it's also bad for taxpayers who were sold a high-end service only to find out that we just painted the buses a different color".[3]

According to Dan Malouff, a transit planner who was one of the earliest people to use the phrase, the slippery slope towards BRT creep varies widely from system to system. He says in a piece republished by the Washington Post that "there are a thousand corners like that you can cut that individually may or may not hurt too much, but collectively add up to the difference between BRT and a regular bus". Major compromises in service are highlighted by one or more common symptoms:[4]

  • The bus runs in shared HOV lanes or general purpose lanes rather than true dedicated lanes
  • True "stations" instead become "stops"
  • Pre-pay is done away with, slowing passenger boarding
  • The bus does not receive priority at traffic lights

Detroit writer Michael Jackman mentions the removal of "signal pre-emption, dedicated lanes separated by concrete berms, heated, ADA-compliant stations, preticketing, and more" as indicators of BRT creep.[5]

Counterarguments, remediation, and alternative labels[edit]

Author and activist Matthew Yglesias has argued in Slate Magazine that BRT creep is a very real worry, but that the issue is not "a problem with buses, it's a problem with cheapskates".[6]

Houston Tomorrow points out some ways local legislation can prevent BRT creep: "The new section on Bus Rapid Transit specifically defines it as having a separated right-of-way (at least for the majority of the line and during peak periods), defined stations, short headways and signal priority."[7]

At least one political candidate has also referred to BRT creep using the less widely used term "bus creep".[8]

One drawback to the phrase is that it uses "creep" in a way that is contradictory to other terms such as "scope creep", "feature creep", and "mission creep". "BRT creep" refers to how features can be eaten away due to lack of funding or political will, while the other terms typically refer to an expanding scope.

Additional examples[edit]

  • In London, Seattle and the San Jose region, plans for BRT lines were scaled back to allow "mixed traffic" operation on large portions of the lines[9][10]
  • In Portland, dedicated lanes were scrapped early in the planning process, while the BRT label was kept.[11]
  • In Delhi, dedicated lanes got built, only to be rolled back by a pair of judges who did not understand why cars should not drive in them. That decision was eventually reversed, after considerable damage to the BRT line's reputation for speed.[12]
  • In New York City[13] and East Lansing,[14] plans for physically separated lanes were discarded in favor of difficult-to-enforce painted curbside lanes.
  • In Cleveland—often cited as a BRT success story—BRT creep nonetheless occurred when traffic signal priority was turned off, following complaints from local motorists[15]
  • In the Denver-Aurora metro area, the "Flatiron Flyer," which was originally pitched as a BRT service, gradually did away with advance ticketing, signal priority and most dedicated lanes.[16]
  • In Fresno, California, administrators eliminated exclusive bus lanes, articulated buses, level boarding, stations and short headways, while continuing to use "BRT" as a descriptor for what eventually amounted to a normal bus line with two-door boarding.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Weinstock, Annie; et al. "Recapturing Global Leadership in Bus Rapid Transit: A Survey of Select U.S. Cities". Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Retrieved 2014-05-23. 
  2. ^ Alexandria BRT
  3. ^ Reed, Dan. "To build support for MoCo BRT, start with the basics". Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Malouff, Dan (3 September 2011). "The problem of BRT creep". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Jackman, Michael. "The trouble with the RTA plan". Detroit Metro Times. Detroit Metro Times. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 
  6. ^ Yglesias, Matthew (7 August 2013). "Menace of BRT creep". Slate. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Dietrichson, Matt (7 July 2012). "How will the new transpo bill affect transit policy?". Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2014-05-01. 
  9. ^ Shaner, Zach. "Whittling Away at Madison BRT". Seattle Transit Blog. Retrieved 5 October 2016. 
  10. ^ Elledge, John. "What is Bus Rapid Transit – and why doesn’t every city want one?". CityMetric. CityMetric. Retrieved 6 October 2016. 
  11. ^ Njus, Elliot (4 December 2015). "Portland's next ride: super-sized buses that act like light rail". Advance Newspapers. Retrieved 30 November 2016. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/04/01/with-no-separated-busway-on-34th-street-whats-next-for-brt-in-nyc/
  14. ^ http://cata-brt.org/brt-alignment-selected-and-cost-estimated/
  15. ^ Ross, Benjamin. "Big Philanthropy Takes the Bus". Dissent Magazine. Dissent Magazine. Retrieved 5 October 2016. 
  16. ^ Sachs, David. "RTD’s Flatiron Flyer Is an Upgrade, But Don’t Call It "Bus Rapid Transit"". StreetsBlog Denver. StreetsBlog. Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  17. ^ http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/2014/04/no-one-noticed-but-fresno-killed-its.html