A Bus Story

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24 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    The original trolley systems were torn up and replaced with bus routes rather easily than invested in and improved. The same goes for more than a few mass transit lines like all of the elevated trains that used to run in Manhattan. The Third Avenue El was ripped up in expectation of the Second Avenue subway, which never got built. The Chicago L used to be a lot bigger but many of its branch lines got torn down during the mid-1950s and were never replaced. Car America doesn’t really care for the needs of Transit America at all.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

      JTFC, Manhattan is the most transit intensive place in the USA and among the most in the world. The delays of the 2nd Ave line (and the demise of the 3rd ave IRT) has nothing to do with “Car America”Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    “I suspect that this tension is a large part of the reasons about why wonks and planners love buses but people potentially prefer light rail or subway.”

    I’d venture to guess that consumers (“people”) and providers (“wonks and planners”) are often going to see things very differently because they necessarily interact with the product or service very differently. Wonks and planners care about overhead, construction costs, and long-term viability. Riders care about getting from point A to point B as conveniently (with potentially varying definitions of “convenient”) as possible.

    I rode the bus in the various cities I lived in but generally preferred the subway or light rail. Not because I gave any thought to changing routes or taking away stops, but because the latter were always quicker.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

      One thing that makes a huge difference is that when you get on a train, it just goes – all the fiddling with change, hold on that’s yesterday’s transfer, do you stop at the hospital, has already happened.

      It can be done with buses, but the wonks would have to be alright with giving up a few seats and springing for two staff members on each bus – one person just drives, and another operates a turnstile and collects payment. This was the typical operation I saw on Brazilian city buses – either there was a small waiting area at the front of the bus where you waited to pay the cashier and go through the turnstile to the main part of the bus, while the bus was already moving; or there was an elevated platform, so you paid before you started waiting for the bus. I only saw the latter system in Curitiba, the former was quite common.

      Also trains don’t generally have to wait for traffic – where they interact with motor traffic, automatic gates have already dropped to reserve the right of way for them. The same can be done with buses – I’ve used the system in Curitiba, and I understand other cities have similar ones, including LA and Pittsburgh.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

      (FWIW, here in Edmonton, with very few exceptions the fastest any bus trip gets is about 2/3 the speed of bicycling, not counting the time you spend delaying departure to avoid a long wait at the bus stop)Report

      • Chris in reply to dragonfrog says:

        That’s interesting. In Austin, people talk of a news story, which is perhaps more urban legend than factual history, in which reporters drove, rode the bus, biked, and walked from the lake (the southern boundary of “downtown”) to either the capitol or campus (the latter being the northern boundary of “downtown”) on Congress Avenue, the central artery of downtown. As the tale is told, cycling was the fastest, walking the second fastest, driving third, and riding the bus fourth. I don’t know that this is true, but before they removed the buses from Congress Avenue last June (a boon for drivers, a pain in the ass for bus riders), I would frequently miss a bus at one stop then walk, not run, to the next stop, beating the bus and catching it there.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Chris says:

          Many years ago, when I was going to school in Austin and was in shape, outside of rush hour it was possible to sprint on a bicycle from the first light on Congress to the Capitol gates without missing a light. It was close — the last light often went yellow as I went through the intersection. As I recall, it was almost impossible to do that in a car because someone would do something that would slow you down to the point where you missed one of the timed lights.Report

  3. aaron david says:

    “The very immovability of train stops makes people more assured in their daily routes.”

    Yes, I would agree that this is a large part of why commuters prefer light rail. Now, if only the riders were immovable in there riding habits…Report

    • Saul DeGraw in reply to aaron david says:


      The issue here is that I don’t see how removing the 21 does anything but make the nearish by lines even more crowded. You could send people who would take the 21 to the 5-Fulton or the 6-Haight but those are already jam-packed during rush-hour. Some walkers might take a hike use the 24 or 43 to connect to the 38 Geary or 1 California to get downtown but the 38 and 1 are also very crowded in the mornings.

      So as Lee said above, car transit America doesn’t seem to care at all about public transit America.Report

      • aaron david in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @ saul
        Oh, I absolutely agree with you in the case at hand, it will be hard on those who use the line and are equally close to another. I have no idea why a city would remove a transit line for reasons other than ridership (or lack there of) or just a shot budget. That said, is the city giving any reasons other than proximity for closing these stops? Possibly not enough people are using them anymore? Dunno, might be worth checking into though… Removing the 21 may work as there might not really be enough users on a yearly scale or some other metric. In other words the budget might be too crowded for an uncrowded line.

        I have no idea what “Car America” has to do with this, except possibly paying for MTA through parking fines and meters.Report

        • Damon in reply to aaron david says:

          And gas taxes to fund mass transit.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to aaron david says:

          Mass transit funding from taxation is much lower in the United States than it is in other countries even in states with a lot of transit users. I find that a lot of non-transit users expect transit to be self-financing in away that road transportation is not. Car users seem generally oblivious about how many subsidies support their preferred mode of transit.

          Consider the Second Avenue subway or the MTA in general. The Second Avenue subway is still not yet built because of a lack of funds. The rest of New York state or the Federal government is just unwilling to pony up the money that such a project would receive from another country that funds mass transit more generously. The MTA constantly has to raise fares because non-users seem to expect it to be self-sufficient while in other countries there would be more generous subsidies to keep fare prices lower and encourage travelling by transit into and out of Manhattan.Report

          • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

            It costs 13 bucks cash to drive into Manhattan from Jersey. And then at least 10s of dollars to park. That’s a lot of incentive to take the PATH for $2.75.Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

              A lot of people still prefer to drive for a variety of reasons. Bloomberg’s attempt to introduce congesting pricing into Manhattan met with a lot of resistance from people who simply would not take the subway, PATH, bus, LIRR, or Metro North into Manhattan no matter what.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

                So what was this about then?

                there would be more generous subsidies to keep fare prices lower and encourage travelling by transit into and out of Manhattan.

                If people aren’t going to get out of cars for any price, why do we need to lower fare prices? Particularly at the current level (and even a slight increased level) still encourages transit? Especially in NYC where transit mode share is already the highest in the nation?

                (and as one of the richest accumulations of humanity in the world, can spend money on their own priorities)Report

  4. I have a pet theory about buses vs. light rail/subway/trains. Buses are more likely to require “local” knowledge. They sometimes have weird turns, even if they’re dedicated to a single street or avenue. They sometimes have variants, so that the 27A goes one place and the 27B goes another. Their routes might vary by the day of the week or the time of day. They’re probably more likely to get stuck in traffic or when there’s street construction, they’re probably more likely to be re-routed. Sometimes the stops are weird. There might be a stop every other block and then no stop for 4 long blocks or maybe a half-mile stretch on a very busy, not-stoppable street.

    Trains, etc., are more likely to be, to use a cultural studies-y word, “legible” to users, especially visitors to the city. Their paths are usually straightforward and can be grokked by looking at a map. They might have variant schedules, express service (as the OP mentions), and in some cases even different routes (Chicago’s western-bound blue line used to have a “Forest Park” and a “54th/Cermak” destination, for example). But in general, the trains go where someone looking at the map would think. If there is construction, sometimes buses are used to shuttle people between stops or the train runs on a single track, but it’s not as disorienting as a re-route. Trains, etc., are usually quicker (although not always…..I sometimes find buses can be quicker if they take me directly to my destination and if the alternative is going out of my way to get to a train stop and then, from the destination stop, have to again out of my way).

    And in Denver at least, although things probably have changed in the 13 years since I’ve lived there, the buses, except for the express and regional buses, tended to be used more by poorer people or working-class people while the light rail (and express and regional buses) tended to be used more by affluent or middle- to upper-income users. Denver’s bus fare schedule was complicated. It used to have different rates depending on “peak” and “non-peak” hours (I’m not sure it still does). Light rail, too, has a kind of complicated system, based on the distance one travels, but it’s probably more understandable to a visitor.

    None of this speaks directly to the wonk/user distinction the OP posits. But I do think it’s a step toward getting at why some prefer one to the other.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      @gabriel-conroy I think your right. Rail based transit systems are much more user friendly than bus systems even if your a local. The maps and diagrams used to illustrate rail systems are usually straight forward. Line 1 goes between points A and G and you can transfer to lines 2 and 4 at easily identifiable points on the route. Frequency is often high enough that you just show up and wait for a train. Even if you don’t speak the local language, you can navigate rail based transit systems with a relative amount of ease.

      Bus systems require a lot more precision to navigate. The maps and diagrams are harder to read because of the sheer number of lines. Knowing when to show up at a stop is more difficult because busses can get stuck in traffic. Transfers require more finesse to manage.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      You can add that, for the casual user, a train (of whatever version) is easier to use because the stops are easier to track. If I am in an unfamiliar city, taking rail is comparatively easy. I figure out where I am going to get on, where I am going to get off, and note the names of the one or two stations immediately preceding where I am getting off. Once I am on the train I can read my book while giving minimal attention to where I am, until I am close to my station. Using a bus is much harder. The preliminary research is more difficult, with many lines and usually no clear overall system map. Once I figure out what lines I am going to take, I usually can get only approximate information of where the stops are. Then once I am on the bus I need to keep close track of where I am to avoid missing my stop.

      Other considerations include that train stations often are physically more comfortable, with better protection from the elements, than are bus stops.

      I used to use mass transit in Philadelphia nearly every day. The race and/or class distinction was absolutely there. I would often be the only white person on a bus, while the rail options were quite mixed. I am not particularly disturbed to be the only white person in the vicinity, but this is a barrier for many.

      Finally, I am a big guy with long legs. Most (though not all) train cars fit me fine. Many (though not all) bus seats leave me with my knees jammed under my chin, if the bus is too crowded for me to spread out over two seats.Report

      • @richard-hershberger

        The race and/or class distinction was absolutely there. I would often be the only white person on a bus, while the rail options were quite mixed. I am not particularly disturbed to be the only white person in the vicinity, but this is a barrier for many.

        One of the things I miss about Denver is that when I lived there and rode the buses, people at bus stops (and light rail, if I recall) often talked to each other–complete strangers–and I got in the habit of doing so even though I’m not at all outgoing by nature. I met and spoke with a wide range of people, perhaps mostly working class and/or minority, and it was really good. It made me a little less of….whatever I was/am.

        In Chicago, I just don’t get that. It’s all, “keep to yourself.” In a weird way, even though mass transit in Chicago is used (I suppose) by a more diverse group of social classes, it’s less “egalitarian,” at least when it comes to personal encounters. Maybe that’s all just the attitude I bring to mass transit in Chicago and a reflection of my own, pretty much Yuppie privilege, but that’s one thing I really miss about my hometown.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


      I generally think this is right but Google Maps and other apps are making it much easier to figure out bus lines. I still prefer taking trains to buses when in a new city though if that is an option.Report

    • RTD’s current light rail zone system is just silly. It’s not so much how far you travel, as how far you get away from Union Station downtown. RTD has proposed replacing the current zone system for light rail with a much simpler arrangement: $2.60 for a single boarding pass, $5.20 for an all-day pass with unlimited boardings, plus further discounts for weekly or monthly passes. The only exception would be to/from DIA, which is a “premium” destination that costs more.Report

      • Yes, @michael-cain , I imagine the zone system would be difficult especially for someone who doesn’t live there. The fact, however, that one can go two zones on a regular fare somewhat mitigates it, but even then, if I recall aright (it’s been a while), if you hold a local monthly bus pass, you had to specify which zone you were working in, which again is silly, because if you happen to be outside the zones and want to use the rail to get home, you might have to pay more.

        I hope I’m clear.

        Have they done away with peak/non-peak fares? I assume so. I haven’t noticed them when I’ve visited the last few years, but then I usually just buy the 10 ride tickets. (I take a certain amount of pride in knowing the bus system, at least what I need to know to get around, even though there’s been some changes.)Report

  5. Chris says:

    From a rider’s perspective, there is no reason whatsoever not to prefer light rail generally. On average, it is faster, more likely to be on time, more comfortable, and cleaner than the bus, and for the non-poor riders, more expensive, which keeps out some of the less desirable passengers.

    Now, if I were moving, I’d want to move where the most reliable and permanent transportation is, and that would mean rail over bus, but the data’s clear that people will move where buses are too, if it meets certain requirements (frequency and speed, mostly).Report

  6. KatherineMW says:

    Personally, I’ve generally preferred rail because 1) the stop are enclosed and generally underground, which keeps you out of the rain; 2) you can transfer between the lanes without going out in the weather; and 3) rail moves much faster than buses which use the regular roadways, and has fewer stops.

    After having it pointed out to me that you can build express bus lanes that are only used by buses, avoid most traffic lights, have few stops, and have fully enclosed stations, and do other useful things like displaying the time until the next bus arrives, and that doing so costs much, much less than building rail, I’ve come around to backing buses on policy grounds, though I still personally enjoy rail lines more. Rail lines still do have the benefit that people are more likely to use them: the Canada Line in Vancouver running from the airport to downtown gets far more use than the bus lines following the same route ever did. Gabriel’s likely right about why.

    The mobility of bus routes and bus stops is a strength as well as a weakness: it means if a city’s population density changes, or demand for certain routes changes, you can alter the system to fit current needs. Rail lines require a lot more planning and prediction about future population movements, and often involves determining those population movements: anywhere you put a new SkyTrain station is going to be a more desirable area for development.Report