Britpave: The British In-Situ Concrete Paving Association

A Brief History of the Guided Bus

Dr Bob Tebb, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK)

Although thought of as a relatively modern concept, the guided bus actually has a long and honourable pedigree. Originally conceived in the mid-19th Century, the aim then was to produce a public transport vehicle with the flexibility of the on-highway bus and the greater payload capacity of a railed vehicle with its smooth track.

As road surfaces improved the value of the guided bus concept decreased – that is until the massive growth in traffic in the second half of the 20th Century resulted in severe congestion and unpredictable delays to buses, particularly in urban areas. The current ability to use a smooth designated track for fast, longer-distance bus operation has resulted in a re-appearance of guided buses.

Congestion usually occurs where there is little space to do anything about it; so it may often be impossible to provide public transport segregation. The chance of such segregation will be materially increased if a narrower path than usual can be found – and this is exactly what the guided busway can provide.

Recent years have also seen greater awareness of the need to allow all potential travellers access to public transport systems. This requires level and close boarding between stop platform and vehicle, and lateral guidance allows that to take place very effectively.

Finally comes the issue of enforcement. Sad to relate, far too many selfish road users will violate transit lanes if they think they can gain a few seconds on their journey without being caught – to the obvious detriment of public transport journeys. The precision of the guided vehicle path encourages a large degree of self-enforcement.

Amongst the new generation of bus guidance systems, the kerb-guided bus is not the oldest but is the most mature, having been in proven, reliable, continuous operation since 1980. It is not perfect; for example its kerbs rule out its use in flush pedestrian areas.

Nevertheless it is robust and effective for short and medium distance transport up to speeds of around 100 kph. It is inherently fail-safe as the guide kerbs themselves act as an effective secondary containment measure in the rare event of any guide wheel failure.

It has also been demonstrated to attract passengers in significant numbers. For a cost base of less than 20% of that for rail-based systems, more than 80% of the latter’s patronage potential can be realised.Twenty-five years of public operation is still a relatively short span in transport system development terms. Implementers of kerb-guided busways are still on the learning curve (though well up on it!) and fresh developments and ideas are still emerging.

Other guidance systems, usually more technologically based, are appearing. They sometimes offer different guidance opportunities. In due course they may even mirror the roles for which kerb guidance is presently ideally suited – but the beauty of the kerb-guided busway infrastructure is that it is intrinsically usable (without significant alteration) subsequently by those emerging technologies.

Thus any investment in kerb-guided busways now is robust for the future