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UTA eyeing new, sleek type of bus

Jack Love steps off a Bus Rapid Transit on Tuesday in Salt Lake City. The bus is like TRAX but with rubber wheels and no rails or power lines.
Jack Love steps off a Bus Rapid Transit on Tuesday in Salt Lake City. The bus is like TRAX but with rubber wheels and no rails or power lines.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

The Utah Transit Authority wants to bring a new breed of bus to the Wasatch Front, one with a sleek design, quiet engine and the ability to move through traffic with less delay.

Consider the BRT — for Bus Rapid Transit — a "sexier" cousin to the lumbering diesel buses used on city streets. It would have fewer stops and could use a dedicated lane to move through traffic in some areas.

Think TRAX with rubber wheels but without the rails and overhead power lines.

Tuesday, UTA and a bus manufacturing company, Alabama-based NABI, drove throughout northern Utah with a BRT demonstration bus. They met with local officials in Ogden and Bountiful and talked about how the bus works, the design, cost and who would ride it.

"We want people to know that this is something new, something better," said Ron Ingraham, sales representative for North American Bus Industries, Inc., or NABI. "We've tried to make it sexier. If this were just another conventional bus it might not draw people out of their car."

The demonstration bus was longer than a typical UTA bus. It had a sleek, curved outline, a tall roof and tinted windows. Doors opened on both sides of the road.

At least four BRT systems are being studied for use along the Wasatch Front. UTA, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and Mountainland Association of Governments are studying BRT in Utah, Weber and Davis counties. A Salt Lake County BRT system is being studied by UTA and the Utah Department of Transportation.

While the Davis County study does consider light rail as a transit option, it points to BRT as being more viable. Davis County's population has yet to reach a level where light rail would work effectively, transit planners say. BRT also costs less.

"The best thing about (BRT) is its flexibility and the ability to implement a project with lower capital costs," said Hal Johnson, UTA project manager for BRT. "This is kind of the in-between between light rail and the bus."

A BRT system costs about $10 million per mile. Light rail can cost $25 to $50 million per mile.

While UTA officials say low cost is a reason to bring BRT to Utah, Davis County leaders say light rail is better. Earlier this year, Bountiful City Manager Tom Hardy took a ride on a BRT bus. BRT is nothing special, he said.

"As far as a BRT bus it was nice. It had a pleasant ride, the design was clean," said Hardy. "But, it felt like the bus. I know that's sort of 'duh,' the bus is supposed to feel like the bus, but one of the concerns we have is that if it's not distinguishable from the regular bus it will not be ridden and patronized."

UTA officials say BRT could be an asset to their transit system.

"In my mind, the only difference is that BRT is on rubber tires and not steel wheels," said UTA spokesman Justin Jones. "I think we can do an effective job marketing this."