Detroit Asks, What Are High Speed Buses? Cleveland Can Tell You All About Them

Detroiters were more than a little perplexed this week at the news the city wouldn’t be getting a long-sought light rail system. Instead, the Transportation Department has recommended a high-speed bus transit system for the Motor City, even though $25 million had already been allocated for light rail.

Cleveland bus/Jerry Masek, RTA, via The New York Sun

Fast buses? Like the one in the movie Speed? Well, not exactly.

High-speed buses run in dedicated lanes that bring to mind streetcar tracks, except much cheaper and easier to install.

They’re operating just a couple hours’ drive away from Detroit, in downtown Cleveland, one of a growing number of American cities that have installed them. There, HealthLine buses glide along Euclid Avenue and out to the famous Cleveland Clinic.

Rather than hail a bus, and pay as they enter, riders buy tickets, then hop on and hop off. The platform is the same height as the bus, making the ride easier for the elderly or disabled. The buses have their own traffic lights, which allow them to avoid snarled traffic.

Our Dan Bobkoff took a look at Cleveland’s transit system earlier this year for Marketplace. In Cleveland, the rapid bus system cost $200 million; a light rail system would have cost $800 million.

But proponents of light rail systems say they can do more for development than rapid bus systems — something that Detroit can definitely use.

“There’s a distinction between public transit as economic development — which was the great hope for light rail — and public transit as a basic service to move people from homes to jobs,” Stephen Henderson, the editorial page editor of The Detroit Free Press, wrote this week.

Would you have preferred to see light rail for Detroit? How do you feel about rapid bus transit?


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