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Guangzhou, China: Winning The Future With BRT

Guangzhou is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The economic hub of China's southern coast, it has undergone three decades of rapid modernization, and until recently the city’s streets were on a trajectory to get completely overrun by traffic congestion and pollution. But Guangzhou has started to change course. Last year the city made major strides to cut carbon emissions and reclaim space for people, opening new bus rapid transit and public bike sharing systems.

The Guangzhou BRT system opened in February 2010. It now carries 800,000 passengers a day, seamlessly connecting riders to both the metro system and the city's new bike-share network. For these innovations, Guangzhou won the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy's 2011 Sustainable Transport Award. Watch this Streetfilm and see how one of the world's most dynamic cities is "winning the future" on its streets.


Karl Fjellstrom:  [00:09] This is Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, population of about 10 to 15 million.  It’s the main city and the fastest growing economy in the fastest growing province in the fastest growing country in the last 30 years. Now increasingly Guangzhou is becoming known for sustainable transport.



Walter Hook:  [00:35] Guangzhou won the International Sustainable Transportation Award this year because of their remarkable new Bus Rapid Transit system.


Xiaomei Duan:  [00:44] We promote Bus Rapid Transit in China to solve the train station congestion problem.  BRT means Bus Rapid Transit where the surface level metro is used the high condensity bus and new bus technology and there’s a real bus priority method. 



Karl Fjellstrom:  [01:04] What the Guangzhou BRT has done is to raise the bar.  So this is more than three times bigger than any other BRT system in Asia.  Well 800,000 passengers a day, 27,000 passengers per hour carried in a single direction. 



Speaker:  [01:19] It is very convenient to take the BRT.  We often had traffic jams at Zhongshan Avenue.  Now it’s much more convenient.  It takes about half an hour to travel from the Sports Centre to Chebei. 


Speaker:  [01:37] I usually travel from Dongpu to the Sports Centre.  It took me about 40 minutes to an hour.  Now it takes me 10 to 20 minutes.  It is much faster. 


Xiaomei Duan:  [01:54] We have 23 kilometres and they say the first cargo, and they have 26 stations, and our stations is prepaid.  People pay before to enter the station, and so when they’re boarding a bus, they don’t need to pay again.  And our station is different size.  For example, in the city centre and have a lot of people, then the stations are big, four modules and more than 240 metres long.  The suburban area is small, it’s 16 metres.  We design the station according to the demand. 


Karl Fjellstrom:  [02:27] Buses can overtake other buses.  So if one bus has stopped at one sub-stop, the bus behind at a previous one can move in and take over as it doesn’t have to wait behind it.  The Guangzhou BRT is also a direct service BRT.  So that means that the buses come in and out of the BRT corridor without the passengers needing to transfer, to stop at the end and to transfer to another line, so you won’t see any interchanges, you won’t see any transfer terminals.  That’s because the buses can continue outside the corridor. 



Xiaomei Duan:  [03:02] Also think about multimodal integration.  And [unintelligible 03:07] corridor we have three metro stations integrated with our BRT station.  And along the all the BRT stations we designed the bike stations. 



Karl Fjellstrom:  [03:23] It’s the first BRT system in China to include bicycles in the design.  So now we have 5,000 bikes in 113 stations along the BRT corridor, you know public bike system.  And there are also about 5,500 bike parking positions included in the BRT design. 


Wu Renyu:  [03:39] We wanted to use the BRT as a trunk line and use the public bicycles to connect to the BRT line so that we can disperse the passenger volume and make travelling more convenient for the residents around this area. 


Speaker:  [03:56] My home is near here so I rode a bicycle to come here.  It only took a little more than 10 minutes. 



Speaker:  [04:05] It is good exercise to ride a bicycle.  I do not have time to exercise after I go to work.  Besides, I can control the time to go to work. 


Wu Renyu:  [04:16] In Guangzhou, Yang Cheng Tong can be used to pay the costs for buses.  It can even be used to buy commodities.  Almost everybody has one.  It is very convenient for the citizens to us Yang Cheng Tong as the payment system to pay for bicycle sharing. 


Xiaomei Duan:  [04:36] We also planned the nice pedestrian plaza and urban design along this corridor, also the bicycle facility improvements.  So now we are in planning phase to choose the second corridor.  And then we want to build another one and then can also build a better one. 


Karl Fjellstrom:  [04:55] So what we hope now is that new systems can come out and can improve on the Guangzhou system.



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  • Stacy

    hmmm... all those little red bikes. Could this be why Dan Mays believes bike share is a communist plot?

  • Bus Rapido!

    Succinctly - what an amazing story!

  • Suzanne

    I have BRT envy! China seems to be doing a lot right, between this and the high speed rail they're building. And here in NYC politicians, the media and their corporate owners are attacking "controversial" bike lanes, BRT, pedestrian plazas, traffic calming, bike sharing and gutting our once world class public transit system.

    Welcome to the 21st century, when the US is racing to see how fast it can plummet to banana republic status.

  • http://psmithsf.weebly.com/ Peter Smith

    i wish we could have a smoggy, packed bus system like that.

    the film mysteriously speeds up when the guy is locking up his bike at 3:20.

    BRT remains a success only in that is successfully blocks real and sustainable mass transit from developing.

    if you want to keep people in their cars, there's one sure-fire way to do it -- make sure their only other option is a bus.

  • Suzanne

    Mmmyes, because all that smog is caused by buses, and not the tens of thousands of cars they're replacing. And people would much rather sit for an hour in traffic in their personal car than on a bus for 10 minutes to get to the same place.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Elizabeth Press

    @peter smith the film doesn't mysteriously speed up when the guy is locking the bike; You might notice that it is a stylistic choice we made at EVERY interlude. 

    I am just not sure I understand the rest of your comment about BRT blocking the development of public transit on this video. Guangzhou is developing its metro, brt and bike share at once - sounds like a pretty well rounded move toward supporting public transportation to me.

  • http://psmithsf.weebly.com/ Peter Smith

    i only noticed the speed-up at that one spot. i just wasn't sure if it was intentional or not.

    BRT is a fraud from top to bottom -- something i've argued for years now, and within two weeks of first hearing about the concept -- to me it's always been a way to prevent public transit, and destroy what's left of it, and ultimately increase dependence on private motorized transport -- namely, cars. car ownership and driving continue to skyrocket anywhere BRT is implemented, sometimes even in the face of state-level bans against driving -- that's how desperate people are to avoid the bus.

    there's a reason Republicans and BP/Shell and Volvo and others support BRT with (tens of?) millions of dollars of funding. there's a reason the most polluted places on earth are knee-deep in BRT. there are very few self-described progressives willing to critique BRT and many other obviously-terrible urban planning sacred tenets -- i do hope that eventually changes.

    there are lots of critiques of BRT out there -- many equivocating, unfortunately, but any serious analysis will show the actual results of BRT instead of hype and half-truths from various developing nations, the various BRT 'think tanks', etc.

    some simple critiques:
    1) BRT provides protected space to motorized transport over non-motorized transport -- namely, bicycles,
    2) city buses are extremely uncomfortable, and can not ever provide a dignified ride (which is why the vast majority of people who ride them simply have no other choice but to do so -- often due to lack of personal income/wealth),
    3) buses are an incredible deterrent to bicycle travel, and as such, should not be tolerated,
    4) BRT corridors have proven to be extremely dangerous to pedestrians,
    5) buses are responsible for incredible amounts of toxic air pollution -- poisoning the citizens of Brazilian cities like Curitiba for decades now,
    6) buses and BRT infrastructure requires immense amounts of operational expenditures, especially in non-developed countries were wages are relatively high
    7) crush loads witnessed in developing nations are not tolerated in developed countries,
    8) BRT infrastructure, including the roads/stations/raised medians are extremely ugly,
    9) BRT corridors are extremely noisy,
    10) BRT corridors often work to create the 'highway within a highway' effect that destroys the livability of a corridor and city,
    11) the list goes on and on and on.

    that's just off the top of my head. there are literally dozens of good (and obvious) reasons why anyone who cares about sustainability and good public transport should oppose BRT at every turn.

    but, as Streetfilms now knows, there is a _lot_ of money and prestige available for those who sign onto the agenda of Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Bus, etc.

  • Bus Rapido!

    I find it incredibly laughable that anyone that watches a film like that where close to 1 million people are moved about efficiently and quickly could even use the word "hoax".

    But no worries, that is in the talking points for folks who oppose BRT.  

    And of the 10 listed items from the commenter above, there are really only 1 or 2 that can be seriously taken.  

  • lauren

    Wow, I don't understand the BRT hate at all. AS far as I can tell, BRT involves taking road space AWAY from single or low occupancy cars and giving it to buses, so that they can move quickly and therefore become, in fact, highly attractive to people who want to avoid the hassle of driving/parking in dense urban areas. I suppose buses moving at 25 mph are more dangerous to pedestrians than cars crawling along at 10, but I fail to see how they are inherently more dangerous to cyclists.

    Is your position is that all motorized traffic should be eliminated and we should all ride bicycles instead? Um, okaaay...

  • Cool Beanz

    In regards to Peter Smith's list:

    I agree with points 2, 6, 8, 9 and 10.

    BRT will never compare to underground or elevated rapid transit, or even surface rail that isn't grade separated, and will interfere with the development of mass transit that people WANT to ride.

    It's a fine system for developing nations that have little other choice, but a wealthy nation such as the U.S. should focus on constructing the more expensive but more desirable transit option of rail.

  • SteveS

    The funny thing is you could replace the word "BRT"/"buses" with the word "LRV" on every one of those points and it would be equally or more applicable. Particularly with regard to bikes (many LRV systems have no bike accommodations whatsoever, while every built BRT system either has bike hooks/racks on vehicles or parking at every station), and with regard to noise/pedestrian safety (heavier vehicles with longer stopping distances). 

  • JK

    BRT is great. But the BRT corridor pictured here looks like an urban nightmare. Where do pedestrians cross? Heck, where does anyone cross? Where are the cross streets? It looks like the crossings are some hundreds of meters apart. Where in NYC would anyone want to see a horrible street like this at grade? This is like the Berlin Wall of streets.

  • http://abstractnonsense.wordpress.com Alon Levy

    Curitiba is polluted and unlivable? What? Peter, it would be helpful if you actually had a clue what you're talking about. I'd be inclined to agree that developed-country BRT has too high operating costs, but there's a chasm between that and what you're saying.

    For the record, Jaime Lerner built BRT at the same time he built downtown pedestrian plazas, using tactics so severe that they'd make JSK look like a model of consultative democracy. For example, when motorists threatened to violate a road closure, he got families that supported him to sit on those roads and draw.

  • http://www.transitunlimited.org/ Andy Chow

    People in China don't have a strong preference for rail. Actually surface rail like streetcars and light rail is very rare in China, because at the times Europeans and Americans built those systems, China was poor and/or at war. In Hong Kong (only 90 minutes away from Guangzhou) where surface rail does exist, people there consider tram and light rail inferior to buses.

    China is building a lot of rail (including Guangzhou), if not too much rail. Every rail they build is grade separated (their light rail is essentially light metro with short trains, like the Green Line in LA). At the same time it is not realistic to build rail on every corridor, and that's where BRT comes in.

    Land use in major cities in China is quite different than the US. Cities in China don't have grid structures. The cities mostly have major boulevards and alleyways. The closest American counterpart is the Las Vegas Strip.

    What BRT does is to improve riding experience with smoother guideways and fewer things to slow the bus down.

  • Chris

    The real success story in Guangzhou has been the transformative impact of its new(some might say "traditional") underground metro system.

    Not only is it a fantastic system, but cheap, and planned and built in well under 10 years.

  • Karl

    This BRT line runs down the middle of the street like a wall. Frankly, it is beyond me how anybody could possibly want this form of public transportation. At least take it below grade level.

  • http://psmithsf.weebly.com/ Peter Smith

    moving people 'quickly' and 'efficiently' should be two of many considerations, but they should not be primary considerations. we should allow people to get around under their own power, while being able to hold onto their dignity. after that we can talk about how to provide people with dignified transport. after that we can get to things like personal affordability, comfort, convenience, and then maybe even eventually consider factors like speed and efficiency. most planners, unfortunately, consider these factors in the reverse order, and 'dignity' makes it into the discussion.

    if you tend to focus on speed and efficiency, they will usually come at the expense of human considerations like comfort/quality/dignity. so this is an argument that recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being -- so this will not be comprehensible to most transportation and livability advocates today -- but it remains essential and, of course, should be the first and minimum consideration for any transport system.

    animal rights activists argue that the transport of animals should be like the transport of humans, but i'm not sure these animal rights activists have ever witnessed BRT-based transportation.

    but, even without taking taking the view that humans are sentient, living beings, it turns out that the practical implications of not providing folks with dignified transport become readily apparent in various policies and systems, like BRT -- people will avoid BRT like the plague -- BRT has consequences.

    this shouldn't even be up for debate in a civilized society, but that's where we're at.

    if we look at examples of fast and efficient transport throughout history, we find that focusing on 'fast' and 'efficiency' often comes at the expense of human dignity:
    1. transport of Africans to other parts of the world in the holds of slave ships -- might or might not have been 'fast' at the time, but was certainly efficient.
    2. trains that carried Jews and gypsies and others to the death camps in Nazi Germany.
    3. the next less uncivilized form of inhuman transport is the packed trains of India -- not comparable in terms of misery and deaths-caused-in-route to the previous two examples -- but still extremely high (the highest?) by modern standards.
    4. the next less uncivilized form of inhuman transport is many BRT systems in the developing world -- again, India has a particularly good track record in terms of man's inhumanity to man, but they're not alone.

    buses don't cause all toxic air pollution -- just much of it -- ask Curitiba, Bogota, Mexico City, Guangzhou, etc. or we can battle straw men all day.

    as for people who would rather sit in their car for an hour vs. sit on a bus for 10 minutes -- well, what can i say about that other than what i've already said -- people hate buses -- we have what Schopenhauer described as 'the will to life,' but once achieved, we also seem to strive for freedom and dignity. maybe blaming humans for these seemingly-innate intuitions is the appropriate policy response?

    people and cyclists fear riding a bike near a bus -- "subjective safety" -- David Hembrow's Netherlands-based blog has made this argument, too. it's a policy decision on our part -- do we want to allow people to ride or not?

    i might not eliminate all motorized transport overnight, but I would certainly prioritize all human-powered transport (namely, walking and biking) over all motorized transport.

    i also don't believe people should be forced to travel below ground, like insects.

    once your build a BRT system, it is almost impossible to replace with dignified transport. in the history of the world, it has rarely happened, and BRT has been around for 30+ years. i am hopeful, though, that a bus-to-bike corridor conversion will happen in the future.

    as far as developing bike share at the same time as bus rapid transit, it's not just a question of dignity -- it's also priorities. i think we should allow people to get around under their own power, first. after we've achieved that to a very high degree, then we can worry about providing motorized transport for folks. what is the budget spending on BRT vs. spending on bikes? 10,000-to-1? if we're interested in destroying the world, then maybe funding motorized transport at a clip of 10,000-to-1 is the right idea, but i personally would choose to use the money differently.

    yes, Curitiba is polluted and unlivable. just like many other BRT cities. it wasn't me who described Bogota as a "pre-apocalyptic technological dystopia". if you fill your streets with thousands of arsenic-spewing diesel engines -- yeah -- you're gonna have a problem with pollution and livability. as for how someone could deem a place filled with shantytowns and favelas/ghettos 'livable' -- well, i don't have an explanation for that. maybe paved roads are an unnecessary uber-luxury?

    as for Jaime Lerner using his dictator-like powers to force BRT on the city of Curitiba (which he is very open about) -- yeah -- the population resisted his big, polluting, anti-livability bus scheme, but they lost -- Lerner won. this explains a reason why many cities in developing nations are able to have BRT forced upon them, and societies with stronger civil and human rights laws, and stronger democratic institutions, are able to beat the Lerners of the world, and prevent BRT from invading their towns.

    of course, it'd be nice if regular people could count on 'advocates' to provide a little more support for them when they're opposing BRT in their towns, but instead, the technocratic 'highway engineer/transit advocate-knows-best' patronization scheme remains ascendant.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/jass jass

    Peter is apparently living in a bizarro world. Possibly the same universe as some of the tea party politicians, come to think of it.

    On one hand, nobody wants to ride BRT. On the other hand, they're too crowded. What is it?

    Sounds just like the bike lane argument!

    "yes, Curitiba is polluted and unlivable. just like many other BRT cities."

    I actually grew up in Curitiba. What toxic air pollution are you talking about? It's one of the most liveable cities in the world.
    I also lived in Sao Paulo, and yes Mexico City. Funnily enough, both cities have reduced their pollution levels by implementing BRT.


    1) Rail provides protected space to motorized transport over non-motorized transport -- namely, bicycles,
    2) rail is extremely uncomfortable, and can not ever provide a dignified ride (which is why the vast majority of people who ride them simply have no other choice but to do so -- often due to lack of personal income/wealth),
    3) rail is an incredible deterrent to bicycle travel, and as such, should not be tolerated,
    4) rail corridors have proven to be extremely dangerous to pedestrians,
    5) (commuter) rail is responsible for incredible amounts of toxic air pollution -- poisoning the citizens of american cities like boston for decades now,
    6) rail infrastructure requires immense amounts of operational expenditures, especially in non-developed countries were wages are relatively high
    7) crush loads witnessed in developing nations are not tolerated in developed countries,
    8) rail infrastructure, including the roads/stations/raised medians are extremely ugly,
    9) rail corridors are extremely noisy,
    10) rail corridors often work to create the 'highway within a highway' effect that destroys the livability of a corridor and city,
    11) the list goes on and on and on.

  • http://psmithsf.weebly.com/ Peter Smith

    if 'bizarro world' is a place where people don't make nonsensical statements parroting the lines of the oil and gas industry, then yes, i live there.

    as for how BRT could be undesirable yet still crowded, this is not complex logic -- the two conditions are largely, if not completely, orthogonal -- the trains to Auschwitz were very crowded, too, but the passengers didn't have a choice -- just like the passengers of BRT systems, and every mass transit system that degrades humans, don't have a choice. while tens of millions of Americans sit in car traffic every day, one could draw the simple-minded and erroneous conclusion that these people loved to drive and loved to sit in traffic, or one could use their common sense and conclude that these people have no other choice.

    Curitiba has never made a 'most livable cities' list that i've ever seen. perhaps you'd like to point us to some evidence that Curitiba is livable, much less one of the 'most liveable cities in the world'?

    within South America, i've only ever seen a few cities crack the Top 100 Most Livable Cities -- Montevideo at 76, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Panama City, Monterrey are all Top 100. A few other South American cities start cracking the Top 200. Curitiba? I'd be astonished if it made the Top 500. Even the worst, most corrupt, crime-ridden, desperate US cities are probably better off than Curitiba -- Detroit, Newark, etc. Brasilia, the highest-ranked Brazilian city, comes in at 104. A few Brazilian cities come in soon thereafter (Sao Paulo, Rio, etc.). Curitiba? Nope. Bogota? Nope. BRT destroys cities.

    The air pollution in Curitiba is not just a leading cause of asthma there (especially among children) -- it also contributes to increased cancer rates -- who knew that sulphur and arsenic could be bad for you?

  • zach

    Bravo, Elizabeth. Inspiring story.

    BRT is an amazing step forward.

    Thank you for bringing this.

  • http://abstractnonsense.wordpress.com Alon Levy

    Peter, here's why it's helpful to get a clue before you start commenting: Curitiba has low pollution levels, because car use there is very low. Car ownership there is high by Brazilian standards - it's one of the country's richest cities - but car use is low. The local complaints are that Lerner made the industry flee to the suburbs, creating pollution there.

    I'm not sure why you bring up Mexico City into this discussions. Yes, it has BRT. It also has a subway the size of New York's. But mainly, its geography promotes thermal inversions, trapping polluted air. In terms of policy, it's actually very progressive - look up "hoy no circula."

    And high crowding levels are a common feature of rapidly developing cities. You'd still much rather live in a city with Tokyo, Shanghai, or Bogota's overcrowding than with Bangkok's air quality.

  • http://www.facebook.com/psmithsf Peter Smith

    Air pollution in Curitiba is low?

    A study of air pollution in Curitiba says:

    "The results suggest that air pollution promotes adverse effects on children’s respiratory health even when pollutant levels are lower than the air quality standards."

    So, yes, I guess the level of air pollution in Curitiba is low -- if you live in the United States and don't have to breathe Curitiban air. But if you actually live in Curitiba, and especially if you are a kid or elderly person, maybe your attitude about Curitiban air pollution is not so cavalier.

    Buses in Curitiba are maiming and killing like crazy. They're only 1% of the motor vehicles but represent 10% of the collisions that injure and kill. A recent collision caused 10 injuries, one serious (broken bones, etc.). Last year, one bus ran into a shop and killed two, injured 32. A collision with a car this year injured 40. Another collision occurred just three days later. In 2009, a woman fell out of an overcrowded bus (she was forced to stand in the 'no standing' zones, and the bus door malfunctioned and opened') and was killed.

    BRT is a failed concept. It was a failed concept on Day 1. The citizens of Curitiba are paying the price for Lerner's devastating autocratic rule. But hey -- Lerner's got a nice consulting business, I hear.

    Imagine what kind of city Curitiba could be if they had allowed people to get around by bike way back in the 70s, like Amsterdam did. Or even they just re-instituted their streetcar system.

    Curitiba's bus system, RIT, continues to lose passengers. Fares are going up, service continues to decline, passengers continue to abandon RIT for private transport. More and more people are driving -- so much so that auto traffic congestion continues to worsen, and even the pittance in bike lane miles that bikers have access to are being overrun with cars. Something's got to give. Just 85 km of bike paths (MUPs) in Curitiba, with just 35 bike lanes/cycletracks -- and the cycletracks don't actually go to places people need to go. This is a city we're supposed to emulate?

    Diagnosis by bus drivers union? Too much pressure on drivers to remain on time.

    Diagnosis by the city council? Too many cars on the streets.

    Diagnosis by riders? Constant overcrowding.

    It's part of why several BRT cities, including Curitiba, are looking to scrap their bus systems in favor of rail systems.

    So it's not just the toxic air created by these diesel monsters -- it's the toxic street environment.

    And the environmental concerns are not just air quality and a toxic street environment -- it's the refuse created by all those cars (tires, lubricants, fuels, parts, etc.).

    And this says nothing of the devastating noise pollution.

    As mentioned, there was so much air pollution in the city that they had to move new industry outside the city center -- to spread the pollution around a bit more evenly. Pretty sordid, the whole thing.

    The South African World Cup showed to the world the disaster that BRT is. The same will be true when Brazil gets to host this next time around. Fun times.

    If it wasn't for the language barrier, the oil & gas industry wouldn't be able to spin so many fairy tales about places like Curitiba and Bogota. I got a plan to help fix that. Stay tuned.

  • Andy Chow

    Compare BRT to slave ships and Nazi trains is just ridiculous. In both the ship and the train situation, people were transported involuntarily and were basically treated like cargo. No one is "forced" to travel by bus, bike, car, or rail, even in undemocratic counties like China.

    Peter, it seems that to you the only "dignified" form of transportation is bicycle, and that part if that "dignity" comes from the fact that bicycles don't cause any pollution. However, for someone who has a long commute in China, they would care less about pollution if they can afford to get there faster with less sweat. BRT (along with rail) is a more environmentally friendly alternative than motorized scooters with two stroke engines.

    Another important note is that buses in China (even regular bus) don't have as many stops as we have in the US, and that riders don't need to make a request to stop (buses stop at every stop). Each stop is well identified and sheltered. So riding the bus in China is actually more comparable with rail, with the benefit of more routes providing direct service but with the trade off of traffic congestion.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Look, BRT, light rail, bicycle, car share, train, subway are all much better trips than using the private car. But arguing against a proven system (remember Guangzhou did this at lightning speed and cut commute times remarkably which great improves the quality of life for people) just makes one look completely silly.

    I don't know what Peter's alternative would be, but take one look at the highway in the before shots in the video certainly is not the way to go - which if you look has tons and tons of buses stuck in traffic. Removing capacity for the private car is a win win. So is BRT.

  • SteveS

    Air pollution is a diesel vs electric issue; it has nothing to do with rail vs. bus, as either can be electric or diesel.

    The main reason to convert from bus to rail is when you have reached ridership levels where you need to carry more than 200 passengers per vehicle, which exceeds the capacity of double-articulated buses and necessitates long multi-car trains. This is also the point where the decreased cost of having one operator carry many passengers begins to outweigh the higher capital cost of the railway and rail vehicles. If you have already built a fully separated ROW for BRT, then you can quite easily convert it to rail when you reach this point.

  • Art

    "Last year the city made major strides to cut carbon emissions and reclaim space for people..."
    Do you have any specifics on what Guangzhou accomplished?

  • Alon Levy

    Peter, I'm not sure which study you're talking about, or why you're transforming "air pollution lower than the standards still kills" into "Curitiba has higher pollution levels than cities of comparable wealth." Curitiba for the record is less polluted than Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Yes, moving industry out was part of the same pollution-reduction program as pedestrianizing streets and shifting road space from cars to buses. So what?

    It's beyond stupid to compare accident rates per vehicle. The reason public transit is a win is that those collision-prone 4 mpg vehicles (both buses and trains) carry scores or hundreds of passengers each. Per passenger, there's at least 1-2 orders of magnitude separating cars' collision death rate from that of any other mode of transportation, except motorcycles.

  • http://www.facebook.com/psmithsf Peter Smith

    No one is "forced" to travel by bus, bike, car, or rail, even in undemocratic counties like China.

    right. nobody is "forced" to do anything, to travel by any particular mode, to work, for instance. in that sense they are completely free -- to starve to death.

    "dignified" transport is any type of transport that allows one to hold onto their dignity -- that's it. that bicycles do not pollute (much) has rather little to do with 'the dignity argument', imo.

    it is very possible, for instance, that commuting by bike is _not_ dignified -- just ask anyone who bikes in the US. since when is getting terrorized by drivers dignified? or scurrying out of the way of cars like a cockroach? or sucking in noxious car and truck and bus and motorcycle fumes?

    it doesn't have to be this way, tho.

    Look, BRT, light rail, bicycle, car share, train, subway are all much better trips than using the private car.

    i disagree. every town that has BRT would be much better off without it.

    But arguing against a proven system

    Proven to do what? Put people in cars? Drive up smog? Run people over? Prevent people from walking and biking?

    at some point we're going to have to stop playing games with statistics and look at the real facts on the ground.

    and this is not a case of George Bush's "My way or the highway" and "You're with us or you're against us" -- we have options -- we, as a society, can determine how we want to use our resources -- our time, our money, our public spaces - including our road space. why couldn't this huge BRT corridor be a huge, dedicated bicycle path -- a 'bicycle highway'? wouldn't that actually make sense if we were concerned about sustainability? and if you just were compelled to have some type of motorized transport, why not implement a Euro-like tram system with 5+-car trainsets that can hold 1,000+ people per train. ROI. BRT is low-investment for very-low-to-negative-ROI. Trams just keep on giving.

    Air pollution is a diesel vs electric issue; it has nothing to do with rail vs. bus, as either can be electric or diesel.

    The BRT folks will never allow overhead wires for buses -- one, because it decreases dependence on fossil fuels, but two, because it actually costs money -- and construction/capital costs are the only advantage BRT has over rail.

    Curitiba has higher pollution levels than cities of comparable wealth.

    you're moving the goal posts -- that's up to you.

    It's beyond stupid to compare accident rates per vehicle.

    the explanation you provided for this claim makes no sense to me. maybe it does to someone else?

  • SteveS

    "The BRT folks will never allow overhead wires for buses"

    I think the several existing electrified BRT systems, such as Quito BRT, the silver line in Boston, the GLT in Nancy and Caen, as well as the future Van Ness BRT in San Francisco, disprove this statement.

  • Brisurban

    Hi there. A comment from Brisbane, Australia where we have busways that look just like the one featured in the video.

    The integration with bicycles and also the smart card is excellent. Network planning and integration is a much overlooked, but absolutely critical part of moving beyond the automobile age. Unfortunately it is an intangible aspect of public transport and thus does not get much attention.

    My question is why didn't they build this as metro rail? As they are building metros elsewhere in this same city, why was this particular corridor more suited to BRT?

    It is understandable that trunk BRT would have been faster and cheaper to build than perhaps rail, but a bus every 10 seconds and hundreds and hundreds of buses each with their own driver doesn't seem to be efficient compared to say a metro operation where the train is automatic, has no driver (and therefore can run at high frequency all day and weekend) and comes every 2-3 minutes. The city featured has huge population and density, and metro systems can go up to 40 000 - 50 000 pphd which would seem like a good match for the land use, density and built form in this area.

    The cost, at least in Australia, to build BRT in Class A right of way (that is, exclusive from traffic) is similar to that of building rail. We have busways that typically cost 150-200 million per kilometre (Boggo Road and Northern Busways), and one that is $465 million for 1 km length (Eastern Busway). This is approximately the same as heavy rail construction.

    Is it the difference in labour economics in developing vs developed countries or the cost of capital that makes operating BRT more favourable than an automated metro system?

    None of this is to say that bus is better than rail, not at all. Both Perth, Australia and Toronto, Canada have BRT feeding rail. However, compared to a metro in this particular case it seems like a rather labour intensive and therefore operationally expensive approach given the very large numbers of people carried in peak hour reaches 26 000 pphd.

    I also feel that the "no need to transfer" is actually a disadvantage from a network planning perspective. No interchange means that you have an extremely complicated network structure with multiple routes all duplicating each other and making people wait for their particular bus rather than just catch the first service that arrives. It is also likely to mean that the bus service out to the branches is also lower frequency than what it would be. People do not have a problem interchanging provided their connecting service is frequent and walking distance is kept within an ideal of 10 metres. The Toronto Transit Commission's subway (Canada) operates on this very principle, with the main subway line carrying ~ 30 000 pphd with room for expansion of this capacity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/psmithsf Peter Smith

    I think the several existing electrified BRT systems, such as Quito BRT, the silver line in Boston, the GLT in Nancy and Caen, as well as the future Van Ness BRT in San Francisco, disprove this statement.

    I stand semi-corrected -- my statement was inexact -- let me be precise:

    The BRT folks will [do everything in their power to prevent] overhead wires for buses -- one, because it decreases dependence on fossil fuels, but two, because it actually costs money -- and construction/capital costs (as opposed to operating costs) are the only advantage BRT has over rail. But even the Oil & Gas Industry is not all-powerful -- as the citizens of Berkeley were able to demonstrate -- so just like in other aspects of life, there will be exceptions to every rule.

    The Quito BRT is not 'electrified' -- it runs mostly on polluting diesel (fossil fuel). Only part of one of three trunk lines is electrified.

    And, I'm guessing that the reason this one Quito line is electrified is the same reason that parts of the GLT lines in Nancy and Caen are electrified -- the electricity-delivering systems (the overhead wires, etc.) were already in place from an existing trolleybus/tram system (so, not much additional capital/construction costs to use them).

    I don't see BRT ever making it into SF -- I'm going to do my best to fight it, with many others -- but if it did manage to invade our fair city, it would, in fact, be slightly less horrific if it were electrified (as many of SF's buses already are). Noise reduction potential of electrified/trolleybus systems cannot be underestimated. You can live _right next to_ a bus line on an uphill, and if it's electrified, you might not even be able to hear the bus climbing -- just the whir of the electric motors -- they're not completely silent, but they're orders of magnitude better than regular buses.

    And the Quito trolley/electrified line is -- surprise -- at capacity, so Quito is looking to replace it with a tram -- an astoundingly-expensive and disruptive operation that will probably never happen (as it well-known by the Oil & Gas Lobby).

    SF Streetsblog did a post on Quito and biking and buses -- check out the pics of the horrendous-looking bus-y streetscape, and note how cyclists are forced to 'steal' space away from those buses on occasion -- for the brave, only. This is a simple matter of priorities -- do you want to allow people to bike, or do you want to force them onto a bus -- the choice is largely up to us.

    I rode the partially-electrified Silver Line ("Silver Lie") in Boston -- I forgot about that -- disaster. Honestly, it was comical -- watching the driver stop the bus and get out of our bumpy ride and physically remove the trolley poles of the bus from the overhead wires. The bus was so tight and cramped and crowded, too -- glad I didn't have big luggage bags like a lot of the other passengers.

    As for those wacky GLT bus/trams, well, they've got serious problems -- I thought they were all discontinued by now, but I might be confusing that with some other wacky hybrid train/bus technology:


    Having to repave the streets, just like the LA Orange Line, bumpy/uncomfortable rides, breakdowns, etc. Just a total disaster through and through.

    Like my old engineering prof used to say:

    "People are going to screw up, and do all sorts of horrible things (which will result in people suffering and dying) -- just don't let it be you."

    It was good advice, I think.

  • Andy Chow

    The reason that cities like Guangzhou that are building rail also improve bus at the same time is because commuters want buses. Some planners and people like Peter Smith may have a different idea as to people ought to commute on transit, but many people choose buses for the convenience of no transfer, on street/curb side stops, and lower fares. Cities in China have separate rail and bus companies with independent finance, so fares for a trip that require multiple transfers (bus/rail/bus) would likely to exceed a fare on a single trip on a bus. Rail in China isn't completely subsidized by government, so building more rail would require a lot of new developments that can have a lot of impact on old (really old) neighborhoods and farm lands.

    People like Peter Smith would rather want to eliminate buses on Market Street and Mission Street in San Francisco because they duplicate rail, but that would actually make the bus commute less "dignified." Other than the unfounded conspiracy theory of oil lobby, the only accept way to improve transit is to spend several hundred millions if not a few billions that we don't have to build rail.

  • Brisurban

    So basically Guangzhou has separate fares for separate vehicles, is that right? They have integrated ticketing but not integrated fares?

    Regarding network structure- The convenience of 'no transfer' is highly debatable. On a system with low volumes/frequency it might be justified to run under the direct service model. However eliminating transfers makes the system very complicated, precludes the gain of efficiencies from using a larger vehicle with less labour, and usually has lower frequency on the suburban branches and makes people wait for their particular bus rather than catch the first service going past.

    In Brisbane, you can sit at the main busway stop with a bus going past roughly every minute or so. But you can wait there for up to half an hour to one hour for "your" bus because all the other buses go down the busway and then branch elsewhere and your destination is off-busway. In a feeder-transfer model you'd just catch the first service that goes by and transfer out at the appropriate station to a more frequent feeder.

    80% of the people who use our busway system do not ever set foot into a busway station- they come from boring bus stops in the suburbs where buses fan off the busway into into the suburbs as low-frequency routes. A direct service model is going to leave those people waiting at bus stops in the suburbs for lower frequency services.

    Human Transit: Why Transferring is good for you and good for your city

    In a system designed around transfer, you can have adequate frequency (5-3 min) on the main trunk line served by large vehicles (i.e. Bogota-bus or Toronto-rail) and then because the bus route is now shorter, turn those buses back to where they came from in the suburbs, increasing the frequency dramatically on the suburban sections and substantially reducing waiting time at bus stops in the suburbs.

    Interchange is only an major issue in systems where the connecting service facilities are poor, the fares and ticketing are not integrated well, and the connecting service's frequency is unreliable or infrequent.

  • Anonymous

    The reason that cities like Guangzhou that are building rail also improve bus at the same time is because commuters want buses.

    This statement is either false, or misleading, or meaningless, or terrible, or some combination thereof.

    Robert Moses used the same logic to bulldoze poor/black communities all over America. "Commuters want cars" was the refrain.

    but many people choose buses for the convenience of no transfer, on street/curb side stops, and lower fares.

    To the extent that people actually do have a choice in how they move around, they of course take many things into account -- it's up to us, who claim to care about transportation (and sustainability, and human rights, etc.), to make sure people have freedom of movement, have access to dignified transportation, have access to affordable and sustainable transportation, etc.

    So if, for instance, most people in America get around by car, we have to ask some basic questions, like, do these people actually even have a choice, or do they just really love to drive everywhere?

    This same argument applies to buses/BRT in Guangzhou, cars/highways in Detroit, boats/canals in Venice, etc. Do the people of these towns love to bus, drive, and boat, or do they have no other choice?

    Assuming we can shift policy/spending to a point where people actually do have a choice as to how they can get around, then we can talk about incentives and disincentives and carrots and sticks and trade-offs and convenience and transfers and at-grade travel and affordability, etc.

    People like Peter Smith would rather want to eliminate buses on Market Street and Mission Street in San Francisco because they duplicate rail

    i would like to make walking and biking in/around Market and Mission Streets in SF safe/comfortable/convenient/dignified, yes -- that's required and we have to and will do it -- whether that could happen while we still allow non-tracked motor vehicles like cars/trucks/buses to plow through the area, I'm not sure. Obviously, if these vehicles cannot learn to play nicely, they're going to have to go.

    I don't know much about the 'duplication of transport services' debate, but my personal feeling is that it's of secondary/tertiary/minimal importance.

    Other than the unfounded conspiracy theory of oil lobby

    at least one of the leading BRT proponent organizations, WRI/EMBARQ/TheCityFix.com, lists the following corporations as 'strategic relationship' donors -- it's up to you to decide whether or not you believe that corporations work together to achieve their policy goals:


    Alcoa Foundation
    BP and BP Foundation
    Caterpillar Foundation
    Citi Foundation
    NewPage Corporation
    SC Johnson
    Shell International and Shell Foundation
    Toyota Motor North America
    UPS and UPS Foundation
    Wal-Mart Stores

    The complete donor list goes on to include a veritable Who's Who of the Fortune 500, including some of the largest auto/bus/truck/fleet/transportation, energy and energy trading, chemical/rubber/industrial, and worst retailing and polluting companies in the world.

    I don't 'blame' these organizations/institutes/think tanks/propaganda mills and corporations -- they're only doing what they were set up to do -- but it's up to us to decide whether or not we should continue to allow them to do what they were set up to do. People should have rights -- corporations should have responsibilities.

    the only accept way to improve transit is to spend several hundred millions if not a few billions that we don't have to build rail.

    i'd prefer we spend our money as efficiently/wisely as possible by allowing people to walk and bike. so, don't spend tremendous amounts of money on a technology which only serves to make people more car-dependent (BRT) -- instead, spend a pittance and give people their dignity back -- free them from car-dependence, and achieve your transportation/sustainability/livability goals at the same time. if you _do_ decide to build motorized transport, then spend your money on a mode of transport which is proven to be able to compete with private auto travel as a desirable mode of transport -- rail.

    practically-speaking, how would this work? easy -- see those gargantuan bus-only lanes in Guangzhou? just take the buses off them and make them bike-only lanes -- we'll probably have to use a lot of the space for bicycle parking, which is fine, because bikes are so small and efficient. watch the quality of life for millions of Guangzhou citizens vastly improved virtually overnight. watch the 'headache-gray skies' of the city start to clear up just a bit. this is another possible future which does not include Bus Rapid Transit, but Bike Rapid Transit -- it's a much better future:


  • Brisurban

    BRT can work, and I am not philosophically opposed to it. BRT has worked at improving transport in Ottawa and Brisbane and other places. BRT along with LRT and RRT are just tools to do a job. BRT can be useful in its own right or feeding to other modes. But in cases where you have to move greater than 20 000 pphd it might be better and more efficiently done as a rail metro except where the cost of labour and capital favour BRT operation.

    I am very impressed with the cycling used to feed the BRT stations and the card you can use on the bus and the bicycle. That's a fantastic innovation that many cities could learn from- get different modes working together as a whole. You can't put rail or bus up every street, but you can put a bike on most streets.

  • Andy Chow

    Re: Peter Smith - People make their transportation choices based on where they live, where they work (in which job availability, paid, etc are primary factors), and what option is affordable and reasonable (speed, comfort, security, etc). I disagree with the idea that it would be better off if a bikeway were to replace a busway. I also disagree with the idea that rail would somehow make someone less car dependent than a high quality bus service.

    In most transit dependent communities buses are heavily used. Buses are generally more friendly to senior/disabled riders and cheaper to ride. Unfortunately with a new rail line opening is that bus service would have to be adjusted. Many riders would have to transfer (and possibly pay higher fares) as a result.

    To travel from the Visitacion Valley to Downtown SF, Muni 8X bus is faster than the T-Third. Many of the 8X buses are packed, not the T-Third. If people were to value rail that much more so as you suggest, wouldn't this be the other way around, as many planners and politicians assume?

    As to their grey skies, most of the pollution are generated from non-mobile sources including coal fired power plants and factories (due to less stringent regulations), automobiles that are not as clean as ours (you cannot buy cars in China and bring it here, even if it were the same model, just because the cars that are sold there aren't built to meet our emission standards). Bus emissions are relatively small, and can be better regulated than automobiles and factories.

    I have nothing against bikes but I am against pitting biking against transit, or somehow that if everyone bikes then there's no need for transit. Bikes have range and weather limitations, and that not everyone is physically fit or possible to ride a bike. High quality transit helps encourage bike use because most people can comfortably ride a bike between their destination and transit stop. If transit doesn't exist, they would rather drive because biking there takes too long.

  • http://twitter.com/benjiedlp Benjamin de la Pena

    er. so what are Peter Smith's transport chops, again?

  • http://paragonit.net/ Tow Truck San Francisco

     Very nice post by authour on Guangzhou  China Winning The Future With BRT

  • Enoch J.K

    Where traffic congestion is a real time problem in cities, the cheapest initial option is to consider a BRT system. Carefully designed as a function of demand, it meets the expectation of the general population of all physical conditons. It increases mobility in the city,and stimulates economic activities. Congratulations Guangzhou.

  • Riaan Perold

    The adaptability of this system, being open, improves the multi-modal function significantly. Buses operates as  collector -distribution PT mode outside the dedicated lanes AND as a line haul (High capacity) system on the busway section. This way it can, to a degree, operate in competition with the usual minibus-taxis you find in many cities. these can where appropriate replace high numbers of taxis where the taxis are becoming too many, causing chaos. 

    This must contribute to its proven success! 

  • GO

    Curious to know what is your ideal existing city of say 5 to 15 million people from a transport point of view?