Buses

Tacoma's current transportation and land use patterns make it too automobile dependent, such that the general public favors automobile travel over other modes of transportation because of inferior access, cost and time efficiency by these other modes. This dependence not only has multiple negative environmental implications, but social and economic implications as well in that members of the general population who do not have access to automobiles--namely poor and disabled people--are put at an immediate disadvantage. Therefore, improvements in Tacoma's public transit system-such as additional routes and expanded coverage, increased service frequency, longer operating hours, improvements in comfort, pricing innovations, improved rider information, and transit-oriented development-could bring a range of benefits for the general public as well as the environment.

Bus systems are a versatile form of public transportation, because they can access and serve a potentially unlimited range of locations throughout a metropolitan area. Additionally, because they travel on roadways, infrastructural investments can be substantially lower in cost and can provide a wider range of uses than rail systems and street cars. Despite their cost-effectiveness, bus systems tend not to win a great deal of political support because they often are forced to compete with automobile traffic in urban areas. The Federal Transit Administration identifies the bus system of Curitiba, Brazil as a model Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, defined as a system that improves "bus operating speed and reliability on arterial streets by reducing or eliminating various types of delay."

Strategies and Greenhouse Gas Reduction

  • Increase the supply of frequent, reliable and convenient public transportation
  • Purchase new buses for routes in Tacoma
  • Each bus is estimated to replace 10 single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs)

Cost to the City
Moderately expensive

Not "expensive" because buses can utilize existing infrastructure unlike streetcars or rail systems. Also, the expansion of service and addition of buses to high priority areas can be introduced at a gradually over time. Moderately expensive because could require the modification of existing infrastructure and land-use patterns.

Stakeholders

  • Tacoma's general population
  • City of Tacoma
  • Pierce Transit
  • State of Washington

Barriers
Barriers to general population

  • Personally evaluating whether the costs and benefits of driving single occupancy vehicles outweigh the costs and benefits of using public transit (e.g. gas costs and driving times versus bus fares and trip times)

Barriers to the City

  • Locating funding sources
  • Existing land-use policies
  • Sacrificing road space and curbside parking to create bus lanes

Benefits
Benefits to the general population

  • Potential reduction in travel time
  • Potential savings on travel costs
  • Decreased wear and tear and associated depreciation of privately owned vehicles
  • Increased social equity

Benefits to the City

  • Reduced traffic congestion
  • Increased social equity
  • Encourage transit-oriented development and population density

Benefits to Pierce Transit

  • Faster service
  • Improved image
  • Increased ridership

Partners

  • City of Tacoma
  • Pierce Transit
  • State of Washington

Tasks

  • Identify areas of the city that would benefit most from expanded bus service or new bus routes.
  • Maximize person-throughput, not vehicle-throughput on city streets by giving priority to transit and high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) vehicles and eliminating the need to merge into traffic. This can be accomplished by giving buses the right-of-way by creating bus-exclusive lanes and traffic signal priority.
  • Reduce bus boarding time and speed of service by reducing or eliminating on-vehicle fare purchases and developing alternatives to fare collection.
  • Reduce bus boarding time by using vehicle designs that make boarding easier such as fewer steps, wider doors, wheelchair access, etc.
  • Reduce bus travel time and speed of service by reducing the number of stops, providing limited service to certain stops, and/or relocating stops to areas with less traffic congestion.
  • Reduce customer waiting time at bus stops by developing an Automatic Vehicle Location system that can be used to manage bus service and make intervals between bus arrivals more consistent and timely.
  • Create user-friendly service by providing real-time bus status information, such as providing a phone number that customers can call.
  • Create user-friendly service by unifying the systems design using consistent images and colors that distinguish different routes, stops, vehicles, etc. and are recognizable to customers.
  • Provide comfortable waiting areas, shelters, and services at bus stops and transit centers.
  • Use marketing techniques to publicize bus service improvements and create a favorable image of public transit
  • Make land-use policy more transit oriented by emphasizing transit corridors and pedestrian-friendly areas.

Success Stories

Curitiba, Brazil-"The Intersection of Transit and Land Use Planning"
Curitiba's BRT represents a model shift from automobile travel to bus travel. The city has one of the most heavily used and low-cost transit systems in the world. Buses are frequent-sometimes every 90 seconds-and reliable, and the stations are efficient, comfortable and attractive for users. The system is made up of a hierarchical system of bus services, in which minibuses traffic passengers from residential neighborhoods to conventional buses that circumnavigate the city, with transfers to BRT buses that operate on five main arteries that lead into the city center. Passengers pay a single fare (40 cents) and have unlimited transfers where services intersect. Zoned residential and commercial land decreases in density further from the main transitways, which discourages the use of automobiles. As a result, buses are unimpeded by traffic lights and congestion on designated transitways. Around 70 percent of Curitiba's 2.2 million inhabitants use the BRT to travel to work. This ridership has caused a reduction of about 27 million auto trips per year, saving an estimated 27 million liters of fuel annually. It is estimated that 28 percent of BRT riders previously traveled by car, and Curitibans currently spend about 10 percent of their income on travel costs (below the national average). The system is currently made up of 1,100 buses that make 12,500 trips every day, serving over 1.3 million passengers-which is 50 times the number of passengers from 20 years ago.

North American cities with operating BRT systems including Orlando, Florida; Miami, Florida; and Vancouver, British Columbia. Portland, Oregon is in the process of developing a BRT system, as is Saint Paul, Minnesota.