I found out today that Quebec City has a plan to build an extensive bus rapid transit (BRT) system that pretty much blows every other BRT proposal in this country out of the water.

Service rapide par bus (or SRB) is Quebec City’s initiative to create a bus rapid transit system using exclusive lanes, connecting key destinations throughout the city and offering frequent, reliable service for transit commuters in Quebec and surrounding areas. Two lines will criss-cross the city along its busiest corridors: a 13.9 km east-west line will extend from D’estimauville to Laval University, and a shorter 6.9km north-south line will extend from the Grand Théâtre to the 41e Rue station.

The main concept video released by Quebec City has no narration, but offers impressive visuals of the proposed system. Not only do we see that SRB will use bi-articulated buses from the get-go, but there are dedicated lanes throughout the route, in roadway medians and exclusive alignments. Traffic-signal priority ensures that buses are almost always moving at intersections, rather than stopped at red lights.

These low-floor, tram-like mega buses will be easily distinguished from the regular articulated buses that Canadians in other cities across the country are already familiar with. At 24-metres long, they dwarf regular articulated buses with their immense size and much higher carrying capacities. Although bi-articulated buses are utilized in many cities around the world, the only other city in Canada that has actively considered using these bi-articulated bendy buses is York Region, Ontario.

Each bi-articulated bus will offer Wi-Fi access, space for wheelchairs and strollers, air-conditioning, and on-board information screens. The buses will be powered by a zero-emissions propulsion system, which will be either a hybrid-electric or battery-electric system.

Users of the system will be greeted with large and impressive stations – some of which are integrated with surrounding structures and roadways, with large station canopies offering protection from the weather. Every station features real-time next bus signage, ticket vending machines, and wayfinding signage and features.

The service is expected to cut down travel times significantly against existing express bus services that run in mixed traffic. The proposed 13.9km east-west route currently takes 50 minutes to travel on a regular express bus from end-to-end, but the new SRB service in dedicated lanes is expected to take only 28 minutes – cutting travel time by nearly in half. Rapid buses on each route will run every 3 minutes during peak hours, and each bus can accomodate up to 150 passengers.

The videos also show that the rapid bus system is expected to generate an incredible amount of transit-oriented development on the route, including both medium and high density projects and mixed-use developments. Where areas are already developed, the bus system fits in with the existing urban landscape, offering unobstructed views as there is no requirement for overhead wires to power the buses.

Essentially, this system is akin to being a Light Rail fan’s worst nightmare: it is promising all of the features and benefits that light rail supporters seem to think are exclusive to light rail systems – including the higher carrying capacity – but it delivers on these improvements with rapid bus technology, rather than with light rail vehicles and fixed rail embedded in streets.

The best part? This project is real, and it is almost ready to go. The SRB’s official web-page (French only) says that construction is scheduled to begin in Spring of 2019. The first phase of the system is expected to commence service in 2022, with a second phase commencing in 2025. There are also provisions to extend the system further to the city of Levis, located across the St. Lawrence River.

Although SRB will be a unique system in Canada once it begins its operation, the SRB is modelled upon similar real-world busway systems in France, with the project website specifically citing the Nantes Busway system. Other systems in France resemble the Quebec City proposal. Most notably, the system in Metz, France (“Mettis”) uses Van Hool bi-articulated buses that are identical to the ones shown in the SRB video.

How exactly did we nearly miss out on this incredible transit proposal for a Canadian city? One reason is because there has been practically no coverage of this proposal by any English-language media. The promotional videos I have found are only in French, and associated news reports and online articles on the project are also only available in French.

This being Quebec City, I can’t say I’m too surprised that there has been a lack of English-language coverage. However, I think that cities across Canada are definitely missing out on the examples Quebec City’s SRB proposal may offer, and I especially implore Lower Mainland cities (I am looking at you, Surrey) to have a look at what Quebec City is doing for their transit future.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Quebec City’s BRT proposal: a light rail fan’s worst nightmare?
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