Abandoning the Bus

The Antiplanner isn’t the only one to notice transit’s disastrous year. “NYC bus ridership fell 6 percent in 2017, a stunning year-over-year decline that accelerates a decade-long trend,” reports Streetsblog. “New Yorkers are are abandoning the bus at historic rates because service is terrible and getting worse.”

In Washington, ridership is not only falling, but Metro is forecasting a continued decline this year. “The ridership drop appears most dramatic for the system’s bus network,” says the Washington Post.

Every transit agency’s favorite solution to the problem, of course, is to throw money at it. Few of them acknowledge the real problem: too much money is being spent on rail transit, forcing cut backs in bus service and hurting many riders.

As a county commissioner in Michigan observes, “if we build mass transit, they won’t necessarily come.” I wonder how many people are “coming” to Detroit’s Woodward Avenue streetcar? It was supposed to be free for the first couple of days, but they ended up not charging fares for the first three months because they were afraid of losing too many riders. Ridership fell 40 percent, to about 3,000 daily rides, after they began charging fares.

Some people have convinced themselves that, if only their cities had rail transit, they would have been considered for Amazon’s second headquarters. If that’s true, then Amazon wouldn’t have picked Columbus, Indianapolis, or Raleigh to be on its list of twenty finalists, as these have three of the lowest-funded transit systems in the country.

Nashville, which also has a pretty minimal transit system, is also on Amazon’s list. To make the city more attractive, Nashville’s popular mayor Megan Barry, has proposed to spend some $5 billion on light rail.

However, her popularity took a hit recently when she admitted to having an affair with the head of her security detail. Worse, she ordered the city’s legal department to create a new job position that wasn’t in the budget and give the job, without competitive interviews, to her lover’s daughter. For some reason, some people have a problem with this. We won’t know until May if it affects people’s votes on light rail.

Before they vote, they should take a look at Montreal, which is also building an insanely expensive and obsolete light-rail system. Construction has barely begun and it is already $300 million over budget and is expected to be only 30 to 40 percent complete a year after it was supposed to be 100 percent complete. Why wait for years to build a fixed system that doesn’t go where people want to go when you can improve bus service right now?

Eventually, driverless cars are going to completely replace transit. Until that happens, it makes sense to only spend money on transit buses, which are inexpensive, flexible, can start new service tomorrow, and don’t require 30 years of debt payments. That’s a lesson most major American cities have yet to learn.

Share

7 thoughts on “Abandoning the Bus

  1. prk166


    Eventually, driverless cars are going to completely replace transit. Until that happens, it makes sense to only spend money on transit buses, which are inexpensive, flexible, can start new service tomorrow, and don’t require 30 years of debt payments.
    ” ~anti-planner

    __IF__ we ever get full-out robocars, sure. But even if we get what we have today, we can cheaply create semi-autonomous bus lines that are a quarter of the cost to build and operate than a rail line.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Byk8LcPovOQ

  2. TCS

    Obvious from the content but not the title: _transit_ bus service. American intercity bus carriers seem to be doing just fine:

    https://las.depaul.edu/centers-and-institutes/chaddick-institute-for-metropolitan-development/research-and-publications/Documents/2018%20Intercity%20Bus%20Outlook.pdf

    Note: DePaul’s bus studying outfit is STILL blind to the many intercity bus carriers operating in the USA that market predominately to a Hispanic population.

  3. JOHN1000

    One thing that is not mentioned much is the size of busses. The average bus could be 1/2 to 2/3 of the current size and handle the riders in most locations. Too many huge busses carrying small numbers of people.

    The savings for cost of purchase, fuel, space on the roads, etc would be huge. And would provide even greater flexibility with route schedules, changes etc.

    This would actually take thinking and planning, but would be very worthwhile.

  4. TCS

    Another potential savings: The Dallas Area Rapid Transit introduced smaller buses on little ridden, outlying routes – and a second, lower wage scale for the drivers of the new smaller buses. (Note: Texas law prohibits a state political subdivision from collective bargaining with public employees, and the bus drivers’ union, such as it is, is not granted a legal privilege to strike.)

  5. prk166


    Ridership fell 40 percent, to about 3,000 daily rides, after they began charging fares.
    ” ~anti-planner

    I suspect the folks running Nashville’s Music City Star salvate at the thought of having that sort of ridership.

  6. the highwayman

    “Before they vote, they should take a look at Montreal, which is also building an insanely expensive and obsolete light-rail system. Construction has barely begun and it is already $300 million over budget and is expected to be only 30 to 40 percent complete a year after it was supposed to be 100 percent complete.”

    I’m against the REM mini-metro project, just as I was against the way that the Train de L’Est project was done a decade ago. REM is a multi billion dollar Ponzi scheme, that will do a lot of damage.
    http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/federal-money-moves-rem-closer-to-funding-6-million-price-tag

    Though rail isn’t obsolete, with A.I. humanity is making it self obsolete :$

  7. LazyReader

    Look no further than Maryland. Rather than maintain the rails it has, Maryland is moving ahead to build the Purple light-rail line in suburban Washington; by the time the project is completed by 2022……2025, 2027 assuming delays which are ubiquitous in rail projects…..will cost close to 6-7 billion dollars. The most expensive government contract ever in Maryland,” all to move a tiny number of people who could have taken buses for a fraction of the cost. Plus you can count on having a dilapidated line in need of billions of dollars of rehabilitation, JUST LIKE THE SUBWAY and Light rail. Baltimore needs it’s streets fixed so buses can more quickly ride across them….not another billion dollar choo choo train.

Leave a Reply