The BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Standard

Posted by Content Coordinator on Friday, June 27th, 2014



The BRT Standard is an evaluation tool for world-class bus rapid transit (BRT) based on international best practices. It is also the centerpiece of a global effort by leaders in bus rapid transit design to establish a common definition of BRT and ensure that BRT systems more uniformly deliver world-class passenger experiences, significant economic benefits, and positive environmental impacts.

Despite the increasing prevalence, prominence, and success of BRT, many remain unaware of the characteristics of the best BRT corridors and their ability to provide levels of service more typically associated with metro and subway systems. This lack of awareness frequently results in a preference for rail when BRT is in fact a comparable, more cost-effective, and equally elegant solution. This false impression stems partly from the lack of a common definition for BRT. Without a definition, modest improvements to standard bus service are often inaccurately labeled as BRT.

The BRT Standard functions as a means of achieving a common definition, as a scoring system, and as a planning tool. By defining the essential elements of BRT, it provides a framework for system designers, decision-makers, and the sustainable-transport community to identify and implement top-quality BRT corridors. The BRT Standard celebrates cities that are leading the way in BRT excellence and offers best practice-based guidance to those planning a system.

Certifying a BRT corridor as basic BRT, bronze, silver, or gold places it within the hierarchy of international best practice; however, all standard levels represent excellence in BRT. Cities with certified BRT corridors are beacons of progress that have adopted a cutting-edge form of mass transit, elevating urban transport to a new level of excellence while making communities more livable, competitive, and sustainable. From Guadalajara, Mexico, to Guangzhou, China,  cities that have built gold-standard BRT have seen significant benefits to commuters, increased revitalization of city centers, and better air quality.

As we continue to clarify and elevate the standards to which all BRT systems are built, more people will experience the convenience and comfort of this cutting-edge mode of transport, and more cities will experience the benefits of an efficient and cost-effective mass-transit system. We hope that helping to define and recognize good-quality BRT will bring about the fundamental change needed to shift people out of their cars through modern and sustainable BRT. The 2014 Standard reinforces the basic elements for bus rapid transit and makes some improvements to the earlier versions to strengthen the BRT brand.

Why Was The BRT Standard Created?

The BRT Standard was developed to create a common definition of bus rapid transit and recognize high-quality BRT systems around the world. It also functions as a technical tool to guide and encourage municipalities to consider the key features of the best BRT systems as they move through the design process.

Historically, there had been no common understanding of what constitutes BRT, and the lack of a shared definition has caused confusion about the concept. The absence of an agreement among planners and engineers meant that for every new BRT corridor that is world-class, dozens of bus corridors opened that were incorrectly labeled BRT. The lack of any sort of quality control made it possible for modest bus system improvements to be branded as BRT, leading to some backlash against BRT. Modest incremental improvements, while beneficial, are often not the most cost-effective solution, and they certainly do not add up to the fundamental change needed to shift the travel paradigm from a dispersed pattern of private automobile travel to bus-based mass transit.

BRT also plays an important role in the global effort to reduce transport-sector emissions. As emissions from private motor vehicle use grow, shifting these trips onto public transit by improving the quality and reach of BRT becomes critical. Establishing a quality standard for BRT ensures not only that better projects are built but that transport sector emissions are reduced.

Certifying a BRT corridor as gold, silver, bronze, or basic sets an internationally recognized standard for what BRT is and what is best practice in BRT. The elements that receive points in The BRT Standard have been evaluated in a wide variety of contexts. When present, they result in consistently improved system performance and have a positive impact on ridership.


About the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy
ITDP promotes transport solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, while improving urban livability and economic opportunity. Our projects inspire cities towards more environmentally and people-friendly transportation. Please click on one of our program areas to learn more.

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