With the South Side BRT making news around Michigan, a common theme among officials and the media is that it will be "train like." Some suggest, "It’s supposed to feel permanent and powerful, like a train." The officials behind the project continue the same speak, "BRT is a higher speed bus system with a combination of shared and exclusive right of way, often with stations in which passengers pay fares prior to boarding. Essentially, it is a bus system that operates in many ways like rail," says The Rapid's website.
Are there really many similarities or just a few? Why is rail relevant to the bus transit discussion? Is it simply, because they both have stations? Or is it, because invoking rail will encourage greater support for enhanced bus? How far do you go to increase the saleability (and public opinion) of a project at the expense of something genuine? In the near future when Grand Rapids moves up to rail, will the public look to rail transit as BRT on rails? Will they equate rail transit with the negative operating characteristics seen on road bound vehicles?
Sell the public what it really is. The Rapid should be selling this route as "enhanced" bus. That way they set the public up for improved bus service that may meet or exceed their expectations of regular bus service. All this seems risky, especially when something new and unproven as BRT is introduced in the metro area. Tell them that there will be significant bus stations along the route that offer amenities not seen elsewhere in the system. While the proposed route may have some nuances of rail, does it live up the essentials of a rail system? Will the public develop higher expectations based on the similarities only to be disappointed? Could that disappointment lead to lowered expectations and support for any future rail projects?
Nix the image of trains and rail from the BRT conversation. Sell them enhanced bus.