What is Bus Rapid Transit? See examples of a key component to RTA's plan for Metro Detroit

Cities around the world are using BRT as an alternative to rail


DETROIT – "Bus Rapid Transit" is a critical component to the Regional Transit Authority's plan to expand public transit throughout southeastern Michigan.

But what is "BRT?" Is it a viable alternative to rail? 

We're getting those questions a lot from readers this morning after the RTA went public with its $4.6 billion transit plan. Voters in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties will decide the plan's fate on Nov. 8.

Some are skeptical of a transit system not built on rails, like we see in other cities. BRT is critical to RTA's plans because it would run along Woodward Avenue between Detroit and Pontiac, along Gratiot between Detroit and Mt. Clemens, and along Michigan Avenue through Dearborn to Detroit Metro Airport.

One reader posted on our Facebook page:

While we need a real public transportation system and it will only help the region, $4.6B for express bus routes?? The only rail is from Det to AA using existing Amtrak lines??? We need a real plan with vision, how about at least future plans for rail up to Pontiac? I'm all for spending the money but they need a better toward thinking plan. 

Others are simply anti-bus : 

We need a transit system on Amtrak's current rails, Pontiac into Detroit, Mt. Clemens into Detroit and AA to Detroit this way it's more like Chicago and NY, Atlanta, and DC. Not bus routes, train routes, frees up the roads and freeways and allows people to commute to work and the city without cars. We're the only big city without a transportation system, I'm all for spending money to get it, but this isn't the answer

Explaining BRT is a likely obstacle for RTA supporters who hope to see the regional transit plan passed by voters. We're unsure ourselves in trying to visualize how buses with dedicated lanes would work.

See the rendering above for picture of what the RTA is talking about with BRT. 

And here's a video from RTA explaining BRT:

But does BRT work in real life? Cities have implemented these types of lines. Here is a video of BRT in the real world, running in Cleveland along something they call the "HealthLine":

And here's a 4-year-old summary of active BRT systems in Australia, Brazil and Colombia:

There are examples of BRT around the world. Voters will decide Nov. 8 if it's a good fit for Metro Detroit.