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Old June 24th, 2005, 08:01 AM   #1
hkskyline
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Las Vegas Bus Rapid Transit

The Houston Chronicle
June 19, 2005
'Rubber tire rail service' a hit in Vegas
By Kim Cobb

LAS VEGAS -- When "MAX" pulls into one of its curbside stations, its wheels are practically invisible.

It's sleek, relatively quiet, and is propelled by a diesel-electric hybrid motor that doesn't belch black smoke. Passengers buy tickets from a vending machine and get on and off through four wide doors quickly without having to step up.

MAX looks like a train, and that's no accident.

Las Vegas is one of a growing number of American communities embracing what transportation wonks call "bus rapid transit." It's a hybrid system that combines the flexibility and lower cost of bus travel with speed similar to train service. Another appealing aspect: The Federal Transportation Administration will provide start-up funds for bus rapid transit in an era when it questions the high cost of building rail.

Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority announced last week that it plans to run BRT on four routes voters approved for light rail in a November 2003 referendum. Metro plans to lay rails on dedicated rights of way on the North, Southeast, Harrisburg and Uptown routes. But the agency will pave the rails over and run something like Las Vegas' MAX vehicles in those corridors until the ridership is high enough to justify converting to light rail like the line that runs on Main Street.

In announcing the plan last week, Metro officials indicated that it was part of a deal with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and others to unlock federal transit funding that has been unavailable to Houston.

The plan to substitute buses -- however high-tech and sleek -- for rail has not sat well with some black and Hispanic communities that were scheduled for rail lines. Leaders in those communities argue that they helped pass the 2003 referendum, voting for the plan in far greater proportions than whites, because they expected rail lines.

This sentiment could cause political headaches for Metro and Mayor Bill White, a major cheerleader for the new plan.

Part of his and Metro's argument is that the technology in a BRT vehicle is different than with a traditional bus, frequently using a hybrid power source. Metro hasn't settled on a vehicle for its proposed system, but officials have indicated a preference for a hybrid diesel-electric engine to cut down on noise and emissions; automatic guidance systems; and synchronization with traffic signals to cut down on delays at red lights.

Some systems use real-time tracking technology to keep the vehicles on schedule, and message signs at stations to inform riders when the next bus will arrive.

They frequently run on their own rights of way so they aren't slowed by vehicle traffic, and have rail-like stations instead of bus stops.

But transit officials say image, not technology, is what sells BRT. Las Vegas transit officials repeat the industry mantra that people view buses as a second-class alternative, but find rail glamorous.

"We refer to it as rubber tire rail service," said June DeVoll, transit operations administrator for the Regional Transit Commission of Southern Nevada.

"The B-word (bus) should not be in here anywhere," she said, flipping through a stack of marketing material for MAX -- which stands for Metropolitan Area Express.

"If it looks like a rail, and acts like a rail, what difference does it make if it has rubber tires?' DeVoll asked.

Metro officials in Houston have said almost the same thing, though they are quick to contrast the Houston plan with the one in Las Vegas, which runs in special traffic lanes shared with cars. Metro's BRT would run in separate guideways that officials say would be identical to the one used by the Main Street light rail. Despite much-publicized crashes with cars attempting to cross tracks illegally, MetroRail generally does not share lanes with vehicles.

"That's a huge difference," said Metro president and CEO Frank Wilson.

The separate corridors may be key to Metro closing the deal, said Cliff Henke, senior director at Weststart-Calstart, a nonprofit organization that promotes advanced transportation technology.

A more stylized vehicle is important to reinforce that BRT is different, he said.

"But what really changes is frequency, reliability and speed of travel," Henke said. "That's really, no pun intended, where the rubber meets the road.

"If you're on a sexy bus and it's still slow and unreliable, that's not very helpful," Henke said.

On a recent weekday afternoon, MAX rider Mike Tamblyn, 38, was headed to work. He used to ride the old local bus along the same route to the downtown transit center, but says the service on MAX is much better.

"It's real quick. I can be home from work within an hour," Tamblyn said, adding that's half the time it took him on a traditional bus.

"Watch how quick this stop is," Tamblyn said as the MAX bus eased into the station. "There could be 15 people on the platform and they'd be on in no time."

A woman in a motorized cart was waiting at the station. The handicap ramp lowered in about 10 seconds, she rolled aboard, the driver helped her buckle in and the bus cleared the station in about a minute.

Bus driver Sigifredo Villa said he usually stops for about 30 seconds at each station. Because people buy their tickets from a vending machine, and are not required to show them when they board, they don't have to queue up at a fare box.

"We don't have to wait for people to dig for change," Villa said.

MAX is powered by a hybrid engine that automatically switches between electric and diesel. The buses include an automatic system that reads lines painted on the roadway to guide the vehicles as close as possible to the curb at stations built almost a foot off the ground. This allows passengers to enter the bus at the platform level, without stepping up.

Metro boss Wilson says the Houston agency is planning to use an optical or magnetic guiding system for its BRT.

The optical guidance system has been a troublesome gadget in Las Vegas.

The stripes painted on the roadway to guide MAX fade quickly on the asphalt mix commonly used in the city. Because other vehicles use the dedicated MAX lane to make right turns, the dirt and oil they deposit on the guidance lines quickly makes them unreadable.

The system cost an extra $ 90,000 per bus, and the Regional Transit Commissionwon't include it in future purchases of MAX vehicles.

But the myopic guidance system appears to be the transit agency's only complaint.

The first MAX line, running 7.8 miles along a commercial/residential section of Las Vegas Boulevard, is popular with riders. MAX runs in its own dedicated lane for 5.5 miles, and in mixed traffic for 2.3 miles.

Surveys show travel time has been reduced by over 40 percent for passengers, and ridership is up 30 percent in the corridor, which also is served by traditional local bus service. The transit agency's surveys show that 10 percent of current MAX riders were driving their cars before MAX service began.

"We've proved we could do what we said we could do," DeVoll said. The Federal Transit Administration has included the Las Vegas line on its list of BRT demonstration projects, aimed at providing a baseline for study by transit agencies.

The southern Nevada agency is making plans to build another MAX line in the southwest section of town, hoping to lure people out of their cars and onto MAX, thereby cutting down on traffic congestion.

As in Houston, the transit agency is struggling to draw people out of their cars, off congested highways and onto mass transit.

Sandy Smith, 60, is the kind of Las Vegas resident local transit officials are trying to attract. A state employee, he had been driving his minivan to work downtown until the transmission went out.

He used to ride the old local bus on the same route, so he noticed immediately that riding MAX took half the time of a traditional bus. He's convinced that the long stretch of dedicated lane is what makes the difference.

But once the van comes out of the shop, Smith will wave goodbye to MAX.

"I'll drive," Smith said, adding a sentiment also common in Houston: "I like the convenience of my own private transportation."

Rad Sallee contributed to this report from Houston

RESOURCES HOUSTON AND VEGAS:

The bus rapid transit system proposed for Houston has some similarities to the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) system operating in Las Vegas, as well a key difference that Metro officials say is crucial.

How they're alike

-- Vehicles: Run on rubber tires, but look more like trains with multiple doors and tickets purchased in advance.

-- Boarding: Passengers board from raised platforms level with the floor of the vehicle.

-- Navigation: Vehicles have drivers, but are partly guided by sensors on the vehicles and their paths.

How they're different

-- MAX: Shares its entire eight-mile route with some other traffic, though in most of the route cars may only enter the bus lane for right turns.

-- Metro: BRT vehicles would run in dedicated corridors like the one on the Main Street light rail line. Other vehicles could cross the corridor at designated places but would not run in the same lanes. Train track would be built into the corridors for use later when Metro believes ridership will justify conversion to light rail.
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Old June 24th, 2005, 08:27 AM   #2
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Does queetz post on SSC?
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Old June 24th, 2005, 03:30 PM   #3
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What kind of vehicles is the Houston system going to be using?
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Old June 26th, 2005, 08:13 PM   #4
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From www.Maxride.com











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Old June 26th, 2005, 08:48 PM   #5
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We already had an extensive discussion about the Irisbus Civis in this thread. For those interested...

http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=206821

Just for convenience, I'm going to post my initial question on this thread for all to see...

I'm not sure how effective the docking mechanism of the Civis guided bus is, especially compared to those pics above and pics from daily operations.

Look how close the Civis is to the platform on the marketing pics but not too close when compared with everyday usage (I found photos of it from Skyscraperpage Gallery by Efren Aquino).

Marketing Pic

Normal Pic


Marketing Pic

Normal Pic


Notice the bus driver is still steering the vehicle even though it is suppose to be self docking.





Also, note how easily the painted lines of the Civis fades. To think this was from a desert city where there isn't really that much rain or snow to make the lines fade so much....





Is Civis really that successful as a BRT vehicle? Other than Las Vegas and a couple of French cities, I've never seen other cities use it or consider it seriously.
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Old June 26th, 2005, 10:07 PM   #6
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The advantage of BRT for politicians and corporate execs is that you can also make BRT sound successful because the definition is so vague. Is the Civis successful? In some ways, yes - it certainly is a great step forward for busses. Not necessarily as successful as a tram or light rail, but as a bus it is highly successful.

I think part of the issue is that they are trying to make it too much like a tram or light rail, and since they don't get what it is that people hose other forms, they try and talk up all this stuff like automated guidance and close docking. Really, what difference does the sutomated guidance do for the rider? Since it is not mechanically guided, the movements are still just like a bus, not a tram. The optical guidance really doesn't mean much. Same with the step. Most light rails you have to step up into anyway. The docking feature is just another one of those things that they hype because they don't know any better that it doesn't really make a difference.

What DOES make a difference, and what Busses in general need to focus on, is more comfortable, easy to board and get off, easy to recognize and find stations with fewer stops, and a smooth ride.

What diferentiates true BRT from something like the Civis, is: a tram-like ride (all moving axels), no tilt forth and back from aceeleration/decelleration, smooth flow, no traffic hangups, a vissible course, quick boarding, and a smooth but firm ride. It also needs to be rather quiet and not have the humming vibration of a normal diesel motor.
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Old June 27th, 2005, 12:41 AM   #7
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^ Umm...I don't think all axles move like a bogey on an LRV and I don't think it offers tram like ride. And note that the Irisbus Civis is just a guided version of the Irisbus Chrysalis, which really is just a bus. The only think that makes the Civis look like a train is the fact that in France, some of the buses just happen to look like trains. But I would also like to point out that some recreational vehicles from the 1990s (e.g. small Winnebagoes, Triple E Empress and Commanders) also look like the Civis so the design isn't exactly new and futuristic. Is the Irisbus Civis successful? I hope not! The last thing we want is more buses and less LRTs in our cities.

I think the sinister plot here is exactly what the Las Vegas transit authority is doing....selling a bus by pretending it is a train. This is not surprising coming from a city who make their living by selling illusion to its tourists as seen by those mega hotels in The Strip. The thing is commuters aren't that stupid so it is not easy to say a bus is a tram when one would look at it closely. The steering wheel and the absence of physical metal tracks in the road are dead giveaways.
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Old June 27th, 2005, 04:22 AM   #8
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That's my point. The Civis is NOT BRT. It does not have a precise path. It does not steer or ride like a tram. It has no right of way. Yeah, there is a line that is bus only. That is not a full fledged right of way. In Boston they have bus only paths. That has had very little effect on people parking in or using those lanes.

The TVR and GBT are BRT vehicles. They follow a guide rail. They have a dedicated path. I am not saying they are still the same as LRV, but it at least is a step closer.

And that is where BRT is so great for the politicians. Promise something like a tram on tires. Get a bus. It's not the same, but they call it the same.
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Old June 27th, 2005, 05:03 AM   #9
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For me this is just a bus in a tram-like design. The bending busses in Europe are almost as long as this one and are also easy to board and get off while the Light Rail systems can carry more people.
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Old June 27th, 2005, 08:54 AM   #10
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looks pretty cool
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Old June 27th, 2005, 11:32 AM   #11
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It's just another sign o' the times.


The government and corporations lacking the balls to implement some sort of real mass transit. Either because their cheap or the city is too car-centric.
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Old June 28th, 2005, 06:10 AM   #12
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The substitution of a busway for light rail is symptomatic of the downward spiral of compromises that often go into the design of transit systems. First, a decision is made that the system does not need to be entirely grade-separated. In order to save cost, the system is designed to operate in the median of downtown streets. The speed is restricted by the speed of motor vehicle traffic in the adjacent traffic lanes. The length of the trains is restricted by the distance between cross streets. The final step is the determination that a busway can provide similar speed and capacity at a lower cost. If no compromise is made regarding grade-separation, then a busway is not a competitor.
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Old June 28th, 2005, 07:17 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nikko
It's just another sign o' the times.


The government and corporations lacking the balls to implement some sort of real mass transit. Either because their cheap or the city is too car-centric.
I agree. They should just build a railway.
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Old November 2nd, 2005, 11:13 AM   #14
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Las Vegas Double Decker Bus

It's THE DEUCE BUS!!
CAT, the las vegas bus company, brought 50 of these double decker buses from the UK. They were lauched on last Thursday, and at the moment, it serves mainly in the strip with some 70+ stops. Today, I spent some time from my lunch hour taking some pics of them, so here they are:

















Though I don't have the chance to take a ride yet...
A day pass only cost $5 and one trip is $2
In Hong Kong, we have the same bus model called the Enviro 500 or the Super Bus:



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Old November 2nd, 2005, 11:36 AM   #15
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very nice!I like Double Decker Bus!
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Old November 2nd, 2005, 01:39 PM   #16
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Now it's not just Dennis Tridents that have made it to North America, but also Enviros!
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Old November 3rd, 2005, 03:26 AM   #17
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cool
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Old November 3rd, 2005, 03:33 AM   #18
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Nice buses!
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Old November 3rd, 2005, 03:55 AM   #19
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what are the stops for the bus? nice to see another form of transportation for tourists. if only there was an open deck so people could take pictures.
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Old November 3rd, 2005, 04:02 AM   #20
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There's a picture of the map and stops too
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