Celebrating impact and reflecting on lessons from a ten-year initiative to improve the bus experience.

About the Initiative

The Barr Foundation led BostonBRT, a 10 year, $11 million initiative to accelerate progress in creating a fast and reliable bus system for Greater Boston – drawing inspiration from the best bus rapid transit systems in the world.

BostonBRT began by exploring the potential of Gold Standard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to provide bus riders the experience they deserve.

In Boston, as in most other US cities, bus riders lack access to best-in-class bus features that are standard in many other countries – such as dedicated lanes to take buses out of traffic, covered stations to keep waiting riders comfortable in all types of weather, and pre-pay technology that makes boarding fast and easy.

Riding the bus in Greater Boston has typically been slow and unreliable – with communities of color experiencing the worst service. Research has shown that over the course of one year, Black bus riders spent, on average, 64 more hours traveling than white bus riders.

Over 10 years, the Barr Foundation convened government and community leaders, technical experts, artists and designers, and advocates to collaborate in new ways in support of bus riders, pointing to Gold Standard BRT as an example of what exceptional bus service could be.

These efforts spanned the technical to the creative – from envisioning a region-wide BRT network to piloting improvements at individual bus stops, from launching new bus lanes to inviting riders to demonstrate “beauty and the bus” through photos and art.

BostonBRT was equal parts storytelling, engineering, and urban planning. Every aspect was centered on improving bus riders’ experience and infused with joy.

Visit the subpages linked below to find more detail on each phase of the BostonBRT Initiative.


While much work remains to make our region’s buses fast and convenient for all, BostonBRT became part of an ongoing movement, led by dozens of partners, that has contributed to changes in public perception of what bus service could be and meaningful improvements riders are experiencing now.

While much work remains to make our region’s buses fast and convenient for all, BostonBRT became part of an ongoing movement, led by dozens of partners, that has contributed to changes in public perception of what bus service could be and meaningful improvements riders are experiencing now.

We’ve seen a groundswell of change over 10 years:

42.8 Miles of Dedicated Bus Lanes

In 2015, there were a little under 3 lane-miles of bus lanes in the T service area. Eight years later, there are 42.8 lane-miles of bus lanes in the T service area.

13 Staff at the MBTA

A new team formed at the MBTA, a "Bus Modernization Team", dedicated to making the bus faster and more efficient. The team grew from three people to 13 staff members in five years.

950+ Stories about BRT

There were over 950 media mentions of “bus rapid transit” in Massachusetts from 2017-2023, compared to 12 mentions from 2013-2016.

7 Communities Implemented Bus Improvements

At the onset of the initiative, one community in the region had dedicated bus lanes. Ten years later, seven communities in the region piloted or implemented dedicated lanes, level-platform boarding, signal priority, and other bus improvements.

600+ Photos and Videos Shared by Riders

There were 600 photos submitted to BostonBRT’s “"Beauty and the Bus" campaign, capturing beauty in the rider experience.

Colorful graphic with five icons representing elements of Bus Rapid Transit.

Tools for Change

Strengths of the BostonBRT initiative included collaboration, creativity, and engaging people in new ways. Over the decade, the BostonBRT team shifted its approaches to move towards its goals, and sometimes, did so unexpectedly. We learned as we went, and continued to adapt to what our partners needed. It was a humbling process. That said, five approaches were nearly omnipresent throughout our work.

five approaches were nearly omnipresent throughout our work

  1. 1

    Leading with Joy

    A rider’s experience of the bus system is about much more than the time it takes to get from point A to B. BostonBRT didn’t just focus on the technical elements to make trips faster, it provided elements to support people feeling comfortable and happy. We encouraged riders to find beauty in their daily commute through a digital photo and video contest; we partnered with local artists to transform bus shelters into “a beautiful place to wait” by covering them in flowers and murals; and we ensured all of our own materials – from the reports to the pro-bus “swag” we created along the way – were compelling and inspiring.

  2. 2

    Providing an Experience

    It is one thing to read a report or see a visual of what the future could look like, but it is another thing to actually experience the change. BostonBRT took more than 60 people on study tours to ride BRT, and hear from the leaders who implemented it, as well as supported more than a half-dozen pilot projects for local bus riders to feel what a speedier bus trip is like. These strategies complemented technical reports and briefing documents, but stood out as elements that changed hearts and minds about what the bus could be.

  3. 3

    Amplifying Growing Support for Buses Through Media

    Over the course of 10 years, BostonBRT fostered relationships with reporters interested in transportation and other related topics to ensure buses remained central to the public conversation. With each new project step -- whether piloting bus improvements, partnering with creatives, or collecting data – BostonBRT thought carefully about how we could include media to generate attention and healthy public pressure for better transit.

  4. 4

    Sharing Data to Tell a Story

    We looked for opportunities along the way to determine success using data. The MBTA shared quantitative data to understand the real time savings, we led rider surveys to hear directly from people, and we worked together to share data in ways that told a story and got people interested in learning more about the bus.

  5. 5

    Educating Elected Officials

    Most U.S. bus systems provide such poor service that many elected officials don’t have a sense of what specific changes they should demand. Via local bus tours, ribbon cuttings to highlight great projects, and trips to experience world-class bus systems, we supported leaders to be well-informed to advocate for better buses.

Examples of Sharing Data to Tell a Story