Edmonton is a big city that has to move a lot of people.

Edmonton is Canada’s fifth-largest city, with a regional population of 1.36 million people. As our city continues to grow, there needs to be a clear understanding of the transportation and land use objectives for the city. The combination of a dispersed population base and a large geographic area makes the setting of contemporary transportation policy a delicate balancing act between prioritizing scarce financial resources and ensuring transportation system costs are distributed equally among users and governments.

Edmonton was the first city with less than one million people to introduce the Light Rail System (LRT) in 1978. Since then, our transit network has expanded. Ground was recently broken for the newest LRT line – the Valley Line. This $1.8 billion line will connect downtown with the southeast quadrant of the city, including Mill Woods. Due to the cost and timeline to build LRT, it may be appropriate to look at other rapid transit solutions to serve some areas of the city, such as Bus Rapid Transit.

What is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?

The standard definition for BRT is a high-priority, bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities. It does this through the provision of dedicated lanes, with busways and iconic stations typically aligned to the centre of the road, off-board fare collection and fast, frequent operations.

BRT contains features similar to LRT, making it more reliable, convenient and faster than regular bus service. With the right features, BRT is able to avoid the causes of delay that typically slow regular bus services, like being stuck in traffic and queuing to pay on board.

LRT and BRT are only practical for specific corridors with very high travel demand, with many other areas relying on regular bus service. Many passengers will need to transfer between regular LRT/BRT at one or both ends of their trip. Passengers often make travel choices based on the total trip, not just the portion on LRT so transfers between these modes must be designed to minimize the time and effort required to transfer.

What are the characteristics of BRT?

  • High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes for buses, vanpools and carpools
  • Frequent, high-capacity service that results in passenger waits of less than 10-minutes during peak periods
  • High-quality vehicles that are easy to board, quiet, clean and comfortable
  • Pre-paid fare collection to minimize boarding delays
  • Integration with other transportation modes, with BRT service coordinated with walking and cycling facilities, taxi services and intercity bus
  • Improved security for transit users and pedestrians

What options do we have for BRT?

  1. Premium Bus Service - This service falls below the BRT Standard definition but includes some service and infrastructure projects.
  2. Interim BRT - This refers to “pre-LRT or BRT as a precursor to LRT” and includes most of the features found in the BRT Standards because infrastructure must be designed to accommodate future LRT trackway and station infrastructure.
  3. Permanent BRT - Service and infrastructure with characteristics of BRT found in the BRT Standards.

How does BRT compare with LRT?

When compared to LRT, BRT infrastructure is usually less expensive to construct, but LRT typically has better performance. Because of this, if demand is beyond what regular bus service can accommodate, but there isn’t funding in place for LRT, a BRT system can be built. It is still possible to upgrade a BRT system to an LRT system in the future, but it isn’t without challenges.

Some of the challenges of converting BRT to LRT include shutting down the BRT during LRT construction, leaving thousands of people without a reliable, fast mode of transportation. If the upgrade is not part of the original BRT design, it can be very costly. In addition, if a BRT system undergoes extensive upgrades, then converting it to an LRT line means the investments in the BRT upgrades were largely wasted.

Does BRT cost less than LRT?

BRT typically has lower capital costs than LRT because road infrastructure is cheaper than rail infrastructure. Operating costs of BRT are typically higher than LRT because of the cost of fuel, additional buses and bus drivers.

Next Steps

The addition of BRT lanes to the transit network will be based on the feedback received from the public and from technical experts. A recommendation will be taken to City Council and they will decide on and approve the strategy and an implementation plan.