Friday, March 27, 2009

Busway


This won't be news to my friends in Brisbane.

But over here the answer to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport rail service) is a thing called the Busway

A clean, ultra-modern, high-speed dedicated mass-transit system, it is built on clean running natural gas powered buses, like this Translink Transit Authority articulated bus.

I'm not normally one to pat the backs of the incumbent administration about anything, but I think all those in Brisbanes infrastructure teams, councils and bus administration should be proud of this hi-tech, environmentally sound and user-friendly mass transit system.

After living in Silicon Valley, home of high-tech everything, and traditional source of world leading transit systems like the BART and cable cars, it is great to see Brisbane leading out with a technology solution.

The buses themselves are a big part of the success of the busway.  Air-conditioned against Queenslands often stifling heat and humidity, they are typically clean, safe and comfortable.  Although not as quiet as an electric solution would be, the buses are flexible (literally in the case of the articulated bus) and can route around road-works or other problems that cause trains to stop in their tracks.

While trains can be electrified mass-transit marvels, often they are loud, inflexible and don't play nice with other linking transport systems. The BART in California and the VTA trains that it meets with are still noisy and create many eyesores. Certainly they get more folks out of car trips and using mass-transit, but while there I saw low utilization and lots of environmental impact.

The busway stands out because it mixes the best that rail can be - high-speed dedicated routes & customized large capacity low-emissions transports - with the best that road can be - flexible, resistant to disruption and well integrated with feeder transports and peripheral systems like bikeways, and pedestrian routes.

The shot above shows the busway station at Mount Gravatt in Brisbane Australia. Its immediately adjacent to a large shopping centre, but the buses fly underneath all the commuter and shopping vehicular traffic through fast tunnels, and then emerge to race down parallel with the freeway towards the city. Pedestrians can access the inbound and outbound lanes safely and quickly via overhead access ways that are at the level of the shopping centre.

Travellers with mobility issues can use a lift to get to the platform, and many buses can "kneel" providing level access for wheelchairs. In many cases buses can take bicycles on a front mounted rack.  Lockers are available also for bikes, with keys available from the Busway folks on request.

Ticketing really was the last piece of the puzzle to make this a breeze-on / breeze-off service. A proximity card holds a current balance, and the card can be updated via the internet, or at a busway kiosk. Zap the card when boarding and then again when leaving the bus - the fare is calculated and deducted with no hassles about pricing, figuring out your destination with the driver or fumbling for small change.

This also makes loading the bus much faster during commuter peak times.  Given the frequency of busway buses timetables are optional too.  Just rock up and jump on - in commuter times the electronic displays on the platform usually let you know you have less than 10 minutes to wait.  

Down at the Technology Park at Eight Mile Plains, one stop away from the one shown above, you can see a great testament to the success of the Busway. The park-n-ride areas are full of cars, even despite works recently that have seen the areas more than double in size. All those cars represent commuters who have been lured out of their one- or two-occupant vehicles, and who are travelling in highly utilized air conditioned comfort.

So until my electric car arrives, I at least have a high-tech transport solution that gets me there without a carbon footprint, and without getting hot and bothered.