Buses aren't cool

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James Lileks asks a reasonable question:

But what if we could move the same number of people for 25% of the cost? Would it be acceptable if the ride took 25% longer? I'm talking about buses. (Again.) Light rail is much nicer than buses, of course, and that's why people want the state to spend huge sums of money on the project. It's simply cool to see a light rail train sliding up to the new high-tech station; it's not cool to see a bus lumber up to the curb chuffing and sighing, disgorging passengers by a busted bench and a bent sign. Light rail makes people feel modern and urban and part of a smart, well-managed community, and that's why we're willing to spend billions on these lines, even at the expense of other transit options. It's all emotional.

Via Dustbury. You can read my recent UTW column about rail transit here.

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5 Comments

Paul Tay said:

Yeah, but, what if the bus stops were re-designed to meet some emotional need? Hey, how about re-designing the buses? Why do they have to be just big boxes on wheels? Because of the government subsidy. Tulsa Transit has NO profit motive to innovate to meet market needs.

Hey, let's expand your call for privately-operated jitneys. Let's DE-regulate transit. It worked great for the airlines. Can't see why Downtown businesses should be barred from operating their own bus service to bring new customers to their eating establishments.

Before Black Wall Street burned, a very profitable, private bus system rolled the cheap kitchen help to work in the oil homes south of Tulsa's 38th Parallel. Tulsa Transit evolved from that business. Suppose you check into it.

S. Lee Author Profile Page said:

The perfect public transportation system was clearly displayed back in 1976 in Logan's Run. You know this would have caught on had the evil, wicked auto industry not killed it off.

If it were up to me, I'd have designated go-kart lanes. Now, wouldn't that be fun?

tphile said:

Your article (in UTW) makes some very good points. However, I don't think the reasons people want to explore light-rail are as simple as you, or Mr. Lileks purport. I certainly agree it is not to be jumped into lightly. And I also agree light-rail is probably not the promised land. But I disagree that people want it because it is "hip/cool" or because it is an emotional thing. Rather, buses jam up the congested road traffic. My guess would be that some people see light-rail as a means of dealing with that concern.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

No way a light rail would work here. No way to make it convienient enough. If you are in your car going to the train stop, why dont' you just stay in your car, and drive in? It's only a 30 minute drive from anywhere in Tulsa.

The only way mass transit works in Tulsa is if its more convienient AND cost effective to pass up. It has to be both. Oh, and it helps if it is self-sufficient.

Buses are not cool. But they've been getting me back and forth to work for 3-4 years now. BTW, I own a 13 year old car, which shows little signs of going down real soon. I paid $7995 for that car in 1997. IMO, the car consumer is the sucker, spending $8-9K a year on auto costs.

manasclerk Author Profile Page said:

Of course, buses may not actually be all that inexpensive once all the numbers are added up.

Rail works well when people sleep in several communities but all work inside a single definable area, such as Chicago's Loop. The North End is attempting to put in a new rail line into Chicago that terminates in Valparaiso. There are many reasons for why the existing line, that runs along the lakeshore and through Gary ("We're the Nation's Murder Capital! Again!"), not least of which is the fact that, as I alluded to earlier, it runs through Gary.

Even with the fact that having rich people treat Porter county as bedroom community has richly benefited Chesterton to the north, it's hard to see that the US$1B for the new rail line is worth it. And I could really use that depot nearby.

But we have a central place that we need to go to. It won't help me get to McDonalds or Motorola or Sears, all of which are out in the western suburbs of Chicago. I can get to the financial centers in the Loop, but not out to the growth areas west of town.

Public transportation in America is doomed to mediocrity because it just isn't that useful without stricter zoning requirements that would limit where developers could build. Think the Netherlands. This is currently impossible because sprawl is our way of life and mass transit doesn't work all that well in sprawl.

Still, interesting post he has.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 21, 2008 5:02 PM.

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