Bus Rapid Transit in Raleigh


It is unfair to say a buses are inherently unreliable while using anecdotes that a lot about how buses are used and little to nothing about the bus itself. When maintenance, partially separated right of ways, inefficient boarding, bunching, or conflicts other transportation modes, rail can also be unreliable. A well executed bus network will never be the enemy of a well executed rail network. There will be compromise but our pedestrian, bike, bus, and eventual rail network (outside of Amtrak) along with land use must be mutually supportive.

There are many specifics to work out before implementing effective BRT. What should we be working on now to make this a reality?


Is the primary goal to solve traffic or to move as many people as efficiently as possible?

If you solve traffic by adding or increasing user fees, then you’ve shifted the burden so that people pay for congestion with money instead of time. This by itself doesn’t really decrease the economic friction, it just makes life better for people of greater means who are willing to pay more to save time, and worse for people of lesser means would rather spend more time in order to save money. Some might argue that richer people are probably doing more important things but I would argue that this is a profoundly unjust argument.

Spending the revenues from congestion pricing to build effective transit provides the alternative that makes it fair.


I agree with what you’ve said. My point was to say that we’re not going to get “better traffic” in the sense people hope when we increase transit, biking and walking (or add more lanes or roads). I don’t think we should be promoting transit by saying that it will make traffic “better”. Unless we are specific and say we will increase the capacity of the system without increasing spending and without affecting congestion.

The current auto-dependent system is unjust as well - vehicle ownership is a huge barrier of entry. I like the idea of using congestion fees to fund better and cheaper mass transit.

There was a Econtalk podcast that went into the economics of congestion fees and how they are not truly markets, in that while those that pay the fee get the benefit of lower travel times, they do not necessarily benefit from whatever the fee is then spent on. The argument was more over the ethics, not the efficacy, they were saying it should be viewed as a tax intended to raise fees and shape behavior instead of a true market. Which is all fine with me. http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2018/04/michael_munger_5.html


I have a thought or two on the call for light rail or something big NOW. To sum of what I am about to say: The new transit plan is actually really good, and I think a lot of people who say we need some big light rail right now would not actually use it that much if we had it.

Here is my thinking, and these two points are very tied together.

#1. As someone who uses the bus every day to go to work and back, uses it once a week to get to NC State classes, and probably uses it once every other week for an errand or to meet someone somewhere else… This new plan is going to make my ability to get around MUCH BETTER. I will be able to get to the places I am already going in a more reliable way and faster. I will also now have more destinations within a convenient transit reach. I have not actually found anyone who uses the current system that does not see the new stuff coming as a big upgrade. Would love opinions on that.

After saying that I want reflect on what I think I hear against the new plan.

#2. The people that think the plan is not bold enough seem to be people who don’t take the current public transit much if at all. Here is my worry hearing their call for big stuff. What if we build something really big and you still don’t really use it? Or you use it 3 or 4 times a year? Should we spend $$$$$$ to get you to the airport a few times a year? There is this term I like called “go get a rock”. Where you try and work with someone on something and they say, “oh yeah I could do it if you did XYZ”. So you go do that, and they say “Oh almost, now I just need ABC”. Then you start to realize that you are bending over backwards for someone who isn’t really that interested in working on this. The opposite is where someone says I am doing AB, but got stuck on C. You remove that barrier and they are there. This is what I think the new plans do really well. That makes them the types of plans that will make things better AND we will get to have another incremental plan in 8-10 years to do it again.

Hot Take: If you live way out in a non dense area and then work in RTP you made a lot of the decision not to take transit yourself already. I am def sympathetic to housing pricing near good transit being more expensive. But, I think we should be very skeptical about making big investments to “maybe” get people to start using transit when there is still a big chance they won’t.


I think I follow what you are saying and I agree. Mass transit is just that, for the masses, so it needs to be planned to get the masses onto the thing.

The consultant that helped us craft the transit plan was very good at leading a discussion about coverage versus frequency, which I highly recommend anyone read if you don’t understand the concept. (link below)

Listen when people say, “I would never ride that” and you know what, that’s ok. It wasn’t built FOR YOU specifically. It was built for the masses and it was built to replace current trips rather than make you start using it to go to new places occasionally.

For me, I don’t use the bus normally but that’s because when I look at the trips I make the most, it doesn’t work logistically, the time spent driving vs riding is too drastic a difference. (like 3x) On the other side of the spectrum, I also walk to some destinations multiple times a week so taking the bus is silly.

That’s my story, and the transit plan serves my one-off trips on weekends or special trips during the week. It may be different for others and as we build that culture of ridership, we can start expanding routes and think about shiny trains in the future.

I still think the bus is the core foundation of the system and always has to be rock solid in what it does, serves the masses.



Yup, and this recent post from Jarrett Walker is another good point in a similar vein. http://humantransit.org/2018/05/is-anyone-owed-a-transit-line.html


EconTalk? Oh man that’s Austrian, George Mason, Koch Brother nonsense. Be very suspicious of any Econ group with the word “liberty” in their name. That’s code for Koch money and, thus, Koch ideals.


Dr. Roberts is pretty up front about being a free-market libertarian. He’s also one of the most intellectually honest interviewers I’ve come across. But yeah, I’m suspicious of anything a economist says, be they decorated professors on a podcast or anonymous internet forum commentators :wink:

Most of the folks on this website would probably agree that we could use a dose of free-market economics in our housing space here in Raleigh. And I would like to see more market feedback on transportation - the hidden subsidies supporting automobile travel are huge and threaten our city’s long-term financial stability.

I think its important to listen to diverse points of view - especially when those voices are engaged in earnest, honest debate. I’m happy to disagree with Russ Roberts when appropriate and learn from him at other points.

If there are any specific points he made in the congestion show with Mike Munger (or any other Econtalk episode) you’d like to discuss, I’d be more than happy to go into it.

The main point of the congestion episode was that while effective, congestion pricing is not truly ethical in the way libertarians view free markets as ethical constructs. Instead, it should be viewed as a tax that discourages driving and raises revenue. That’s fine with me - I don’t think free markets are inherently ethical, and I’m OK with taxing auto travel to make our cities more healthy of wallet, body and mind.


Thanks for the link dwight. Going to have to give Econtalk a few listens.


Busses and light rail trains are only as reliable as the infrastructure on which they operate. Sure, if we try to strap a high frequency, large scale bus network onto our existing asphalt, it’s going to cause problems. That’s like trying to build a light rail system on top of existing freight RR lines. which is exactly the reason Amtrak is unreliable and slow and generally unuseful. It’s much cheaper (and typically faster?) to take a megabus from Raleigh to NYC than a train…


It’s highly unlikely that there would be delays to light rail on account of Amtrak given the relatively short distance between DTR and RTP/Durham. Far less likely than car accidents and other traffic jams.


Light rail wouldn’t use the same tracks as Amtrak or freight, new ones would need to be built. Commuter rail would, but Amtrak and freight would get priority. CTR is currently being studied by GoTriangle, trying to figure out the answers to these questions.


Buses are no fun when they’re stuck in traffic. To make BRT work, you need to have bus lanes where congestion is the worst

For BRT on Western Boulevard. The section wbad is approximately from Pullen to the Beltline, so if you’re going to make it work, you need dedicated bus lanes through there.

Downtown - Avent Ferry: Bus lanes probably not needed, but reserve right-of-way for it in the future.
Avent Ferry - Gorman: This is where the congestion is the worst. It was never completely widened to six lanes, but the right-of-way is clearly reserved. Add a bus-only lane in each direction.
Gorman - Blue Ridge: Turn one of the three lanes in each direction into a bus lane.
Beltline - Jones Franklin: Bus lanes are probably not needed for now, but reserve right-of-way for it in the future

West of Jones Franklin the alternatives are Hillsborough/Chatham and the Cary Town Blvd extension. Whichever is chosen, a lot of construction will be needed, so BRT lanes should be included from day one.


I was not actually suggesting that light rail would share infrastructure with heavy rail, was just responding to bus naysayers that comparing light rail to bus is apples/oranges if the infrastructure is in one case dedicated and in another, shared. If bus has dedicated infrastructure the same way light rail has its own dedicated track, with grade separation where applicable, etc. then they would be equally reliable.


Definitely, and that’s the plan right now.


Sure. But dedicated bus infrastructure has never happened anywhere. Dedicated light rail has happened many places.


Never? Anywhere??!?!



What do you mean by “dedicated bus infrastructure”?
It seems to me that BRT infrastructure (bus-only lanes often physically separated from standard traffic, substantial stations with level platforms) is fairly dedicated to its purpose.


Plus floating bus stops and priority signals.