Fresno, California BRT vs. LRT: Decisions, decisions, decisions

Being weighed in Fresno is whether or not to install a 15.7-mile-long, $48 million bus rapid transit (BRT) system by 2016.

It should be noted that “Council Member Steve Brandau says Fresno Area Express, the well-known FAX bus system that serves the city’s 112 square miles, is in a state of disrepair,” wrote George Hostetter in: “Fresno’s transit future at key place Bus Rapid Transit part of Swearengin’s vision” in The Fresno Bee.

Has it ever dawned on anyone that maybe the reason for this is because the area served is just too large? My sense is that many buses are required (I think about 100) to cover that much ground, which means that at least that many drivers must be at the ready.

Moreover, periodic servicing is doubtless part of the operational equation and what this means, presumably, is that substitute buses must be on hand to replace those undergoing maintenance, that is, if such being worked on are to be out of commission for extended periods of time. And, then there are fuel costs to consider and so on and so forth.

Federal and state grant money is presumably there for the Fresno BRT “starter” system.

And, as brought out in the aforementioned Hostetter story, the City Manager – Bruce Rudd – insists there is enough available money to keep the planned BRT system operational for three years.

BRT basic

What BRT in Fresno will purportedly do is speed up overall travel time on account of quicker boardings and alightings, traffic signal prioritization, fare pre-payment boarding, fewer stops (stops at half-mile intervals as opposed to the current quarter-mile intervals) plus other time-savings attributes that could either be built in or added at some future point.

Biodiesel-powered bus
Biodiesel-powered bus

Will BRT garner ridership substantial enough to be effective; will it be a non-starter or game-changer in this regard? Will rapid transit buses incorporate hybridization technology, i.e., combination gasoline engine and electric propulsion, in other words? Being what we are talking about here is air pollution reduction, will it live up to that responsibility? Can BRT in Fresno deliver the goods?


DSCN4298 (340x255)On the other hand, the capital outlay for light rail transit (LRT) construction for the same 15.7 miles may indeed be higher, but, over the long haul, LRT versus BRT may be way more economical to operate. As I see it, it’s akin to buying a low- or no-emissions motor vehicle, which, initially, may be more expensive than a conventional car. But, over time, the environmentally-friendly model will likely be a much more cost-effective solution.

Not only this but compared to BRT, LRT maintenance costs may be lower and rail vehicles may require replacement far less often than BRT buses. Moreover, for a comparably-sized LRT system, fewer drivers/operators are needed.

As it relates, in the Bee editorial “Bus Rapid Transit will benefit Fresno residents,” it is written: “With BRT’s quicker and more frequent service, ridership is likely to rise – helping residents, helping our economy and reducing air pollution.” But, honestly, couldn’t this also be said of LRT?

For Fresno, will BRT be a go?

Though not asked, but, if given the choice to pick a method by which to cut local air pollution and if in accomplishing this public transportation was the main means to help bring this about, for Fresno what solution would I seek? LRT.

Having said that, at the end of the day, BRT’s fate seems to be in the hands of city leaders. Will it be a go?

In other news, meanwhile, high-speed rail appears to be on its way and excavating work related to this in Fresno is underway.


– Alan Kandel

2 thoughts on “Fresno, California BRT vs. LRT: Decisions, decisions, decisions”

  1. The 50 million plus dollar question; who will ride this bus and why. I have lived in Fresno all my live and I can say with some confidants, “No One With A Car”. Even the people that use Ride-shard use a vehicle. I take the Bus (Route 38 to the 32) to work, and I notice the Ride-shard folks catching their Ride at the Rite Aid Parking lot at Ceder and Ness. If these folks work down town, ride the Bus with me (Bus 38) and transfer to the 32 at River Park to down town (Court House Park). There is only a small group that use public transportation, those that have to!
    The City may want to look at a “Person Center” approach to is issue in the future. Ask the the people that don’t ride the Bus …why?

    • I do not disagree one bit.

      I believe what needs to be taken into consideration is what the overall objective of BRT is. If the purpose is getting existing riders to destinations quicker, then this type of upgrade may prove effective. However, if the intent is to keep existing riders as well as trying to attract new riders or, in other words, getting motorists (and their passengers) to switch to bus from automobile, more than a bus upgrade will be needed.

      On the other hand, if the intent is to adopt this type of service to improve the local economy by attracting new development opportunity or encouraging redevelopment along the BRT route, which can have a positive effect on job growth, and hence economic stimulation which tends to lead to increased ridership, BRT could possibly fill the bill. That said, and all things being equal, I believe a rail-based service like a streetcar or light rail transit system would do a much more effective job than BRT would. Please reference “New Wave of Development Follows Streetcar Construction in Mid-Sized Cities” (

      In a recent editorial by City Manager Bruce Rudd, referenced was a study done in which one finding was that “transportation corridors throughout the county” were identified “in which market demand and proposed land use densities would support public transportation investments, such as BRT or, eventually, a light rail system.” (See: “BRT improves service on busy lines,” Of the two systems, LRT will better integrate with the proposed high-speed rail system (if it gets built and there is an HSR station in downtown Fresno). At any rate, without either a successful BRT or LRT-type system serving the high-speed train station, consider all the motor vehicle traffic that will be converging on downtown streets in and around the HSR station. Unless these motor vehicles are either low-emissions (hybrid) or no-emissions (battery or fuel cell) vehicles, as a result there will be an increase in localized air pollution levels.

      And, lastly, if the objective is to reduce air pollution in the community, an electrified light rail transit or streetcar system is more effective in achieving this unless, of course, totally electric buses are used which I just don’t see happening.

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