Critique of the ITDP’s BRT Scorecard

This is the third and final post in a series (directly) based off of a term paper for a transportation class (full paper here, Red Line evaluation here and Campus Connector evaluation here).

Here the ITDP (Institute for Trasportation and Development Policy) Scorecard, used in the other posts to evaluate BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) service, will itself be evaluated. The scorecard is in its early phases of development, being in only its second version, and BRT is an emerging technology, still being adapted to various needs. The scorecard states goals of evaluating the service provided by a transit agency, not the usage of the system, nor the corridor in which the BRT system is located.  This proves to be a very difficult goal to live up to.

BRT Basics BRT Basics is the best full section on the scorecard.  Dedicated Right of Way, Alignment, Level Boarding, Off Board Fare Collection and Intersection Treatments are the elements that make up the section on the scorecard. Research has been done, was found and can be easily applied to every element of the section except Alignment.

Dedicated Right of Way is a measure of how much of the corridor/bus line’s route has dedicated space for buses, with a calculation of the percentage of a corridor inside bus only lanes and its relation to traffic patterns (not congested freeway is ignored).  Research has shown that bus only shoulder lanes help speed up transit service, but more importantly they allow transit to remain on schedule.  These are two big issues with transit use on long, high volume routes, the ideal candidates for BRT. However, Bus Only Shoulders and HOT lanes are not included as earning any points, these achieve the goals of dedicated lanes to an extant and should be scored as such.

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Level boarding (at the Mall of America station)

Platform Level Boarding  and Off Board Fare Collection allow for the buses to act like the light rail as it approaches a station. Level boarding is responsible for close to a second per passenger in improved boarding times, and more for those with disabilities, Off Board Fare Collection eliminates station dwell time waiting for passengers to show tickets or pay on board, further improving service performance. However, Platform Level Boarding is currently evaluated on the planning and technologies in place to reduce gaps, but there is a deduction at the end of the scorecard for significant gaps if level boarding is part of the system. To simplify the scorecard, Platform Level Boarding should be evaluated based only on performance of the system instead of earned for planning and deducted for a lack of effectiveness.

Intersection Treatments evaluates how buses are treated in the corridor, allowing free access or speeding up service. This is what is being installed by MetroTransit in their Arterial BRT systems (aBRT). The scorecard highly addresses preventing turns in front of transit to increase speeds on the BRT.  This element was very narrow in its definition, as research has found that unless five percent of turning motions cross the busway there is no significant reduction in speeds. Therefore this should be rewritten to address major intersections and not all intersections.

Overall BRT Basics does a good job defining what a BRT system is, and what elements are crucial to the system actually being comparable in user experience to a rail service.

From the Red Line and the Campus Connector

The ITDP Scorecard has many redundancies, and several elements that go against the organization’s stated goal to evaluate BRT services based on their service and not the city of the corridor in which they are located. The scorecard also does not leave enough flexibility for planners, some elements should not apply or should be altered to allow for planning to the target audience/ridership instead of to a scorecard.

Peak Hour Frequency is an element on the scorecard which needs to be more flexible. The peak hour is not separated from what would be considered rush hour, however in several developed countries transit is used by the working class to access off hour jobs. With the Red Line going to the Mall of America and not downtown, it likely carries more commuting clerks, security guards and custodians than accountants, lawyers, or engineers.  Allowing an easier adjustment in the definition of the peak hour would be a benefit for the target audience and heaviest users of the service.

Location in Top Ten Corridors and a deduction for low ridership directly contradict the ITDP’s stated goal of their scorecard. To provide an evaluation of BRT service, despite the city or corridor it is located. These portions of the scorecard are important to keep in mind as one is doing the planning for a BRT, but in an evaluation of the service provided they have no place.

Multi-Corridor Network and Branding are two elements on the scorecard which need more flexibility as well. Both pertain only to other BRT services in their description, with the branding on a BRT needing to match that of other BRTs in the region. These need to be expanded and merged with Integration with Other Public Transport to ensure that integrating the BRT with light rail, or heavy rail would be appropriate. This came from the fact that the Red Line is branded as METRO but there are not other BRTs in the METRO’s existing network.

Cedar Grove Sliding Doors

Sliding doors off the platform, but still in the station

As noted in the Red Line BRT Ratings and Critiques, some elements need more direction as to their purpose and when points should be awarded, specifically Sliding Doors. This element requires that sliding doors be in all stations, but doesn’t specify where. By making it such that sliding doors should provide access to the bus doors while preventing access to the pavement, sliding doors far back on the platform such as at Cedar Grove Transit Station, would not be counted.

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The pedestrian improvement also allows for people with disabilities and bicyclists to reach the other side of the street.

Finally there are many different elements for different types of access to a station. There are points for Universal Access, Pedestrian Access, Secure Bicycle Parking, Bicycle Lanes, and Bicycle-Sharing Integration. These elements can be combined into a larger element of accessibility, with points for ramps and elevators when elevation changes are needed, braille, bicycles on vehicles, secure bike parking at stations, and a lack of major man made barriers to pedestrians or bicyclists in station areas. This would not only simplify the scorecard, but ensure that the improvements that make the largest difference (pedestrian-ramps, nearby crosswalks and bike friendly surroundings) are given the greatest weight instead of cut up into smaller elements.

In Conclusion

While the ITDP Scorecard does a good job of defining what makes a BRT service, it has work to do in reaching its goal of providing an evaluation based on the service of the BRT and not the demand the corridor justifies. The scorecard can be cleaned up and better defined, and should allow for more local flexibility in designing a system that best serves its target population.

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* Sources are cited in the paper’s bibliography only, due to lack of hard numbers used in this post

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5 Responses to Critique of the ITDP’s BRT Scorecard

  1. Matt Steele April 15, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    Regarding that photo caption of the AVTS, more reason why we need to stop using loaded language such as “improvement.” Is a skyway really an improvement? On its own, probably. But a skyway built over a stroad that was expanded from four lanes to eight? Not sure about that one.

    #redlinesucks

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten April 15, 2014 at 11:01 am #

      It’s a better improvement than at 140th and 147th… where they put up fences in the median to prevent any pedestrian from moving across the road.

      Was it just a four lane road before?

      • Matt Steele April 15, 2014 at 11:12 am #

        It was four lanes south of 153rd (excluding medians/LTLs/RTLs). Still nearly impossible to cross.

        The fact remains that Cedar Ave is wholly inhospitable to transit no matter how much we spend on skyways.

        • Joseph Totten
          Joseph Totten April 15, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

          Undoubtedly so, the surrounding land uses were not transit oriented or pedestrian, or bike oriented in the slightest. The Red Line will not be a practical solution for any transportation project in this corridor for several years (decades or more).

          Transit in such a surrounding will always be viewed as an inferior good, and while the Red Line might succeed in hitting expectations, it is unlikely to become a cost effective option for the government. Previous comments on Red Line posts summed it up as a transit project done bare bones with the remainder of the money spent on road expansion.

  2. Tucan April 16, 2014 at 3:10 am #

    I like pretty picture makes article visual with much gusto. Very bus.

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