“Priority bus” a valuable part of the transit mix when done right

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us another great story on the DC area‘s new “priority buses.”  What is a priority bus, you might ask?  Well, the answer is, it means different things to different people, ranging from a limited stop bus to one with a whole different branding system.  The important thing is, it can’t replace rail transit.  He sites some interesting numbers that show that, while buses fall short of expected ridership, trains often exceed it (someone should do a study as to why this is the case: is it because trains are faster, cleaner, have a greater capacity, or because they’re just tech-sexy?).  He also makes a good point that good transit systems have a mix of neighborhood buses, express or limited stop buses, and light rail.  He gives a variety of recommendations that could allow the priority buses to fill a gap in the current transit network.  Another really great point of his is the difference between the Orange Line in Arlington and Fairfax.  Arlignton tunneled the train, which is expensive, and used it to create a TOD.  Fairfax put it through the median of I-66, and it’s just a train.  He warns that a system of priority buses that simply linked park and ride lots to downtown would have a similar effect, or lack thereof.  Even though buses lack the power of rail to create TOD, they still have the ability to spur some level of commercial development, but if they are only on freeways, that can’t happen.  Some area municipalities have their ducks in a row; others, not so much.  Hopefully they will use priority buses the right way.

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