Over the last several months, there have been a number of questions raised from the Fresno City Council and community on the city's proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project. Their thoughtful questions are appreciated and indicate that the city needs to do a better job of informing the community about the short- and long-term benefits of BRT, and more importantly, how it is needed to support growth and investment throughout the city of Fresno's sphere of influence.
The idea of developing a BRT system originated from a transit study required by voters when they approved the Measure C extension. This study identified transportation corridors throughout the county in which market demand and proposed land use densities would support public transportation investments, such as BRT or, eventually, a light rail system. The study determined that Fresno was the only city in the county that had both the population and land-use densities to support such an investment.
Based on the transit study, the city of Fresno successfully submitted a grant in 2009 to the Federal Transit Administration to fund a BRT system. The $50 million grant will pay for new buses, passenger stations and traffic improvements needed to provide improved reliability and faster travel times. The city has also received another grant that covers the first three years of operational expenses for the new BRT service.
Some have argued that BRT is a waste of money and that the buses will be empty because no one from the north end of Fresno will ever ride them. However, the city is not relying on new riders from north Fresno to justify the investment in the BRT service. Critics of BRT fail to realize that Blackstone and the Kings Canyon/Ventura corridors, the initial BRT routes, have the highest ridership among all the routes in Fresno.
The investment in BRT service along these corridors is part of the city's plan to improve transit services for a community that relies heavily on public transportation to get to work, school and medical appointments. While not as convenient as traveling in your own car, BRT improves travel times and reliability for our customers when compared to traditional bus service.
Others have expressed concerns about how the service will be funded after grant funds expire or if the community would be better served by simply adding more buses to both of the existing routes. The city has already accounted for the operating costs of BRT once the grant funds expire and intends to use its existing transportation funds to continue the service. Overall, the operating cost of BRT versus adding more buses is comparable. What isn't comparable is the level of reliability or the type of amenities that will be provided at each of the stations. BRT offers a much better service to our customers.
While the questions about ridership and sustaining the BRT service are valid, we believe that a fact-based analysis of the proposed BRT service supports moving forward with the program, and we look forward to providing additional information about BRT to the public and to our City Council.
In the meantime, it is important to note that without the new BRT service and the increased densities that it is intended to serve, the region would be unable to comply with state laws that mandate reductions in the amount of vehicle miles traveled and related greenhouse emissions.
So, while BRT provides a better service to our transit customers in the immediate term, it is also a key project that will allow Fresno to move forward with its 2035 general plan, as well as the other cities in Fresno County. Without this investment, our communities would have to go back to the drawing board to figure out compliance with state laws that regulate growth. We can't afford that delay.
We look forward to continued input from the community and our City Council on ways to ensure the success of this new service.
Bruce Rudd is the city manager of Fresno.