National Study of BRT Development Outcomes

Arthur C. Nelson, University of Utah



Public transit systems are often promoted as offering a plethora of social, economic and environmental benefits to urban populations by transforming urban forms from auto-centric designs into more sustainable ones. The “next big thing” in public transit is bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. From virtually no systems a generation ago, there are now nearly 20 lines operating with at least seven under construction and more than 20 in the planning stages. Part of this recent popularity in BRT stems from its more affordable capital investment costs and its potential to be utilized by municipal planning organizations as an economic development tool. Yet, research observing the extent of economic development potential between BRT types remains nascent. So, are BRT systems effective in attracting development? To answer this and many more trending BRT questions, the Metropolitan Research Center has reviewed multiple studies using data from the United States Census Bureau, Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics, and CoStar data in a quasi-experimental, compare-and-contrast research design to compare jobs, population and households, and housing units before and after BRT station construction relative to control stations and the stations’ metropolitan context. Our units of analysis are the 2010 census blocks and their assemblages into block groups as data allow within 0.25-mile buffers. Our research was designed to gather information and data about a number of relevant questions related to BRT and economic development. The evaluation sought to answer the following questions: • How does BRT influence development patterns? • What are the effects of BRT on sectoral employment change in the United States? • How does BRT affect housing location affordability? • What is the relationship between BRT and its surrounding area’s wage-related job change? • Does the type of BRT system technology make a difference in economic development outcomes?


America will add 100 million new residents, 40 million new households, and 60 million new jobs by 2050. We know from consumer preference surveys that at least a third of America’s 150 million households (50+ million) in 2050 will want to live in locations providing them with transit opportunities in addition to mixed-use and mixed-housing options. We also suspect that up to 100 million jobs may be attracted to locations with transit options. Finally, we suspect that because HRT and LRT system construction has substantially run its course and SCT systems are likely to proliferate mostly in densely-developed urban areas, BRT is poised to become the next major transit investment of choice. It is also the most varied in terms of planning, design and implementation flavor. Our work will determine the extent to which BRT attracts development and if so whether outcomes vary by BRT investment flavor. This will guide BRT investment decisions for years if not decades to come.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
December 31,2015
UTC Grant Cycle:
Tier 1 Round 2
UTC Funding: