In Our View: BRT: Yes or No?

It's too soon to decide, but C-Tran is wiseto at least investigate the possibilities



Would Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) be a good idea for C-Tran’s busiest corridor, between Westfield Vancouver mall and downtown along Fourth Plain Boulevard and Fort Vancouver Way? No one knows for sure … yet. But the local transit agency already has spent considerable time and energy researching the possibility, and it appears C-Tran is leaning in that direction.

Public involvement has been, and will continue to be, an integral part of this process. For example, a public meeting regarding BRT is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at C-Tran’s main office, 2425 N.E. 65th Ave. If you’re pro-BRT or anti-BRT — or like many of the most informed observers, still uncommitted on BRT — attending Saturday’s meeting would be a good idea.

Only a few decisions have been made so far. For example, C-Tran planners know that BRT is worth studying. And only a few answers have emerged. Three examples: BRT could reduce transit travel time by up to 30 percent, transit reliability could be improved by up to 50 percent, and up to 80 percent of the project’s estimated cost of $78 million could be picked up by the Federal Transit Administration.

All of that leads us to conclude: Study away. Carry on with the research. Later, when more answers are known, C-Tran (and voters) will be able to make a firm decision.

For now, citizens would be wise to avoid jumping to conclusions. There are so many different components and configurations of BRT systems that rushing to a thumbs-up or thumbs-down ruling is not advised. As a Thursday story in The Columbian pointed out, a BRT system could include any combination of larger vehicles, raised boarding stations, dedicated bus lanes, specialized traffic signals and many other features.

With that in mind, we also advise against comparing any possible local BRT project to others elsewhere. Those systems might not be similarly designed. Snohomish County in Washington and Eugene in Oregon both have BRT systems, and more than 15 exist across North America, but the configuration here could be far different or even unique.

C-Tran has been doing at least two things right so far. First is the public involvement, not only with frequent meetings, but with a BRT Corridor Advisory Committee composed of representatives of the Fourth Plain Merchants Association, neighborhood associations, bus patrons, economic development interests, people with disabilities and other groups. Second, it’s encouraging to see careful attention paid to BRT’s potential impacts on Fourth Plain merchants. This corridor, although busy with the activities of transit passengers and the general public, has many businesses struggling to survive. BRT could solve many of the merchants’ challenges, or it could worsen those problems.

Other stakeholders also matter. Clark College students, mall customers and merchants, visitors to and residents of the downtown area … all could benefit from a more efficient transit system on Fourth Plain. Currently, such is not the case. A third or more of the buses on Fourth Plain run at least five minutes late, and that’s projected to get worse as the community continues to grow. In 1992, a bus ride from the mall to downtown averaged about 30 minutes. Now, it’s almost 45 minutes.

C-Tran officials believe they can do much better than that, and we do, too. This belief throughout the community makes BRT worth the abundant research that is planned.