Eugene, Oregon EmX
(As of September 2007)
In January 2007, Eugene, Oregon joined Los Angeles as one of the first US cities to launch a full featured BRT service inspired by Curitiba.  The new BRT serves Eugene and nearby Springfield, which have a combined population of just 200,000.  The two cities are located about 60 miles from the Oregon coast in rural Lane County. 

Like the LA Orange Line, Eugene’s first BRT corridor, called the EmX Green Line, has surpassed ridership projections since it opened.  We had a chance to visit Eugene in late June, for the APTA BRT Standards Committee meeting, and took a tour of the Green Line hosted by
Lane Transit District (LTD).  We found a service that is demonstrating how BRT can be used to deliver premium transit in a small-city environment.
Median stations must accommodate left side boarding for eastbound and westbound buses.  All stations feature raised platforms to achieve “near-level” boarding with the low-floor buses.  In addition to the yellow strips, LTD employed another low-tech vehicle guidance strategy:  an EmX logo painted on the platform.  When drivers pull in, they line up the front of the vehicle with the logo to achieve consistent boarding.  However, the docking is an imprecise science, and we saw some drivers miss their spots.  Also, depending on the driver, the gap between the vehicle and platform can expand by several inches.  On the whole, however, this low-cost docking method seemed effective. 
The EmX (short for "Emerald Express") is planned as a comprehensive system of BRT corridors.  The EmX uses dedicated transitways, exclusive bus lanes, transit signal priority, high-capacity vehicles with near-level boarding, widely spaced stations, off-board fare collection, and short headways.  The corridors will be given color names, instead of conventional bus route numbers.  LTD's goals for this service are to increase ridership by reducing travel times and improving reliability; increase corridor capacity; support land use patterns as well as streetscape and landscape improvements; and reduce operating costs.

The first EmX corridor, the Green Line, operates on a four-mile stretch between Eugene and Springfield.  The line serves the two cities’ downtown districts, the University of Oregon, and a major hospital. The Green Line replaced one of LTD’s most popular bus routes, which served about 2,700 riders.  Since the Green Line opened, corridor ridership has jumped by almost 50%, with daily boardings averaging around 4,700.
While not full-featured stations, the busway shelters are attractive and well-designed.  LTD has planted native shrubs and trees, and commissioned local artists to install public artworks.  Since reducing operating costs is a key goal, LTD chose station elements carefully to minimize maintenance.  For example, railings are stainless steel, which are “self-cleaning” as passengers lean up against them.  LTD kept vertical surfaces to a minimum, as these can be targets for graffiti.

The two terminating stations in Eugene and Springfield are more substantial structures.   In Eugene, the EmX starts in the downtown transit hub.  For the Green Line's eastern terminus in Springfield, LTD commissioned a new bus station designed to meet national “green building” standards.  The station is also a joint development project, with a small number of businesses paying rent to LTD.
This success rewards over a decade of planning.  In the mid-1990s, LTD was looking to upgrade its bus infrastructure and improve service, especially system travel times.  There was also a debate over how to address the growing county’s long-term transportation needs.  The agency decided they needed a rapid transit system with exclusive rights-of-way to avoid worsening traffic congestion and to compete with car travel.  However, cost was a key concern.  The LTD considered light rail, but rejected it as too expensive.  LTD General Manager Mark Pangborn describes how agency planners were inspired when they read about Curitiba’s BRT system in a Scientific American article.  As a result, BRT became the long-term transit strategy.  LTD envisioned a system of BRT corridors that could be built in stages, to match funding availability and ridership demand, at muchlower cost than light rail.
The EmX uses a fleet of six 63-ft articulated low floor buses from New Flyer.   They have a modern, sleek silhouette and are painted green and silver with the EmX logo. There is multiple door entry on both sides of the vehicle.  The buses seats 39 (the dual side doors limits seating capacity) and standing room for 50 to 60 more riders.  In keeping with the "green" theme, the buses are hybrid-electric.

To speed boarding, passengers enter and exit from front and back doors, although we saw some drivers close the right side front door to entering passengers after riders disembarked. 

The EmX is designed to accommodate passengers arriving on bikes.  The buses have a designated area for up to three cyclists standing with their bikes.  The buses can also accommodate two wheelchairs.  Passengers in wheelchairs enter through the middle doors, as the bus “kneels” to lift the wheelchair inside.  This kneeling method can extend dwell times.
As the pilot corridor for this vision, the Green Line demonstrates how thoughtful and imaginative planning can result in an attractive, user-friendly service built at low cost.  In planning the Green Line, LTD planners faced numerous design challenges, which they addressed with a combination of high- and low-tech solutions.  The biggest challenge was configuring the bus route.  LTD felt that exclusive right-of-way was essential for the service to compete with car travel.  However, the agency was required to minimize disruption to auto traffic along the route, limiting the ability to remove parking or travel lanes.  LTD was also restricted from relocating properties along the corridor, much of which is fully built.

As a result, LTD could not secure rights-of-way for a grade-separated transitway along the entire corridor.  About 60% of the final route is a dedicated median transitway, with 6-inch curbs.  The remainder of the route is on curbside bus lanes with signal priority and queue jump lanes.  The curbside lanes are at grade, separated from general traffic with yellow bus lane markings.  Hefty penalties are assessed for vehicles driving or parking in the bus lanes.  LTD considered using colored concrete, both for aesthetics and to visually divide the curbside lanes from general traffic.  The colored concrete was deemed too expensive.  However, the plain concrete is still visually distinct from the mixed traffic roadway.
Finding the right buses posed a major challenge and was a significant factor in the project’s lengthy development time.  When LTD began planning the EmX, no North American bus company was making the kind of streamlined, stylized vehicle that LTD wanted.  After exploring European bus options, LTD decided to partner on a procurement with Cleveland's transit agency, which also wanted articulated BRT buses with dual side doors and hybrid propulsion for its planned Silver Line BRT.  Ultimately, New Flyer agreed to develop its first 60-ft BRT-styled bus for the two agencies.  The vehicles were expensive, about $960,000 apiece, a reflection of the buses’ novelty at the time.  Now, several North American manufacturers are promoting BRT-stylized bus models, giving agencies greater choice at lower cost.
Currently, EmX passengers do not pay a fare.  LTD plans to implement off-board fare collection when the second line opens.  LTD reports that the revenue loss is minimal, because most riders hold system-wide bus passes or have paid already on the feeder buses.  And, until fares are implemented, the lack of a fare helps build ridership.

The Green Line cost $25 million to build, or $6.25 million per mile.  System construction cost about $12 million, and planning and design another $6 million.  LTD used federal funds for 80% of projects costs.  The agency secured $13 million in New Starts funding, making it one of the first agencies to build a BRT project through New Starts.

On significant portions of the dedicated guideway, buses share a single lane, passing each other at two-lane stations.  To achieve this, LTD uses “block signaling.”  Buses travel over sensors installed under the concrete at stations and intersections.   These sensors signal approaching buses when the transitway is free (see a picture of the driver's view below).  To further limit the amount of road space claimed by the EmX, the busway is very narrow:  about 10 feet (3 meters) wide along the driving route and 9 to 14 feet at stations.  To guide buses coming into these narrow stations, LTD placed yellow-gold strips made of a durable material at wheel height along the curbs (see picture, below right).  While this is a low-tech docking solution, LTD reports that it was not a cheap one.
As we noted, the Green Line has been a success in its first 9 months.  with a 46% ridership increase along the corridor.  The popularity of the EmX has filtered over to the feeder bus routes.  In a recent article for Mass Transit magazine, GM Mark Pangborn noted he had to add buses on some of their local routes to meet increased passenger demand.

There have been some growing pains.  Shortly after opening, the EmX experienced several collisions between the buses and other vehicles at guideway intersections.  This has been a problem for other BRTs with at-grade intersections, such as the Los Angeles Orange Line.  However, the accident rate declined once area drivers became accustomed to the busway.

The service has also had trouble meeting its 16-minute end-to-end travel time goal.  Two months after the service debut, average travel times were at 16 minutes; however, afternoon times were typically longer.  This is partly due to the busway’s narrow and curving design, which can be a challenge for drivers.  In addition, the focus on efficiency means drivers cannot wait for late-arriving passengers.  For a small city like Eugene, this is a big culture change, and not all riders and drivers are happy.  Some media reports featured riders complaining about the EmX bringing a "big city" attitude to their small community.  According to LTD, driver selection and training was a critical part of system planning, not only to ensure that drivers could carry out tight maneuvers and stay on schedule, but also that drivers were comfortable with the more ”impersonal” nature of the service.

System capacity is also a concern.  The single-lane transitway limits the number of buses that can operate at one time.  Currently, four buses operate at 10-minute intervals during weekdays and 20 minutes on nights and weekends.  LTD planners think they can achieve 7-minute headways to accommodate growing demand.

LTD is already planning its second EmX corridor, the Pioneer Parkway line.  Set to open in 2010, this will be a 7.8 mile route based out of the Springfield station.  The route will take advantage of new roadways and an abandoned rail right-of-way to build the dedicated busway. Estimated cost is $38 million.  LTD has already secured a federal funding commitment under the new Small Starts program, one of the first four projects to do so.

The design challenge wasn’t limited to accommodating cars – LTD also had to work around trees along the right-of-way.  A local ordinance requires a city-wide vote to remove or significantly impinge upon trees more than 50 years old.  To avoid this process, LTD planners designed the route around the trees.  One drawback to this solution is that drivers must slow down to maneuver the 63-ft articulated EmX vehicles through the curves in the narrow busway.  However, the trees do enhance the transitway aesthetics and the overall “green” image of the service. 
This green image is an important part of the system branding.  The branding strategy is to complement the area's natural beauty.  This led to one particularly striking design element:  the agency planted grass in the center of the guideways (see above).  The grass not only looks appealing but also helps absorb fluid leaks from the buses.  LTD also landscaped with native plants along the corridor and at stations.
The Green Line has 10 stops spaced about half a mile apart, compared to the 18 stops on the previous bus route that the EmX replaced.  Along the busway, LTD built 8 new passenger shelters.  These provide basic protection from the elements, but are not enclosed.  Amenities include seating, lighting and schedule information.  LTD wanted to display real-time bus information, but found current technologies prohibitively expensive to operate.  The agency is continuing to explore financially viable real-time information displays.
Overall, we found the EmX to be a well-designed and well-run service.  It is an excellent model for other small and medium sized US cities looking to implement full BRT.

For more information on this or other BRT systems, please visit our
free database of worldwide BRT projects. 

Stay informed by subscribing to our
free sustainable transportation newsletter.