Over the years there have been great debates as to what is the best type of system between BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) or LRT (light Rail Transit), better known as streetcars/trams.

There is also a real misunderstanding what is the different between LRT and streetcars/trams with most people thinking one thing while its total something different. The big different between streetcars/trams and LRT is, LRT are mainly a longer car that is lowfloor and carry far more riders than older streetcars/trams. It also has the latest technology out there, while, streetcars/trams are for the 70's or even older that are high floor vehicle. If you put these models side by side, you will see the big difference between them as today LRTs can range from 20m to 59.6m with the older cars being 20m or less long.

Depending on the system using LRT/Streetcar/Tram, they can be either single end control with doors on one side or duel end control cabs that will have doors on both sides. If they are LRT's, they come in section ranging from 3 to 8 section with a door in each section on one or both sides of the car.

BRT's are buses ranging from 15m to 25m with anywhere from 2 to 5 doors per side. Again some BRT systems will have door on one side while other will have both sides.

It makes no different if they are LRT or BRT, both system vehicles will loose seating area if doors are on both side. As many as 6 seats will be lost with doors on both sides.

Both systems have their strong points was well weak points.

One thing that get noticed more than it should, is the up front cost to build a BRT system. There is far more to font end cost that needs to be looked at before deciding if BRT is the way to go.

It is a provident factor that BRT up front cost will wins hands down all the time when it come to cost to built either systems, but will it do the job overtime is the big question.

One thing that needs to be looked at is the labour cost of each systems, since Labour eats ups 80% of the operation cost and will only increase more over time. Therefore we must look at ways how to save manpower/labour to meet this growing trend for increase of ridership and vehicles to move them.

One has to be careful as how they class a BRT from express buses. Unless a BRT is in its own ROW (Right-of-Way) like LRT, it is an express bus making limited stops, using priority traffic signalizes lights. This also applies to LRT in mix traffic also, but cannot be class as an express service since they cannot pass each other going in the same direction like buses.

The one thing that is never taken into consideration for buses is the cost to build and maintain the roads they run on. It is the same thing when you try to compare buses to streetcars that run in mix traffic. Streetcars have to factor in the cost to build and maintain the tracks they run on even though all type of traffic can use it also if running in mix traffic.

The operation cost is where LRT comes out ahead cost wise since you will need less manpower to carry the same number of riders as a bus as well the number of vehicles. Also, people prefer to ride steel wheels than rubber wheel, as steel wheels provide a smother ride in the first place.

Below, I have done an analyze between BRT and LRT based on a 30 year cycle starting at 2010 and going to 2040. I have used 60 foot articulated and 40 foot buses for BRT while use a 30m off the shelf LRT for comparison. The price is based on the current cost for the buses been received this year (2010) by Mississauga Transit.

I have also used rider standard of 70 for articulated buses, 52 for 40 foot bus and 125 for LRT. I have used single LRT to 3 car units to help to arrive at the number of vehicles needed to carry various ridership from a single point as well the headway they will run at for the point load.

I have used 3% as a yearly cost increase as to wages and 1% for the cost to purchase vehicles.

I have not taken into consideration the cost of extra employees need to be added as you add more vehicles to the fleet since it various from systems to system as well the rate of pay. You need to add a cleaner, body worker, mechanic, route supervisor and office personal to cover these extra vehicles.

I have used a hour rate for peak time based on a 40 hour week and 52 weeks for the year. I have not allow for holidays or cut in service during the summer months. I have not allow a cost to cover all the extra employees that will be need to put the vehicles on the road.

If a driver earns $60,000 that includes all benefits and holiday pay today, by 2040 they will be earning $145,636 a year, based on a yearly 3% increase. 3% increases has been the norm over the year with some years seeing more than 3% while others have seen less. It is also hard to say if this trend will continue over the next 30 years. They will have earn a total of $3,000,161 over those 30 years if they stay with the system until they retire.

The cost of the vehicles will be varies from system to system due to the size of the order and type of equipment been spec, but I am using Mississauga Transit Figures for analyze here since they do order various numbers yearly. They also happen to be the 3rd largest system in Ontario.

Carrying capacity

Ridership or carrying capacity of a vehicle is base on a square of 19 inches per rider and this has become an major issue between planners and riders. This square would be correct if we live in a world where everyone is the same size, wear the same cloths and carry nothing onto the vehicle, but that not the case. We come in all size and shape with most of us carrying something as well wearing snow cloths in the winter months and light cloths in the summer.

We live in different parts of North America where some of us require to have to wear real heavy coats during the winter months, while other wear light jackets and this has an impact on the amount of space a rider needs.

We all carry something from packsack to computers along with our goods, food, drinks onto the vehicles and again, this will have an impact on the rider space used.

Today we are in a grey area, not the under 15 age where these folks will have walkers and scooter since all vehicle should be low floor for them. At the same time, you will find more strollers on vehicles these days because of having low floor vehicles. There are over 50 styles of strollers on the market ranging from fold up umbrella to the large SUV. it makes no matter if its stroller, walkers or scooters, they take up more than the 19 square inch allow for a rider and will reduce the carrying capacity down more, depending how many are on at given time.

It has been claimed that 60 foot articulated buses have a crush load capacity of 125, yet based on my experience of riding them, the maximum number has been 105 during the summer month and that was very rare to see. You are lucky to see 100 riders at crush load. During the winter months, you are lucky to get 90 riders on it. Then, crush load is not the way to attract people to use a transit system in the first place and we must set ridership numbers per vehicle to make it more easy to get off or on to attract them in the first place.

As for 40 foot buses, 100 is the claim number for crush load, yet the most I have seen is 85, where people were sitting on riders laps. I am talking adults here, not children.

I have said that the peak load of an articulated bus at Peak time is 70 at the highest loading area or point of a route, allow room if something happens along the route not plan for. This mean 55 riders will have a seat leaving 15 people to stand. The peak load for a 40 foot bus is 52 allowing 38 rider to sit and 14 to stand.

For off peak service, the carrying capacity of an articulated bus is 45 and 30 for a 40 foot bus.

Where these numbers can go out the window is when you are carrying an accessibility person, a person with a walker or strollers. Strollers are a major issue as they come in all sizes and shapes. It not bad when you have one on the bus, but anymore than one causes all kinds of problems and eat up that spare room.

Therefore for this analyze, I am using 3,000 riders from a single point. I have other data up to 10,000 riders from a single point and that information can be found in a spreadsheet Here.


Even though I am using 3,000 from a single point for my analyze, we need to adjust that number over time as more people use the system. I will use 2% year increase to see what the numbers will be by 2040. There is no guarantee that this will happen, as some routes have reach a certain number and will remain the same year after year since there is no new development taking place or relocated elsewhere, but lets take a look what 2% increase will do anyway.

Starting with 3,000 in 2010 and using the yearly increase of 2%, we will see 5,434 riders by 2040. That will have a higher impact to the final cost than the 3,000 figure I am using for this analyze.

Number of vehicles require

Since we know the load factor is 3,000 as well the carrying capacity of each vehicle, we can determine the number of vehicles required base on their size. The number of vehicles will also tell us the number of driver that will be require to move these vehicles. The number say we will need 43 articulated buses or 58 40 foot buses and 24 single LRT or 12 2 car units.

Headway between vehicles

Now we know the type of vehicles as well the number of them, we can now determine the headway between vehicles. This is based on 3,000 riders divided by load factor to arrived at the number of vehicle that is needed per hour and the vehicle is divided into the 60 minute hour. The headway for 43 articulated bus is 84 seconds or 1.84 minutes. 58 40 buses will be 62 seconds or 1.05 minutes. For 24 single LRT, headway is 150 seconds or 2.5 minutes. If we run these single LRT as a pair, headway becomes 300 seconds or 5 minutes.

One thing we have to look at when it comes to headway is the amount of dwell time to off load and load these vehicles. The more you have off loading and loading, the longer the dwell time will be and how long it will take for that vehicle to move so the next one can get into the spot. The shorter the headway becomes, the greater the changes you will start to see vehicles bunch up at stop and create the convoy effect.

Riders themselves play a large part in this backup by not having their fare ready to board the vehicle. This cause a backup for riders trying to get on the vehicle and increase the dwell time. Going to a POP (Proof of Payment) system will allow faster loading time as you can use all the doors of the vehicle.

Cost of vehicles

I am using 2010 order of vehicles by Mississauga Transit as my base cost factor starting point and will use 1% yearly increase to arrive at the final cost for a 30 year life cycle for them. This can only be a guide as the cost of the vehicles over the 30 year cycle depend on many thing as to who the system is, how many been order, what the market is like at the time of order and etc.

To date, both Mississauga Transit and OC Transpo in Ottawa, Ontario, that are 2 largest system of articulated buses in Canada have not been getting the 12 years of service with their low floor models. They are only getting 10 years of service out of them and this has an effect on the final out come cost wise based on when they are order.

$717,525.13 is the current cost of an articulated bus and at 1% yearly increase of cost, it will cost $967,115 by 2040. Using the 10 year life cycle, buses will have to be replace in 2020 and 2030. Therefore, it will cost $101,903,235 for the 30 year life cycle or $104,447,868 if the buses make their 12 year cycle for the years of 2022 and 2034.

Using a straight 40' bus starting at $525,425.15 today and being replace every 12 years, it will cost $708,904 come 2040. Since we need 58, we are looking at a total cost of $152,784,185 for the 30 year life cycle.

If we go with 40' hybrid buses in place of standard buses, we are looking at today cost of $779,688.70 per bus and it will cost $1,050,903 by 2040. The cost of 58 hybrid for the 30 year life cycle is $141,871,029. We now must add the cost of the battery that have to be replace every 5 years if they last that long as market. Using a cost of $65,000 for today pack, it will cost $87,610 come 2040. It will cost $371,449.07 per bus to replace the battery over the 30 year cycle for a total cost of $19,899,057. This make the total cost of the hybrid bus at $174,213,939.

Base on a today price of $4,000,000, an LRT will cost $5,391,396 by 2040 at 1% yearly increase in price. It will cost $96,000,000 for 24 LRT plus an extra $4,2000,000 for mid life overhaul for a total price of $100,200,000. for a 30 year life cycle

As a note, since buses are being replace every 12 years now not the 18 years in the past, mid life rebuilding for rebuilding these 12 years buses is unknown and a guess game at this time, but would say it will cost between $50-100,000 per bused based on information I have at this time. This will skew the out come some what in the favour of the bus final cost at this time.

Driver cost to drive the various type of vehicles

We know it cost $3,000,161 for a driver over the 30 year life cycle using a 3% yearly increase. The driver cost is based on peak time only service for a 40 hour week and 52 weeks for the year.

Again, various systems have different hours that drivers work a week and you may need more than one driver for that peak service and I have taken that into consideration using the 40 hour week.

At the same time, various systems have different length of peak service time and decided to use 4 hours in the morning and afternoon for this analyze. Major of systems use 3.5 hours of service per bus to cover the peak time. Some system have more buses on the road in the AM peak than the PM since riders will leave work later than the 9-5 time frame as well may do shopping or other things before heading home.

It will cost $383,420,707.19 to cover the cost of drivers, driving 43 articulated buses.

It will cost $479,275,877.73 to cover the cost of drivers, driving 58 buses.

It will cost $292,793,990.76 to cover the cost of drivers, driving 24 LRT.

It will cost $146,396,995.38 to cover the cost of drivers, driving 12 pair of LRT.

Total Cost

BRT Articulated bus

43 Driver cost: $383,420,707.19

43 buses: $104,447,868

Final cost $487,868,575.19

BRT 40' bus

58 Driver cost: $479,275,877.73

58 buses: $102,959,878

Final cost $582,235,755.73

BRT 40' Hybrid bus

58 Driver cost: $479,275,877.73

58 buses: $174,213,939

Final cost $773,489,816.73

Single LRT

24 Driver cost: $292,793,990.76

24 LRT: $100,200,000

Final cost $392,993,990.76

12 Double LRT

12 Driver cost: $146,396,995.38

24 LRT: $100,200,000

Final cost $246,596,995.38


If we look at using 24 single LRT vs. 43 Articulated BRT, there is a cost saving of $487,868,575.19 minus $392,993,990.76 for a total saving of $94,874,584.43 going LRT.

If we look at using 12 double LRT vs. 43 Articulated BRT, there is a cost saving of $487,868,575.19 minus $246,596,995.38 for a total saving of $241,271,579.81 going LRT.

If we look at using 24 single LRT vs. 58 BRT, there is a cost saving of $582,235,755.73 minus $392,993,990.76 for a total saving of $189,241,764.97 going LRT.

If we look at using 12 double LRT vs. 58 BRT, there is a cost saving of $582,235,755.73 minus $246,596,995.38 for a total saving of $335,638,760.35 going LRT.

If we look at using 24 single LRT vs. 58 Hybrid BRT, there is a cost saving of $773,489,816.73 minus $392,993,990.76 for a total saving of $380,495,825.97 going LRT.

If we look at using 12 double LRT vs. 58 Hybrid BRT, there is a cost saving of $773,489,816.73 minus $246,596,995.38 for a total saving of $526,892,821.35 going LRT.

Hourly Rate

We can look at the cost of LRT vs. BRT by looking at the hourly rate to put a vehicle on the road. This cost cover all personnel and equipment to put a vehicle on the road in the first place. At present time, I am using $110 per hour for buses as this is the current rate. To put an LRT on the road, we are looking at about $150 per hour. Using .15% yearly increase in hour rate over the 30 year cycle, the hour rate for buses will be $171.94 while LRT will be $236.46 come 2040.

Based on the hourly rate over 30 years for 40 hour a week and 52 weeks for the year, 43 articulated buses will cost $383,420,702.19 and LRT will cost $292,793,990.76. Again we still see a saving of $90,626,711.43 using LRT.

If we look at 58 buses vs. LRT, we get a cost of $516,143,252.94 and a saving of $223,349,262.18 using LRT.

Fuel Cost

Today no one knows what the cost of fuel is going to be over this 30 year cycle and that will have a great impact on the type of vehicles that will be on the road during this time.

Diesel fuel is running about $.89 a liter today while hydro is about $.06 a kw. A diesel bus get about 7km per liter of fuel and there is no real data what the Hybrid are getting. An LRT use about 240 kw per hour or about $14.40/hr. Therefore we know that 24 LRT will cost $718,848.00 a year based on today price.


Each system has their own method how they add personal to their staff as they add more vehicles to the fleet and this another cost that needs to be taken into consideration for a comparison between BRT and LRT. Each system has their own wage standards and that becomes an issue to arrive at a cost. Using LRT system, you require extra personnel to look after the overhead system as well doing minor track work and that is an extra cost that the buses don't have.


Again, BRT ROW (Right of Way) is cheaper to build than and LRT and to find the cost to build, one we need to know a number of thing. How long is it?: are there tunnels and bridges to be built?: what about traffic?: lights; does land have to be purchase?: how far apart are the stations?; how big does the garage and storage are have to be? and the list goes on.

The rule of thumb is a BRT will cost between $15-$20 million per mile with very little in the ways of bridges or tunnels. This includes station. An LRT will cost about $35 Million per mile like the BRT and will require substation every few miles.

You can run both BRT and LRT without an ROW, but you are now dealing with traffic that will slow service down as well requiring more equipment to maintain the quality of service.

Once you have buses and LRT running in mix traffic, a huge skew in capital cost comes into consideration to the point buses wins hands down because they don't have to pay to have roads and bridges built for them along with maintenance of the road as well rebuilding them overtime like the LRT do since these buses are running on public roads that buses don't have to pay for at all.

Doing a comparison in mix traffic for both system becomes an unfair evaluation between both system as BRT cost for roads is never taken into consideration while LRT has to cover the cost of building the tracks in the first place as well maintaining them.

To do an apple to apple comparison, we will only look at a true ROW.

Lets say the route is 12 miles, what is the cost of the 2 systems? BRT will be 12mi x $20m for a sub total of $240 million plus $200 million for a garage for a total of $450 Million. An LRT will cost 12mi x $35m for a sub total of $420 million plus $250 million for the carhouse for a total price of $670 Million. We can see there is an saving of $220 million going with BRT.

Overtime, things happen on these ROW more on the LRT side than buses where the overhead system has to be fix and work is done on tracks and switches. This cost is cover in the hourly rate cost.

Land Value

The one thing that keeps gets over looked when doing a comparison between BRT and LRT, is land use and value up turn.

We have seen in various cities in the United States over the last 10 years where new LRT and BRT systems have been built to see what kinds of changes they bring to the area they are servicing.

In all cases, there has been greater demand and land changes where LRT lines have gone in compared to BRT. BRT lines have generated $4 for every $1 that was invested in the BRT while LRT are seeing $10 or more for that same $1. At the same time, development starts faster with LRT than BRT.

People are prepared to walk a little further to an LRT than a BRT system.

Not only does LRT bring development faster to the area, it helps to transform that area into a more pedestrian area in all size and forms. People are willing to sit at a cafe with an LRT running by it than one where there is a bus/BRT, because of the buses exhaust, let alone traffic.

One thing that is starting to show up more, people want to live close to an LRT as well in a smaller complexes than a BRT. At the same time, people are willing to use LRT more in the off peak time frame, than a BRT.

Phoenix, who only just open their 20 mile line at a Cost of $1.3 Billion dollars at the end of December 2009, have seen their ridership exceeded not only the 12,000 daily ridership by the end of 2010, but the 20,000 figure by 2020 in 2011 by 45,000 daily. The forecast for 2020, is 49,000 and that figure will be past in the next few years. At the same time, 62% of the ridership is off peak, which totally against the norm for ridership of any type of system in service today.

Land value has seen a 5% increase in the short time frame which some people don't like, as it increase their tax level. That increase in tax level is off set by having more people moving to the area or city to help to spread the cost level over more people, than just a few.