BRT, a Timeline, and a Network Redesign

Centro’s recent Bus Rapid Transit announcements are fantastic news for Syracuse. We need better bus service to better connect people and neighborhoods, and BRT is the best way to make that happen.

The actual content of these announcements confirms a lot of what we’ve known for a long time. Centro’s first two BRT lines will run on the routes identified in the SMART1 study, they will run faster by stopping less, riders will board at stations rather than just a pole in the ground. This is all good.

But the announcements also contained two new pieces of information worth highlighting: a timeline for the service to start, and Centro’s intention to pair BRT with a network redesign.

A timeline

While it’s always seemed inevitable that Centro would do something like BRT sometime, there’s never been an actual timeline on it. Ever since SMTC published its SMART1 study, Centro has been dealing with a series of crises (a funding gap, Covid, hiring problems, etc), and designing and implementing a new service has never been the top priority. It was always a part of the long range plan, and Centro was always working on it, but the service was never imminent.

Now we know these buses will be on the streets by 2026. It is a big deal for Centro to say this publicly because they wouldn’t commit to a timeline if they weren’t confident they could keep it. Now that Centro’s made that promise, it is clear for the very first time when we can expect to actually board a BRT bus.

Network redesign

But BRT isn’t all they’re promising. Centro’s doing that and “the most comprehensive review of our Syracuse route system in more than 20 years.” This is also very good.

Centro’s bus routes follow lines laid out for the streetcars back in the 1800’s. They’ve been extended and stretched and kinked to try and keep up with changes in the community since then, and the results have not always been pretty. Buses slowly zig and zag across neighborhoods, they make detours, they run at irregular infrequent intervals. The whole system is so complicated and so fragile that people rarely try to understand how to use it to go more than one or two specific places.

A network redesign will allow Centro to look at the whole system and rework it to be faster, more frequent, more reliable, and more understandable.

Taken together, both these pieces of new information are great news for Syracuse and Central New York. We need better public transit, and that need is only more urgent since the Micron announcement. Centro has a real vision of the transit system this community needs and deserves, and they are ready to build it.