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Aram Boghosian via Boston Globe

Why Not Go for Gold in Boston?

Over the last year, Barr has sponsored a study group of Boston transportation, development, and community leaders to explore whether Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) could be viable here.

In rapidly-developing cities around the world, there has been a surprising entrant in the quest to transform public transportation. From Bogota, Colombia, to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Guangzhou, China, riders are going further, faster, and more frequently than ever before on something we thought we knew, but have never known quite like this – a bus.

More aptly described as a "trackless train" or "train on wheels," Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is increasingly being looked at as a faster, better, cheaper, and more flexible alternative to rail. In January, I wrote about a learning tour to Mexico City to get a first-hand look at their amazing "Metro-Bus" system. That trip was coordinated by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), which provides technical assistance to cities considering BRT. Given its depth of experience, ITDP also developed a BRT Standard, identifying what constitutes Gold, Silver, and Bronze-rated BRT systems. Last month, we added Barr's name to the list of institutional endorsers of this new standard.

One of the challenges of BRT is that many transit systems use the BRT term to promote service that doesn't really qualify as true BRT. In fact, there is no Gold-rated system in all of the United States. The best BRT system in the country right now is the silver-rated Healthline in Cleveland.

Over the last year, Barr has sponsored ITDP to work with a study group of Boston transportation, development, and community leaders to explore whether BRT could be viable here. It is a complex question. To fully answer it, the study group is now gathering input from throughout the city to inform ITDP's technical analysis. Later this year, they expect to put these pieces together into a recommendation to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Yet, here's the teaser: BRT looks promising; it looks like a net positive for Boston; and, it warrants serious consideration as Boston embarks on a long-term mobility visioning process next year.

And if we go for BRT, why shouldn't Boston go for gold?

Read about ITDP's BRT Standard

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Mary Skelton Roberts

Mary Skelton Roberts

Co-Director of Climate