We don’t need no stinkin’ buses

The one thing you can count on from a contemporary transit advocate is that there’s one specific form of transit that’s not on the table:

“When people talk about transit, they aren’t talking about buses. When people talk about improving transit, they aren’t talking about the frequency or quality of buses. There’s transit, and then there’s buses.”

The bus is the transit equivalent of the minivan: no matter how much functionality you can cram into it, it’s still never going to be cool.

Before you write the check for one shining steel rail, though, consider this:

If all of the sudden every streetcar and commuter train that ever ran was to suddenly reappear, would we still need buses? I would argue “absolutely, yes”. Whether we like it or not, my grandparents’ generation is responsible for a huge amount of decentralization. There are dozens of neighborhoods that didn’t exist 30 years ago which are now served by buses. And in neighborhoods where rail now re-exists (in my hypothetical example), they are struggling to get enough people on the trains because, in many of these neighborhoods, the population isn’t anywhere near what it was at its height, and people’s destinations are not necessarily point-to-point the way that they were 50 years ago. Buses (and, eventually, demand responsive transit) [have] a very important role — to serve areas that it is not effective to serve by trains.

That’s it, blame everything on the baby boomers.

He’s right, though: the bus isn’t going away. A transit proposal for Oklahoma City calls for streetcars, but it also calls for retrofitting the buses to operate on CNG, which would at least reduce the stench.

A lot of streetcar vs. bus discussion in the comments here.


  1. McGehee »

    21 June 2009 · 6:07 pm

    Damn right the bus isn’t going away. Unlike any other form of mass transit out there, the bus requires little more infrastructure than the family car — streets wide enough for traffic to flow past them as they make their rounds, and intersections wide enough for the bus to make its turns, but otherwise the exact same product of sweat and asphalt will do.

    You can’t multitask a maglev track or a subway tunnel quite like you can a well-engineered and well-maintained city street. Buses will be needed as long as it remains legal for private individuals to own and drive a car.

    If the economy collapses to (or beyond, God forbid) Great Depression standards, ironically the bus may well be the one form of mass transit left standing.

  2. Andrea Harris »

    21 June 2009 · 6:47 pm

    Now if only they could do something about that reek that builds up inside of buses after they’ve been… used for a while.

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