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Originally published Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 4:32 PM

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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Bus rapid transit arriving in Puget Sound

Community Transit launches the state's first bus rapid transit system in November. After years of debate over the merits of BRT versus light rail, Washington will have working model of both.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

I was for bus rapid transit before I was against it. Now I want Community Transit's new Swift BRT service to be a wild success.

Washington's first bus-rapid-transit line will start in late November. For years the region has debated the merits of BRT versus light rail. Now it will have working models of both.

Early opponents of light rail groped for any distraction or alternative, from BRT to neighborhood vans. Mainly it was about building roads, not rail.

Community Transit's 16.7-mile route down Highway 99 from Everett Station to Aurora Village Transit Center is an opportunity to measure BRT's potential.

I suspect the answer will be they are not a facile substitute for one another, but can be successfully applied to specific corridors and service areas.

Community Transit, recently honored by the Cascade Land Conservancy for improving the quality of life for Snohomish County residents, showed off a shiny green-and-blue, 62-foot, diesel-electric hybrid bus last week at the Lynnwood Park & Ride.

Project manager June DeVoll made the point that bus rapid transit is configured to be rail-like: fast, frequent and reliable. Those virtues are represented in the route, bus design and stations.

Imagine a train on rubber tires. Swift will operate seven days a week, 5 a.m. to midnight. Buses will zip in and out of 12 stations each direction, every 10 minutes from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., and every 20 minutes evenings and weekends. No schedule; a bus is on the way.

Riders prepay at the station and board through any of three doors. Riders with bikes enter the rear door and use three bike racks. Standing-room space fits a couple more. Passengers using a ramp board through the front door. New Flyer buses, also used by Eugene's BRT, seat 43 passengers and hold a total of 100.

Loading is fast. So is the trip via Highway 99 with bus-only lanes, and business-access-transit lanes, and synchronized, BRT-friendly traffic lights.

DeVoll said the route was selected because of its employment and population density. Swift takes riders to major job and medical centers, commercial hubs and transit-connection points.

The $29.5 million cost was financed about half by state and federal sources, and $4 million from Everett Transit, which is providing stations up north. DeVoll said the 15-bus fleet consumed approximately 50 percent of the budget. Some roadway and signal improvements were already in place.

All the innovations, from station technology to boarding procedures, are designed to keep the buses rolling. I cannot wait to see it work.

Projected savings for BRT over light rail can be dramatic, and they were appealing in the middle 1990s as Puget Sound debated a regional transit solution. They came up again in 2005 as the community pondered phase two of Sound Transit. How to get across the I-90 bridge: light rail or BRT?

Early on, U.S. cities that embraced BRT went for separated guideways. Those plans — and eventual expansion — came with their own expensive right-of-way issues, same as light rail.

High-capacity rail is expensive to build but spreads those capital costs over a long timeline. Moving lots and lots of passengers along dense corridors makes the most sense. I do not see transit agencies hiring armies of bus and van drivers with medical and pension plans to cover.

Community Transit's Swift is truly a model of bus rapid transit, not simply shaving time off express bus runs. I want this effort to thrive and be instructive.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is

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