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Stephen Smith

This is very interesting, but something I've always wondered is, if you're going to go to the trouble of grade separation and signal prioritizing, why not just lay some tracks and use a streetcar? The upfront capital investment is a big higher, but the efficiency gains (not to mention ridership gains – I know well-designed busways are almost as good as rail, but rail must offer some boost to even the most well-designed bus systems) seem like they should make up for it. Or is it really that much more expensive?


Stephen, buses can turn off the bus lane and service other areas, trolleys cannot. And yes, rail is very expensive, as is electrification.

Mike H

"And yes, rail is very expensive, as is electrification."

Compared to completely separately built bus lanes in a new development? I'd like to see some numbers to back this up.


There are lots of good applications for Light Rail and lots of good applications for busways/BRT. You just need to pick the right one for the right situation.

Where demand is likely to grow, for example on trunk routes or corridors, or where there might be a need for urban renewal, I would use light rail. Everywhere else, you would roll out the BRT option. Perhaps you could get BRT to feed LRT?
Now there's a controversial concept!

I have come around to the view that busways and bus lanes are a good feeder support for, or introduction to Light Rail or other rail modes, but not an ultimate substitute for LRT/Metro/Rail ,at least for larger cities.

Even in Brisbane people are starting to talk about LRT, busway conversion and LRT routes. It looks like busways will merely delay, but not prevent, the introduction of LRT, even in my city.

That intersection cited is great- for now. If the city grows, there will come a time where it will need to be grade-separated, simply because there will be so many buses that the traffic light will be stuck on green for the bus, and red for everyone else, effectively closing the intersection.


If we assume that light rail will attract more riders than buses at the same frequency of service, but that adding "light rail" features to busses will attract more riders than standard bus service, at what point of bus service optimization have we maxed out our ability to draw riders, without upgrading to light rail? And what is the cost and ridership difference between a fully-optimized bus service and a light rail system?


@ Amanda,

I've looked at this town on Google Maps- and the buses seem to be organized as a distribution network feeding passengers into the heavy rail system that then takes passengers into Amsterdam... so there is already rail - heavy rail- out there, and the buses appear to support that.

Busways/BRT feeding passengers into heavy rail (maybe there are other places where BRT feeds LRT?), sounds like a good model, each mode to their best roles.

Alan Robinson

What do the people of Almere think of their bus system?


I'm not sure why anybody would still go with buses once you have completely ridden the busway of obstructions. The ability to go around obstructions and the ability to mix with automobile traffic are really the only reasons to use buses in the first place.

The idea that a fully separated busway is cheaper than rail can only be true by acknowledging two major caveats: 1) They are initially cheaper to construct because the road surface happens to already be there. 2) They are cheaper to maintain because you can pawn off the maintenance costs to the roads department.

In terms of total cost, rail is definitely cheaper. If there is no mixing of traffic, paving isn't necessary, which cuts down cost dramatically. And the lifetime maintenance costs are maginitudes cheaper for rail. Any city that has had a BRT system for 10-15 years is probably realizing this right about now.

Corey Burger

And none of the objections have mentioned what for me is the deal killer with BRT: it is way too easy to kill it. All you need is one stupid set of politicians and/or planners and overnight busways become regular roads.

Think I am kidding? Let's imagine if Toronto was famous for its busways rather than it streetscars. Would the newly elected, transit-unfriendly Mayor Ford have backed away from ripping out the busways? After all, it would have taken the work of an afternoon, not months like removing a streetcar line would take and you don't need to sink huge capital into a replacement vehicle fleet.

Corey Burger

That should be "haven't", not have in my first sentence.


The Zuidtangent that links Haarlem with Schiphol and the southern Amsterdam area is like this as well. Zuidtangent is even more rail-like because there's an elevated section with long platforms.

I've ridden it from Schiphol to Haarlem and it's just as fast as taking light rail.

Nicholas Barnard

Do these buses stay exclusively on the bus lanes or do they use the local roads in the outskirts?

I'm usually a bus fan, but if they don't go off the busways why not use rail?

Steve Lax

To me, the major advantages of a busway over light rail are two -

1. Cost to build and most likely to maintain
2. The ability to have various routes split off of the busway onto local streets, either at the end of the busway or at key points along it. While one could transfer from rail to bus at these points, there is always a transfer penalty to the user, no matter how closely timed the connections are. Also, most users prefer a single seat ride.

If demand is great enough (or becomes great enough) a busway can be converted to light rail; however, there is that intermediate demand level when a busway is more appropriate than street running buses on the one hand and more appropriate than light rail on the other hand.

Note to those who argue busways are easy to kill at a politician's whim: Rail can be killed, too. Indeed, if rail were so powerful a passenger draw and economic engine, the extensive streetcar, interurban, commuter rail, and long distance rail that existed in the U.S.A. in the first half of the twentieth century would still be around.


Strange... I've always heard about this "new town" dormitory community, but never about the plan's attention to the integration with BRT planning. Maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention, but I suspect this is an aspect that is under-appreciated this side of the Atlantic.


It doesn't surprise me though. That surely typifies Dutch urbanism and especially OMA's no-holds-barred aesthetic of integrated planning.


Light rail allows you to have busway capacity on streets and larger roads without incurring the higher cost of building a grade separated Brisbane-style busway.

The ability to split off into streets is useful in many places, but it also means that you have a lot of buses duplicating the trunk route, which means more labour, more buses required and more bus-km are racked up. Again whether this will ever be a problem or not for your city will depend.

Tram/streetcar systems can also split off the main lines and travel in suburban streets- how do people think trams operate in Melbourne?

With a bus feeder to trunk and transfer model, you could terminate that bus at the trunk line station and turn it back for another run- increasing the frequency, and therefore compensate for the transfer penalty that way.

And if there is one thing that most agree on- it is frequency that pulls the passengers.

Context is very important. Which is why studies are always done before building any such systems.

Perhaps in this context, busway to rail is all Aimere will ever need.


To me, it really comes down to capacity. If the buses are coming every two minutes and are still packed, light rail is necessary. If there's still plenty of capacity, rail isn't as necessary, unless it's being used as a development tool. Although in a lot of cases rail gets much higher ridership, at least in the US.


@Amanda @Brisbane
The bus network is indeed centred on Almere Centrum heavy rail station although away from the centre the suburbs also get regular (every 15 mins) buses direct to Amsterdam's Business District. The driver for this is most probably that there are no direct rail services to that part of Amsterdam from Almere.
It is interesting to note that for these direct services the Highway/Motorway between Almere and Amsterdam has also been adapted to ensure the bus has priority and access at certain rush hour choke points.

Almere is set to grow as you point out, with new bus lines and a new rail station under construction. However the areas that have been settled already (Almere Haven) won't be expanded and therefore we can assume traffic will not grow substantially at the junctions.

@Nicolas Barnard
While in Almere the buses use only the dedicated bus way routes and as yet don't turn off onto the side streets.

I agree, but perhaps stop spacing/top speed is a factor?

By contrast when Amsterdam city council decided to build IJburg (a series of reclaimed land islands just outside the city, where I live!) they decided to install a tram line despite there being only one route. This is set to be extended when other new islands are built as part of the same project. Future population and tram capacity I think is viewed as the reason for the choice. However they had to dig a special 2km tunnel between Amsterdam and the island for the tram PLUS one for the road traffic, as opposed to choosing a bus network and have the bus use the road tunnel which would have been cheaper one imagines.

Thanks for all the comments!


No, thank you for an enjoyable post!

I note that they have nice high density, but it is low-rise and not huge skyscraping towers.

It looks nice on the eye, and there are trees!!!


In many parts of Amsterdam buses and tram lines share their exclusive right of way. Just put tram tracks in the busway and voila you can do both, buses that fan out and trams that provide trunk capacity.

Pete (UK)

Interseting system, the Dutch are masters at public transport provision.

We also have a town in the UK that was built around a bus rapid transit system. Runcorn is located in north west England on the banks of the river Mersey upstream of Liverpool. The new town was built in the late 1960s/early 70s. The busway is totally sgregated from other roads, has traffic light priority at road crossings, and also features grade separation in the town centre like Brisbane. The busway is what Jarrett would call an 'open' system. There is a circular service that stays on the busway, plus other services to/from out of town use parts of the busway. The two main operators serving the busway are Arriva North West, and Municipal Halton Transport.

Here is a link to a short paper describing the system:

Here is a video:

Mike H

Steve Lax

Note to those who argue busways are easy to kill at a politician's whim: Rail can be killed, too. Indeed, if rail were so powerful a passenger draw and economic engine, the extensive streetcar, interurban, commuter rail, and long distance rail that existed in the U.S.A. in the first half of the twentieth century would still be around.

There were and are plenty of struggling or outright dead inner city districts where the lack of that economic engine is plain to see. The US is a vast and rich country that controls the reserve currency of the world. It can absorb an amazing amount of hits, as we have seen, and still remain the largest economy.

The death of the US streetcar and passenger rail systems didn't happen 'on a whim' by any means. It took a concerted nation-wide effort of some very big corporations of the day. There were other factors at play, too. The large-scale congestion problems caused by personal automobiles hadn't been seen yet. Cars and highways were widely believed to be the solution to all problems, to the extent that huge sections of many cities were destroyed in order to build highways. Take a look at Detroit to see what kind of an economic engine that was. Another factor was the relatively old rolling stock and old-fashioned operations of some of the rail systems (not to say that some highly modern ones weren't destroyed, too). They would have needed technological development, which ended up happening mostly in Germany instead.

Steve Lax

@Brisbane of 10/29 -11:53

Of course, trams can branch off. The issue is: What frequency is needed?

Example 1 - Trunk needs a five minute peak frequency. At end of trunk, three branches require each require a fifteen minute peak frequency. I would argue that the trunk could support a busway, especially if r-o-w is available; but that the buses operate on the street (especially if there is no serious congestion problem) beyond the trunk.

Example 2 - Trunk needs a two minute frequency with a bus; beyond end of trunk, a fifteen minute frequency is required. This most likely calls for converting trunk to tram or light rail with larger vehicles and a four or five minute frequency while operating the branches with buses.

Example 3 - Again, with buses, trunk requires a two minute frequency and each of the three branches requires a six minute frequency. Now both the trunk and branches should be considered for tram or light rail.

Busways/BRT can almost always be converted to trams/light rail if demand grows; but demand will not always grow. Also, as noted by another commenter, both bus and rail vehicles can share a right-of-way if properly designed and the need calls for mixed use.

Steve Lax

@ Mike H - There were many reasons why the urban transit network (tram, bus, commuter rail) declined in the U.S. after WWII. That "very big corporations" conspiracy thing ("Who Killed Roger Rabbit" if I remember the name of the movie correctly) was only part of the issue. More simply, people and jobs moved to the suburbs, often beyond the range of the streetcar tracks.

Many years ago, the New York Times reported on corporate relocations to suburbia. The location chosen for the relocated company was almost always its proximity to the home of the CEO and the CEO wanting to be close to work was one of the frequently cited reasons for the move.


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