|EMX Bus Approaches Eugene Station|
The Lane Transit District (LTD) opened its EMX (Emerald Express) west 11th Street extension on Sunday last the 27th of September 2017. I rode it on that opening day and found it bumpy but otherwise comfortable.
The EMX system is a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. So how does EMX compare to regular buses and to light rail?
- EMX is basically a bus. Its stations are called bus stops. It has many reserved lanes in the roadway where only it, and right turning cars, may drive. It stops at signals just like all traffic and regular buses do.
- Because stops are few and far between, you can think of it as more of a Limited bus route. Riding it reminded me of the 38L on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco. A bit faster perhaps, and less crowded then the 38L. But both only stop where they cross other bus routes. In this sense, EMX is a limited stop bus route.
- Bicyclists slow down loading because bicycles most be placed on a special rack a the front of the bus, a rack that can only hold two bicycles. Contrast that to the new EMX bus. It has an internal bike rack that can hold three to six bicycles. And because bikes roll easily onto and off of the bus, their loading/unloading does not slow down the EMX bus.
- All LTD buses stick to published arrival times posted at each bus stop. The EMX bus posts those arrival times on electronic screens at each stop. When any bus, including EMX buses, runs ahead of schedule, it must pause in a bus stop and wait to get back on schedule. This is perhaps the one most annoying part of riding the LTD system. Buses that pause to fall back into schedule are frustrating. Instead, LTD signs should show when to expect the next bus in minutes. "The next bus will arrive in 7 minutes." That way, even if the bus ran ahead of schedule, the arrival would be correctly predicted without the need to pause at a bus stop. This is easy to change on EMX because they run at 10 minute intervals. So missing a bus causes little harm. This would not work on other bus lines because they run at 1/2 hour and hourly intervals where missing the bus is a crisis.
- Despite having laid special concrete in its lanes, the EMX bus ride was bumpy. All buses are bumpy because they run over road intended for other traffic. The only systems that are smooth are rail systems. Portland's light trail system, for example, is smooth. Light rail costs twice as much as BRT to build. EMX could have built half the distance and put in light rail. Would half the distance of light rail have made sense? Subways cost 10 times more than BRT to build. Would on tenth the distance of subway light rail have made sense? Probably not, because BRT gives you more distance for the buck, but BRT runs a third as fast as a subway.
- The real advantage of EMX is its frequency. During weekdays, EMX buses run one every 10 minutes. Imagine if all bus routes ran one every 10 minutes. A rider wouldn't need plan on a scheduled bus, instead the rider could simply show up at a bus stop and a bus would arrive within 10 minutes. Would buses be vastly more popular if so frequent?
- As an experiment, LTD should run an express on some busy route to see if frequency is a better draw than BRT with it level boarding and scheduled stops. By way of example, consider a 50x that could run out River Road crossing the 51, 52, and 55 lines. If it ran once each 10 minutes, and only stopped at transit transfer intersections, would it be as popular as the existing EMX line?