Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), for those who don’t know, is an enhanced bus service that operates more quickly than standard bus service. It was initially proposed circa 1999, and our city officers have considered it for a long time without attracting much public attention until relatively recently. Some Provoans attempted in 2016 to collect signatures for a petition that would enable Provoan voters to decide on Election Day whether they wanted BRT or not, and these activists claim that they would have likely succeeded if bureaucrats hadn’t delayed their petition drive for two weeks. Although a similar petition this year succeeded in placing BRT on Provo’s ballot, city officers decided against waiting for a vote before commencing construction.
So, Provo’s city officers, along with Orem’s city officers, are now borrowing another $65 million to help pay for Bus Rapid Transit. Their sales tax bond will leave every Provo/Orem household owing nearly $1,200 (plus interest) to pay for BRT construction, which will more than double existing debt. This debt repayment will cover about ⅓ of BRT construction costs, which total $190,000,000, while the remaining ⅔ will be funded by both state and federal taxpayers, most of whom live far from Utah County. And we might want to ask ourselves why people from Key West to Prudhoe Bay are being compelled to pay to re-construct 10 miles of our local city streets.
As for the benefits from these costs, this new BRT service will reportedly cut wait times in half from existing bus service along its path. Which means that riders will now need to wait up to 15 minutes (at most) to catch a bus that will convey them to their destination up to 10 minutes (at most) faster than if they drove a car—which clearly isn’t much of a benefit, except for those who don’t enjoy use of a car. Also, public transportation is relatively limited in both its starting and ending points.
Normally, it’s good to ensure that something is demanded before supplying it. In this case, our public officers admit that there is insufficient demand for BRT service yet to justify its existence, but that they are confident that demand for it will increase in the near future. Such demand will likely NOT increase due to population growth, since Provo’s populace is growing at only about 5% per decade, which is slower than almost every other city in Utah County. But demand may increase for other reasons, such as if Provo’s city council achieves its stated intentions of implementing “Smart Growth” that will forcibly redirect development from Provo’s outskirts to its downtown and south campus areas. Current UTA demand, however, is already significantly inflated because UTA bus service is so heavily subsidized by Utahn taxpayers—in fact, a UTA audit in 2008 revealed that, for every $1.00 paid in bus fare, Utahn taxpayers are compelled to provide an additional $4.00.
It’s likely that Provo’s BRT will prove to be yet another extravagant money-losing boondoggle once it’s completed, much like so many other public-transit systems nationwide, including Utah’s existing non-“rapid” UTA bus service, and unlike various private-sector UTA alternatives, such as BYU’s “The Ryde.” But this shouldn’t surprise us. Any services beyond rights-defense are generally always best supplied by the private sector rather than the public one.
(For more about Borrowing-and-Building, please see both Provo Recreation Center and Provo City Center (Proposed).)
- Provo: Bus Rapid Transit
- UTA: Provo Orem Transportation Improvement Project
- Salt Lake Tribune: “Audit: Utah Transit Authority heavily subsidized, less efficient than others in West” (2008 Jan 25)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Council told BRT could start construction in 2015” (2013 Sep 18)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Provo council hears presentation on Bus Rapid Transit” (2014 Jan 22)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Residents want Bus Rapid Transit, not same route” (2014 Jan 29)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Bus Rapid Transit: Evaluate the options” (2014 Jan 30)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Provo council debates Bus Rapid Transit” (2014 Feb 05)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Provo council votes 4-3 against Option 4” (2014 Feb 19)
- Provo Daily Herald: “The BRT Decision: How it went down” (2014 Feb 20)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Curtis sets plan to save BRT Option 4” (2014 Feb 23)
- Provo Daily Herald: “BRT referendum gaining momentum” (2014 Feb 26)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Provo finds way to move BRT forward” (2014 Mar 05)
- Provo Daily Herald: “BRT: Vote is called a win for all” (2014 Mar 06)
- Provo Daily Herald: “BRT referendum group seeks injunction against Provo and Orem” (2016 Sep 01)
- Provo Channel 17: “What is BRT in Provo?” (2016 Sep 06)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Utah Supreme Court denies extraordinary writ in BRT case, petitioners plan district court case” (2016 Oct 27)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Group hoping to stop bus rapid transit project files petition in 4th District Court” (2016 Nov 08)
- FOX13: “Rapid bus transit project causes concerns in Utah County” (2017 Jan 16)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Orem citizens’ arguments against BRT project heard in court” (2017 Jun 23)
- Provo Daily Herald: “Which Utah County cities are growing the fastest?” (2018 May 30)
- Wikipedia: “The Ryde”