Much has been said about the Provo-Orem BRT project. The Provo Mayor’s Office expressed concern that information is being shared that is inaccurate. I agree, and I would like to address some inaccurate information and raise some questions.
In information provided by UTA and the Mayor’s Office we are told that the ridership on Route 830, which runs along the same route as the proposed BRT, is 3,600 per day. When I pressed UTA about the number, I was informed that the 3,600 per day was actually from the year 2005, and it has never been updated. The ridership in 2015 was 2,500 per day. So in a decade the ridership has dropped by over 1,000 per day. This is a surprising fact that doesn’t seem to be known.
The projected ridership for BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) is 12,900 per day. This number is over five times the current ridership on Route 830. This projection seems highly unlikely. UTA and the Provo Mayor ask us to trust the UTA model and the second opinion provided by a UDOT contractor. I am told by UTA that math, traffic engineering, psychology, and socio-economics all go into projecting transit ridership. It doesn’t seem easy to verify so we should beware. It appears that none of the models took into account the declining ridership on Route 830 or the new BYU shuttle buses. There is no simple explanation of how the model works. No examples are given where a bus route multiplied ridership by five by simply going more frequently and a bit faster.
The R in BRT stands for rapid, but how rapid is BRT? The current average travel time on Route 830 is 44 minutes in the eastbound direction and 42 minutes in the westbound direction. BRT, with over 5 miles of dedicated bus lanes and transit signal priority, promises to cut the travel time to 37-38 minutes. Since the typical passenger does not go all the way, the time saved will only be 3-5 minutes. Would saving such a few minutes multiply the ridership by five?
BRT will also increase the frequency of the bus. Currently Route 830 goes every 15 minutes. BRT would go every 5 minutes in peak hours. Would this multiply the ridership by five?
Will BYU students use BRT to get to school? Most BYU students live close to campus or in BYU approved housing complexes in Provo that are serviced by five free BYU shuttles that bring students to the center of campus. BYU students might occasionally use BRT, but they currently have access to Route 830 every 15 minutes. It is hard to imagine that things would change that much with BRT when the BYU bus is free.
Does UVU need BRT? Currently Route 830 services UVU every 15 minutes in each direction. Until ridership is much higher, there is no demonstrated need for BRT. If the current ridership number increased by 40 percent it still would not be as high as the 2005 ridership number
Won’t the population of Provo-Orem double in the next two decades? The Mountainland Association of Governments projects that Provo-Orem population will increase 17 percent in two decades.
Maintenance and operation costs for BRT will continue after the initial $150 million expenditure. No one has been able to tell me how much this will require.
Provo decided with a vote of its citizens that we would build the Provo Recreation Center. Provo decided with a vote of its citizens that we would restore the Brigham Young Academy. The argument that the citizens voted on BRT twice already when we voted to increase our sales tax doesn’t make sense. For a project this major, citizens should be given a vote.
David G. Wright is emeritus professor of Mathematics at Brigham Young University. His views are not necessarily those of BYU.