Eugene, Oregon, Earns Global Recognition for Its Transportation Efforts

Eugene, Oregon, has much to celebrate in its first year of operating the new Emerald Express (EmX) bus rapid transit, or BRT, system. On January 14, the city received a 2008 Sustainable Transport Award “Honorable Mention,” along with Guatemala City and Pereira, Colombia, while the two finalists were London and Paris. Eugene was the only U. S. city selected for the annual award, sponsored by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

In 1990, Eugene city officials began to seek ways to provide an effective alternative to traffic congestion. The Lane Transit District conducted open community workshops, reached out to resident businesses, and worked with the city council to materialize this vision. Drawing inspiration from the BRT system of Curitiba, Brazil, the district launched a full-featured service as a pilot project in January 2007. This BRT corridor, the EmX Green Line, runs a four-mile stretch between Eugene and Springfield. Its fleet of 63-foot hybrid-electric buses operates in exclusive bus lanes for about 60 percent of the route, servicing passengers every 10 minutes.

Within a year, the EmX Green Line surpassed all expectations. Weekday ridership doubled from 2,700 to 4,800 passengers. Some highlight the Green Line’s lack of a fare, which will not be charged until 2010, for this increase. However, according to Lane Transit District (LTD) representative Andy Vobora, “85 percent of passengers have a pass, while others pay because of line transfers. Only 15 percent truly ride for free.” Vobra says the main incentives for passengers are the speed and frequency of the service. In fact, an LTD survey found that riders perceived the Green Line to cover its route faster than it actually does. Vobora identified overall system improvements, such as identifiable stations, as an additional explanation for the increase.

The Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center, an organization based in Washington, D.C., has described the EmX Green Line as “a service that is demonstrating how BRT can be used to deliver premium transit in a small-city environment.” Plans are on schedule to open the Green Line’s extension corridor, the Pioneer Parkway line, in 2010. This new corridor will service an area of higher population density and exploding employment. “When we hear a developer say, ‘I’m putting my business on International Way because I know there will be a future EmX line there,’ that gives us hope that people are starting to catch the vision,” said Vobora.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund.

Eugene, Oregon, has much to celebrate in its first year of operating the new Emerald Express (EmX) bus rapid transit, or BRT, system.