BRT, PRT, and Human Behavior


I've blogged for some time about the benefits of a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system because I believe there really are few other solutions that truly offer a comparable solution to the car. Unfortunately moving over to this type of system would take considerable time and funding so I'm not sure I'll see it in my life time. Some have been promoting Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as the solution to grid lock. And there has been a lot of discussion and money thrown at it. I do think researching and implementing BRT where it makes sense is a good idea, but we have to keep in mind it will not be the right solution for every location or situation. Nor will it be the cure-all a lot of people are hoping for. And it's because of basic human behavior – at least in the U.S. People here don't want to share their ride with a lot of other strangers unless the benefits of doing so outweigh the negative perception.So unless our government creates a law that makes it illegal to own a personal vehicle, a lot of people will still choose to drive their own personal vehicle rather than choose mass transit – particularly a bus.

Perhaps this story in Scientific American, Can Suburbs Be Designed to Do Away with the Car?, is a good example of this. According to the post, a community was built to promote walking and transit. For some reason, it appears transit was not installed prior to settlement of the city. And when the government moved in to place the transit, people fought it. They'd rather drive their car.

So if we really want to find a viable solution to grid lock and a replacement for the car, we have to understand and accept basic human behavior whether we agree with it or not. And we need to ask, why is it that people would rather drive their own vehicle and suffer through traffic jams than take mass transit? I think the answer will be it's because the average person really doesn't want to spend that much time on a regular basis in a crowded environment with strangers. I saw an example of this on the Metra line that runs through our community – they now have "quiet cars" where people are not allowed to talk at all. This is their solution to offering an environment that makes it easier for people to ignore each other.

Buses have an interior environment that is similar to that of rail, so a BRT solution that ignores improvements to the environment within will not encourage an increase in ridership. Yes, BRTs offer a more efficient operation for the bus operator, but is this enough of a benefit if ridership remains the same? Because PRT systems have a greater potential to serve a wider range of riders and also provide a more efficient operation and produce less pollution, I believe they are the better system. And with the proper planning and infrastructure, there would be little difference between a car and a PRT other than allowing the vehicle to drive itself. Most importantly, a PRT system seems to come closest to meeting the needs and behavior of humans.