Categorizing transit modes can be a challenge. What separates one mode from another can be a difficult line to draw. At what point does a streetcar become light rail? Does “light metro” count as heavy rail? The most difficult of all though, in my opinion, is bus rapid transit (or BRT).
An ideal BRT system would be clearly distinct from a regular bus line, with features like completely dedicated lanes, extremely high-capacity vehicles, fancy stations with all-door level boarding, off-vehicle payments and more—all of which would would enable fast loading, high frequency, and high capacity service that rivals a rail rapid transit line at a lower cost.
Such systems do exist around the world and are quite impressive, but in the US and Canada… it’s complicated.
Here, BRT lines are often proposed as lower-cost alternatives to rail transit, but over the course of their implementation, their level of service ends up being scaled back even further, to the point that many self-labeled bus rapid transit lines are really just an express bus with a special paint job and slightly nicer bus shelters. This phenomena of “BRT Creep” is notoriously common, and creates suspicion in any proposed system.
No system in the US or Canada is considered a “gold standard” bus rapid transit system. A few come very close, but they pale in comparison to international systems, so arguments can still be made against them. Because each system suffers from varying levels of BRT Creep, and because it is so difficult to draw the line between what is or is not BRT, every list is going to be controversial.
Bearing that in mind, though, below are a few examples of BRT systems in the US and Canada that at a minimum feature what is the most important element to a BRT line: dedicated lanes or transitways for a significant portion of their route. Many of these systems were not represented in the City Transit project.