Bus Rapid Transit

Bus rapid transit
Opportunities enabled
Technology group
Bus rapid transit (BRT, BRTS, busway, transitway) is a bus-based public transport system designed to improve capacity and reliability relative to a conventional bus system.

Bus rapid transit system (BRT, BRTS) is a bus-based mass transit system. The system generally has specialized design, services and infrastructure to improve system quality and mitigate typical causes of bus delay. Sometimes described as a surface subway, BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of a light rail or metro system with the flexibility, cost and simplicity of a bus system. It can be implemented against relatively low cost, is a key technology in cities in developing countries, and has become popular in countries such as China and Brazil. BRT's can support a shift towards more public transportation, thereby bringing about a range of benefits, including reduced congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gases and better service to people in developing countries. Its main drawback compared to other urban transport systems is its demand for urban space. To be most effective, BRT systems (like other transport initiatives) should be part of a comprehensive strategy that includes increasing vehicle and fuel taxes, strict land-use controls, limits and higher fees on parking, and integrating transit systems into a broader package of mobility for all types of travelers. It should mainly be seen in competition with types of mass rapid transit (MRT) systems, mainly rail-based systems such as metro or light rail. The main advantage of a BRT compared to other MRT options is the substantially lower investment cost, while its main drawback is its demand for space in a city. In many cases, when BRTs are being constructed, road space for private vehicles is reduced, as there may be no opportunity to expand the total road space.

Responds to the following needs

  • Cleaner urban environment
  • Efficient transport system and increased mobility
  • Reduced GHG emissions

Suitable for

  • Cities and urban areas
  • Transport systems in developed and developing countries

Relevant CTCN Technical Assistance

Relevant Technology Needs Assessment

For more relevant TNA's, please see TNA Database


With regard to the core elements of a BRT, the Institute for Transport and Development Policy states that the most important ones are:

  • Dedicated right-of-way to ensure that the buses can move quickly and unimpeded by congestion. Dedicated lanes matter the most in heavily congested areas. Intersections should be set up in order to maximise the green signal time for the bus lane. Passing lanes at stations allow additional travel time savings. In addition, stations should be located at least forty metres from intersections to avoid delay.
  • Rapid boarding. This should be enabled by off-board fare collection and pre-board fare verification. Also, having the bus station platform level with the bus floor is an important way to reduce boarding and alighting times per passenger.
  • Multiple routes with free transfers between lines. Stations in the middle of the road serving both directions make transfers more convenient.
  • A peak frequency of preferably at least 8 buses per hour, and an off-peak frequency of at least 4 buses per hour.
  • A control centre for monitoring bus operations, identifying problems and rapidly responding to them. Automatic vehicle location technology through for example GPS to manage vehicle movements should be integrated.
  • Clean vehicle technologies to reduce emissions in order to decrease greenhouse gas emissions as well as to improve the health of the passengers and the urban population at large.
  • Good pavement quality which ensures better service and operations for a longer period by minimising the need for maintenance.
  • Safe and comfortable stations with an internal width of at least three metres. The stations should be weather protected and have security. The distance between the stations should on average be between 300 and 800 metres. Multiple docking bays per stations help provide multiple services at the same time.
  • Excellence in marketing and customer service. This includes a unique brand and identity, clear route maps and signage, and real-time passenger information both on stations and buses.
  • Access for special-needs customers, but also safe access for all pedestrians without dangerous road crossings. A secure bicycle parking at the station and bicycle lanes to the stations are needed to encourage bicycles as feeders to the BRT system.
  • Integration with other public transport, which includes physical transfer points, an integrated fare system and integrated information.

Status of the technology and its future market potential

Curitiba’s (Brazil) integrated transportation network is often mentioned as the first BRT in the world, being in operation since the 1970's. It has served as a source of inspiration for many other cities in South and North America, but it was not until after the year 2000 that BRTs were becoming popular, with landmark examples such as TransMilenio in Bogota, TransJakarta, and Metrobus in Mexico City. As of now, BRTs is a fully market-ready technology, and has been implemented successfully in dozens of cities in both developed and developing countries.

As of 2010, over one hundred BRTs are being constructed in Latin America, Africa and Asia. BRTs are generally seen as an option with considerable potential in cities in the developing world. Worldwide there are almost 30 million BRT passengers per day in 163 cities with a combined BRT covering a length of 4,256 km.

How the technology could contribute to socio-economic development and environmental protection

BRTs can make an important contribution to a sustainable urban transport system. It is more energy efficient than conventional bus systems per person-kilometre due to the higher speeds and higher capacity buses. Also it may improve the modal split towards more use of public transport. Many economic, social and environmental benefits of BRT have been identified:


  • Reduced travel time
  • More reliable product deliveries
  • Increased economic productivity
  • Increased employment
  • Better work conditions


  • More equitable accessibility throughout the city
  • Less accidents and illness
  • Increased civic pride and sense of community


  • Reduced emissions (CO, SOx,NOx, particulates, CO2)
  • Reduced noise levels

For more on BRT's climate mitigation potential see: Capitalising on public transport: reducing GHG emissions in Latin American cities

Case studies

Guanzhou Bus Rapid Transit System