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ATLANTA (AP) — Metro Atlantans have debated for decades whether to expand commuter rail lines into the suburbs, with many residents outside the city rejecting plans for expansion.

But another form of public transportation – bus rapid transit – has quietly captured the imagination of many public officials.

Bus rapid transit is already transforming the debate over mass transit — and it could reshape the region’s transportation network in coming years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported .

Atlanta already has some of the nation’s worst traffic, and forecasts show that it’s going to get worse.

Georgia leaders are scrambling for solutions that don’t take a decade or more to implement, like new rail lines often do. Some of them think they’ve hit upon one solution with bus rapid transit.

Bus rapid transit would have similarities to rail lines operated by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, except that they’d run on tires instead of rails, the Atlanta newspaper reported.

Passengers would board at stations, not bus stops. The vehicles would make few stops, and typically travel in dedicated bus lanes or on highway express lanes like those already under construction across metro Atlanta.

The timeline for development would also be shorter than that required for new rail lines, officials said.

The express lanes on Georgia 400, a main artery connecting Atlanta with its northern suburbs, are three years away, Roswell Mayor Jere Wood told The Journal-Constitution.

“We could have bus rapid transit in four years,” he said.

Wood and several other Fulton County officials traveled to Los Angeles recently to tour that city’s bus rapid transit system. The public officials are developing a mass transit plan that could go to Fulton County voters as soon as next year. They will plan the mass transit future of the entire county outside of Atlanta.

Fulton County isn’t alone. The City of Atlanta, Gwinnett and Clayton counties and MARTA itself are all considering bus rapid transit lines.

Skeptics say bus rapid transit has its merits, but it’s a poor substitute for the more extensive rail system they believe is needed in metro Atlanta.

They say that such bus lines might get people from Point A to Point B but won’t encourage the kind of walkable development that could truly transform Atlanta’s car-centric commuting patterns.

“There are a lot of folks who want to invest in transit and see (bus rapid transit) as a cheap option,” said Lee Biola, president of the advocacy group Citizens for Progressive Transit. “It’s just, you kind of get what you pay for with it.”


Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,