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Bus rapid transit creep
Some American systems reviewed had so few essential characteristics that calling them a BRT system at all does a disservice to efforts to gain broader adoption of BRT in the United States.:7
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.:45 The study also evaluates New York City's Select Bus Service (which is supposed to be BRT-standard) as "Not BRT".: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. 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".
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:
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.
Counterarguments, remediation, and alternative labels
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".
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."
At least one political candidate has also referred to BRT creep using the less widely used term "bus creep".
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.
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
In San Jose, the Alum Rock-Santa Clara BRT line includes only one mile of dedicated bus lanes along the seven-mile route, while plans for a second BRT route along El Camino saw the proposed dedicated bus lanes dropped before the project itself was eventually cancelled.
In Portland, dedicated lanes were scrapped early in the planning process, while the BRT label was kept.
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.
In Cleveland, the HealthLine—often cited as a BRT success story—BRT creep nonetheless occurred when traffic signal priority was turned off, following complaints from local motorists
In Boston, the Silver Line is branded as BRT but lacks most BRT-quality features such as enforced exclusive bus lanes, high level platforms, or off-vehicle fare collection. Notably, Route SL1 operates in mixed traffic along a routing that has been widely criticized as inefficient and unnecessarily convoluted, including a mixed-traffic freeway segment that often experiences severe congestion.
In the Denver-Boulder area of Colorado, the "Flatiron Flyer," which was originally pitched as a BRT service, gradually did away with advance ticketing, signal priority and most dedicated lanes.
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.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Metrobus lacks of pre-pay feature to reduce delays on passengers boarding, the buses don't get any priority at intersections neither extended green phase or reduced the red phase. Platform-level is not different from regular sidewalks.
In the Minneapolis/St. Paul region there are two routes marketed as BRT, but do not actually achieve the standards of BRT. The first is the METRO Red Line, which opened in 2013 between Apple Valley, Minnesota and Mall of America in the southern suburban region of Minneapolis. Headways are every 20 minutes, there is no off-board fare payment, and buses do not have a dedicated right-of-way (there are shoulder lanes that buses may use during traffic backups). The other route is the A Line (Minnesota), which opened in 2016 between South Minneapolis and Roseville, Minnesota. The A Line is locally referred to as arterial BRT (ABRT). While the entire route has no dedicated right-of-way, headways are every 10 minutes and there is off-board fare payment.
In Guangzhou, China, authorities decided to open GBRT lanes to mixed traffic during peak hours; as a result, the BRT system's average peak hour speeds dropped to 16 km/h from their previous average of 20 km/h.