By Benjamin Ross : dissentmagazine – excerpt
In 2002, Royal Dutch Shell’s grant-making arm set out to influence transportation policy in developing countries. Initial “market testing,” the Shell Foundation itself has said, revealed that a program directly funded by Shell would lack “credibility,” and so Shell decided to channel its money through an “intermediary.” Several bidders competed to play this role. Shell chose the World Resources Institute, a business-oriented environmental nonprofit.
The resulting program was dubbed EMBARQ. With Shell’s financial support—starting with a $7.5 million grant—and ongoing guidance, EMBARQ urged cities to rely on buses that run on Shell’s product instead of building electric-powered subways.
Buses, to be sure, are essential to any transit system, and they rarely get the respect they deserve. Improving them can serve social justice as well as transport. But ordinary buses are hardly a credible substitute for subways. So EMBARQ promotes what is called bus rapid transit, or BRT. This refers to bus routes with special features, such as travel lanes where cars are excluded, that are said to offer rubber-tired travel that’s as good as rail but costs less. It’s an elastically defined concept that comes in many flavors; the common element is less the transportation than the politics of it. BRT is the bus you get when you don’t get a train…
BRT was newly in vogue among transit planners when Shell and EMBARQ took it up. But it’s an idea with a history… (more)