Daily Archives: July 2, 2009

Intercity Buses: The Forgotten Mode

During my last trip to DC, I happened to listen to a debate over a proposal to build a streetcar line in Baltimore. “People won’t ride a bus,” argued one of the streetcar advocates. “To attract tourists, we need to have a streetcar.”

Meanwhile, within a two-block walk of the Cato Institute offices, I could find dozens of buses: charter buses in front of hotels, open-top tour buses filled with tourists, Bolt buses, two-story-high Megabuses, and many more. Most of them filled well over half their seats, except for the city buses which ran nearly empty.

Rail advocates are fond of claiming that Margaret Thatcher said, “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure” — as if support from a fiscal conservative lends credence to their cause. In fact, there is no evidence Thatcher ever said this “or indeed shared the sentiment.”

The truth is that intercity buses are staging a revival, attracting riders of all ages from all walks of life. They are doing so by offering services you can’t get from Amtrak at much lower prices. But because they are unsubsidized, they are ignored by would-be policy makers such as the Surface Transportation Policy Commission. Moreover, accurate data on bus ridership are very hard to come by.

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