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«Strengths and Weakness of Bus in Relation to Transit Oriented Development Professor Graham Currie Chair of Public Transport, Institute of Transport ...»

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Strengths and Weakness of Bus in Relation to Transit Oriented Development

Professor Graham Currie

Chair of Public Transport, Institute of Transport Studies, Monash University

Tel: +61 3 9905 5574

Fax: +61 3 9905 4944

Email: graham.currie@eng.monash.edu.au


While Transit Oriented Development (TOD) has almost exclusively concerned rail

based modes there has been a recent interest in bus related TOD with an emphasis on

new bus rapid transit (BRT) developments in North/ South America and Australia.

This paper takes a critical look at the strengths and weakness of bus based transit systems in relation to TOD through a review of the literature and an assessment of TOD related developments. The performance of BRT systems in relation to TOD are considered with specific reference to BRT systems in Australia. In addition TOD related to local suburban or ‘low order’ bus service is considered. The paper describes the general concept of TOD and how this relates to features of transit modes, outlines the literature relevant to bus based TOD and identifies the strengths and weakness of bus based transit systems in relation to TOD. It concludes by using the findings of the review to identify ways in which bus based TOD might be better planned and implemented.

1. INTRODUCTION Focusing urban development around transit facilities is now recognised as a significant way of improving the effectiveness of our public transport systems as well supporting community goals and improving accessibility (Transportation Research Board, 2004). Termed ‘Transit Oriented Development’ (TOD) this approach is associated with higher density mixed use development near transit with high quality walking environments to assist access.

In general TOD initiatives have focussed on rail based TOD (or RTOD). Bus based TOD (or BTOD) is clearly a minor subset of TOD implementation (Transportation Research Board, 2004) and is not well covered in the research literature. Dittmar and Poticha (2004) have suggested that the raging light rail vs bus debate is to blame for an unhelpful blurring of the issues associated with BTOD. However they go on to suggest a commonly held view within the development industry that ‘rail transit, all other things being equal, attracts more intense development and increases return on investment’.

There is evidence of an increase in the somewhat low profile which BTOD has in the TOD literature. BTOD is seen as an important feature of the growing Bus Rapid Transit field (Transportation Research Board, 2003). Almost 8% of the TOD initiatives identified in a recent survey of the United States were bus based initiatives in predominantly smaller communities (Transportation Research Board, 2004). So what is the potential for TOD in relation to bus services? How far can TOD be realistically applied in the bus industry?

1 This paper aims to identify the strengths and weakness of bus based transit oriented development through a review of the literature and an assessment of service developments in Australia. The emphasis of this review is to provide an objective assessment of the capabilities problems and issues of bus in relation to TOD rather than advocating bus in preference to rail (or vice versa). It also aims to identify ways to better plan and implement TOD in relation to bus based on these findings.

The paper starts with a background overview of literature associated with BTOD.

Weaknesses of BTOD compared to rail based modes are then discussed. This is followed by a discussion of strengths of bus in relation to TOD. Finally the conclusion summarises the key findings of this review and discusses ways in which BTOD might be better planned and implemented based on these findings.


A casual reader of the TOD literature might be forgiven for thinking that bus services play no role in the field. However bus based TOD has been identified in typologies TOD characteristics. Calthorpe (1993) identified both an ‘Urban TOD’ associated with a rail stations and a ‘Neighbourhood TOD’ associated with bus. This concept is expanded by Dittmar and Poticha (2004) into the framework identified in Table 1.

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Source: Dittmar and Poticha (2004) 2 In general a hierarchy of transit modes is suggested. While bus services are provided at every level, rail based modes are more closely related to higher density and larger scale development while bus based modes with lower frequencies predominate at the lower density end of development. The link between bus and lower density development is repeated in much of the literature. A review of TOD residential density thresholds (Transportation Research Board, 2004) identified consistently lower density expectations for bus based schemes than light rail in San Diego, Washington and Portland.

The co-location of bus services and bus terminals at some major rail stations has been suggested as a potential spur for TOD (Transportation Research Board, 1997). The same source suggested that BTOD is commonly associated with cities without rail.

Encouraging development around bus stations is a major feature of BTOD in these cities.

The most common association between TOD initiatives and bus has been related to bus based mass transit systems such as busways or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems.

The ability of large scale bus transit systems to encourage land development has been identified as a major benefit of these forms of transit technology (Transportation Research Board, 2003). Table 2 shows some selected examples.

–  –  –

The Ottawa transit system is a major icon of bus based TOD. Ottawa’s policy of combining integration of land use and transport planning with an emphasis on public transit development over road construction are to be admired regardless of the transit modes involved. Nevertheless it was an integrated high frequency busway which achieved substantial increases in transit patronage and which has been associated with densification of development around busway stations (Bonsall, 1997).

The Curitiba and the Bogata TransMilenio system in South America are the other major icons of both BRT and associated BTOD. A direct link between the accessibility benefits of the Bogata system and land values was identified in Rodriguez and Targa (2004). The integrated land use policy associated with the Curitiba busway has been associated with its significant impact on land development (Smith and Raemaekers, 1998).

3 While the association of TOD with these large scale bus transit systems is relatively well developed, the relevance of these examples to American (and Australian) circumstances has been questioned. Henry (1989) has stressed the strength of land use controls in Ottawa as a major factor influencing successful land use and transport outcomes. This level of control is considered “formidable” and “most unlikely” in US land use planning (Henry, 1989).

So what is the practical and realisable potential for BTOD? The next sections consider the weakness and strengths of bus in relation to TOD.

3. WEAKNESSES The following discussion concerns potential weakness of bus in relation to TOD. In each case the significance of the issues raised are assessed on a scale from ‘low’, ‘medium’ to ‘high’ to understand the scale and importance of the weaknesses identified.

3.1 Permanence, Magnitude and Implications for Development Risk

A number of sources question the permanence of bus compared to rail:

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“Because the locations of bus routes are not fixed or permanent, this greatly increases the risk of investing in transit-supportive land use development” California Department of Transportation (2002) The scale and magnitude of rail development is also purported to be significantly higher than for bus and is suggested as a major spur for rail based development compared to bus, (California Department of Transportation, 2002). Certainly significant investment suggests a significant commitment. Commitment and taking development risks are clearly linked. However as Hensher (1999) puts it “What makes for permanence?”. The same source questions wether busway based schemes are less permanent than light rail since no evidence is available that any busway systems have been removed. This theme is taken up by Niles and Nelson (1999) “It is not easy to draw the conclusion that rail transit is both more permanent and a greater attractor of development than is bus transit”. These authors point out that historical studies demonstrate much change and evolution of transit systems of all types.

Evidence is quoted of Chicago bus routes which have existed for almost a hundred years. Reference is also made to the considerable number of streetcar systems removed from streets in post-war North America (and the UK).

Some conclusions emerge from these points which relate BTOD to the issues of

risk/permanence and magnitude:

• Suburban bus based systems operating at low frequency with minimal fixed infrastructure lack magnitude and permanence for successful large scale BTOD. Lack of magnitude and permanence can create a risky environment

–  –  –

3.2 Newness The ‘newness’ of rail investments was cited by the California Department of Transport (2002) as being a factor which provided an advantage over bus based systems in relation to TOD. At first glace this may seem a glib remark since busway systems must also be ‘new’ when they are constructed. However an important difference between bus and rail is that rail (and light rail in particular) is often introduced as an entirely new mode and usually replaces an existing bus based service. Most BRT systems replace an on-street bus system with vehicles which are also buses. Hence while busways may have significant and new infrastructure they often employ the same bus vehicles on that infrastructure. While the development of some new bus vehicle types is an important part of BRT system design not all BRT systems use radically new looking vehicles.

‘Newness’ is important to TOD where a significant change from existing obsolescent land uses is required. While this is not always a requirement for TOD it is important in some cases. Clearly this issue is also of less relevance to large scale BRT type systems. BRT systems employing radically new looking vehicles (such as ‘Civis’) will be less affected by this factor. In contrast TOD based on existing suburban or ‘lower order’ bus service types with limited fixed infrastructure is likely to be a poor performer in relation to the ‘newness’ factor particularly where TOD is focussing on urban renewal in ‘run down’ areas. This viewpoint seems to conflict with the experience of the Central Ohio Transit Authority (Duffy, 2001) who site the successful redevelopment of the Linden centre from the ‘worst case of urban blight’ and a ‘drug house environment’ into a successful bus based transit centre including a child care centre, health and community club, bank, restaurants and other businesses.

While there is some case to identify ‘newness’ as a factor reducing the effectiveness of particularly ‘lower order’ bus based services, the significance of this factor in affecting the success of BTOD is likely to be ‘low’ to ‘medium’.

3.3 Different Markets It has been argued (California Department of Transport, 2002) that rail and bus riders are demographically different and that rail attracts ‘choice1’ riders who tend to have higher incomes. It is thus suggested that rail can target a more affluent market for TOD investments and hence will be better suited to TOD in more affluent suburbs or successful ‘downtown’ development.

Figure 1 shows some demographic data from a series of Adelaide public transport corridors including the O-Bahn busway (BRT system), on-street bus systems and rail systems. In general the hypothesis that rail and bus passengers are different and that rail carries more ‘choice’ passengers is supported by this evidence. However the 1 A passenger who has access to a car for travel but decides to use public transport.

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Source: State Transport Authority (1992, 1994), Travers Morgan (1991) The relationship between affluent riders and more successful TOD is unclear. While higher yield customers are good for any business it does not follow that the market for TOD properties is well represented by higher income groups. Certainly in Australia there is no clear relationship between high density of development (which may be associated with TOD) and affluence. Indeed the contrary is quite often the case.

Overall therefore it is possible to conclude that ‘lower order’ bus services cater for different markets to rail. They display less ‘choice’ and low income characteristics.

–  –  –

3.4 Park and Ride Park and ride (P&R)2 as an access mode to busways has been identified as a factor which limits TOD opportunities (Dittmar and Poticha, 2004). Over 57% of rail transit agencies involved in US TOD development identified P&R as a moderate to significant factor affecting the success of TOD (Transportation Research Board, 2004). The main concern is the conflict between the need for large parking lots, the need for road capacity to enable a significant volume of car access and the desire for prime space for development and good quality uninterrupted walk access.

Park and ride is also a significant access mode to rail, as well as to busways.

Interestingly as Figure 2 suggests, it is less of an influence to on-street bus services than to rail or busways when data in Adelaide is considered.

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