Michael Schipper, deputy general manager for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, told a Cobb gathering about the Ohio city’s downtown 7-mile bus rapid transit line, which opened at a cost of $200 million in 2008.
In Cleveland, riders board the bus on a platform located on a median in the center of the road. The bus uses a center lane so it’s not blocked by cars that have parked on the curb, said Schipper.
The vehicles, at 60 feet long, are longer than traditional buses, allowing them to carry more people.
“We don’t talk about ‘buses’ on our BRT,” he said. “These are ‘vehicles.’ I get in trouble if I call them a ‘bus.’ Just like our stations are stations. So we use a lot of that rail vernacular. There’s a lot more permanence to it. We have stations. We have vehicles. It’s all part of the branding and imaging.”
The cost to ride is $2.25.
Schipper said the farebox recovery — or ratio of operating expenses covered by passenger fares — for Cleveland’s entire transit system is 23 percent. The 7-mile BRT line does a little better.
“It’s definitely in the upper 30s in terms of farebox recovery,” he said.
Schipper said the system’s biggest funding source is a 1 percent voter-approved sales tax that pays for maintenance and operations.
The BRT line has generated more than $5 billion in development, as developers have sought to build along the corridor, he said.
Of the $200 million cost to build the line, $82 million came from the Federal Transit Administration, $75 million from the state, and the rest from such entities as the city and transit authority.
“I think what they’re embarking on here, it’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he said, referring to Cobb County. “It has to fit what the corridor is, has to fit the community, but the bus rapid transit model can be tailored to carry significant ridership, and it can be a catalyst for redeveloping a corridor.”
The luncheon, called “Investing in Transportation Infrastructure and Traffic Congestion,” was organized by the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and held at Southern Polytechnic State University.
Also speaking was Arlington County Board of Supervisors member Chris Zimmerman, who spoke of how the rail lines that span from Washington, D.C., to neighboring Arlington, Va., have generated a similar effect in attracting quality development in his city.
Among those in attendance was Michael Paris of east Cobb, CEO of the Council for Quality Growth.
“I think the BRT is great technology, and it’s exciting to see that working,” Paris said after the lunch. “It works in numerous cities, and it has some flexibility to it. The investment is very different from hard rail, for example, so I think to see the way it’s moving people but especially enticing developers to come and build buildings, which are occupied by jobs, and that’s what it’s really all about.”
Cobb has been studying the KSU-to-Midtown bus route. After completing a $1.8 million Northwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis study spearheaded by Croy Engineering, the county launched a $3 million environmental study of the project by Kimley-Horn and Associates, which won’t wrap up for about 16 months.
“At the end of that, what we hope to have is a very clear financial plan and a refinement of all of the work effort that has already been done that has pointed us in the direction of a solution that we have right now,” said Cobb DOT director Faye DiMassimo.
As for how the county intends to pay for the proposed $1.1 billion KSU-Midtown bus proposal, Commissioner Helen Goreham said there are multiple options.
“You look to the feds, you look to the state, you look to the local jurisdictions, the cities, you look to the county, but you also do some very innovative approaches such as naming rights,” Goreham said. “The other approach is you look at the development community that wants to come in and develop higher density facilities. They could form kind of a community improvement district similar to the Town Center and Cumberland districts and also look at a self taxing district whose monies raised are put back into the system supporting the system, so I think there are a multitude of opportunities for funding.”
Tuesday’s event was sponsored by organizations that promoted the $8.5 billion transportation special purpose local option sales tax (TSPLOST) increase that voters rejected in July, including ARCADIS, Croy Engineering and the Cumberland Community Improvement District.