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America’s Buses Need Our Love More Than Ever (2018) (citylab.com)
111 points by jseliger 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments



The thing I hate about buses in many cities is that they take longer than driving to get somewhere. I think if this can be changed, more people will use them.

Cities like Sydney get it right, by having dedicated express lanes on many highways for buses (and taxis). When it becomes faster to catch the bus in peak hour because they can drive in lanes that bypass the gridlock, there is an incentive to leave your car at home if you know you'll be leaving work during peak hour and need to be somewhere ASAP.

Interestingly, this has also allowed taxis to have an edge over Uber et. al. Just recently I was catching a ride to the airport in an Uber and forgot about how bad peak hour traffic would be. We were stuck in awful traffic for over an hour, and meanwhile, all these buses and taxis were flying past us in the transit lane. The fare of the Uber ended up costing more than the fare it would have been in a taxi due to how much longer it took.

If transit lanes can be put in more places, bus lanes created at more intersections (so that buses can get ahead of traffic), and fares set at the right amount, I think that with the rising cost of fuel, insurance etc., more people will be willing to catch public transport, especially if it is more convenient to do so.


This - enforce carpool lanes and give buses priority access. Immediate positive.

Secondly and more importantly for me (and I know unpopular) - kick off the drunk / other rule-breakers and anyone who threatens people even if its just a result of mental illness. No one wants to start their day next to someone yelling - "I'll f* you up... etc" on a crowded bus. At least where I am the bus drivers don't do anything from small - blasting music -> to larger - nonstop threats of violence.

I have only small anecdotes but other places seem to empower the drivers etc more. And the jitney cabs in the Caribbean would flat out leave people on the side of the road if they were sloppy drunk.


Some of this is down to the driver being the only staff member on the bus. They should be fully focused on driving as a bus hitting anything is bad news. Stopping to kick people off just delays everyone on the bus getting where they need to go.

If there was a conductor on the bus then they could deal with inappropriate behaviour, but no bus company wants to pay two members of staff when they can get away with one.


Why not rotate conductors throughout different busses? A conductor gets on at one stop, checks everyone's tickets (so they may end up covering a lot of their cost initially in fines), then get off a few stops later and catch a bus going the other way.


Every major city I've ridden mass transit in does this. They're not called conductors though, they're called transit cops. They're also still woefully ineffective.


Would be interesting to see if we can create self driving buses and have the driver change roles to become payment management and enforcing a safe area in the bus.


You need at least 2 people to enforce the law and at the same time avoid excessive zeal/abuse.

In my city the ticket checkers are always in groups of 3.


If no one is driving, it makes citizens do more of the work.. in a crowded bus, a group of normal people could throw the asshole off. Eventually, the assholes won't ride the bus.


In the current climate, an untrained unlicensed bouncer is just begging to get sued. They work under strict rules that most people don't know.

How many commuters are even armed? A shocking number of offices have begun to forbid it.


In most countries you don't need to be armed to kick people off a bus. Do you suggest people throw out drunks at gunpoint? That seems really dangerous.


If one person is armed and the other isn't, the fight's over before it begins unless the other person is disabled by drugs or mental illness. If neither is armed, a surprising number of people will think they have a chance against the trained fighter, and some even might.

Therefore, arming conductors helps even when nobody walks around with a firearm.


It helps if you want to increase the number of people killed for being stupid on a bus. I don't think the penalty for disturbing public order should be death.


To the helpless, I suggest don't poke the bear.


I would be shocked and refuse to work at a place that allowed employees to bring in guns.


in a crowded bus, a group of normal people could throw the asshole off. Eventually, the assholes won't ride the bus.

This is not a realistic proposal. Have you ever gotten a bus?


"The thing I hate about buses in many cities is that they take longer than driving to get somewhere."

In my experience they take within a few minutes of walking somewhere, and perhaps three times as long as bicycling, never mind driving.

Perhaps someone will say that this indicates my local bus system is terrible, but I don't see what could be improved about it. If they want to serve the people who actually ride the bus, they have to go on routes with riders, and stop at all the places people want to get on and off.

But I've tried riding the bus on trips ranging from <1 mi, to 3.5 miles, to 6-10 miles, and there's just no point, except in the case where I need to go get my car and I have no alternative (or if I didn't own a car). For a longer trip, it means sacrificing an entire evening for what would be a 10-15 minute trip going directly.

For the longest trips (>6 miles) which coincide with a single route, the bus can be substantially faster than walking, but it's still way too long to be a viable commute. And shorter trips are very comparable to walking.

People say or imply that something could be different that would make a typical bus system in a US city more effective for people who have alternatives, but what?

The idea of the bus being "more convenient" with a few tweaks seems wildly implausible to me based on my experience.


> stop at all the places people want to get on and off.

This is an interesting trade-off. Assuming that people get off the bus somewhat randomly, then average stop spacing should be about a quarter-mile: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2018/10/30/sometimes-bus-...

But the above assumes a nice grid. Many suburban bus routes have awkward deviations which cost time on side streets to get to an office park or similar. Fundamentally the trade-off is additional walking for some vs. additional time on the bus for all.


Buses are most viable when combined with a well developed rail system. Then it's worthwhile as an alternative to dealing with parking at the train stations and because you won't have your car on the other end of that rail journey.


Buses i most US cities just aren't viable. A lot of cities really don't work well if you don't own a car at all, and if you own one a bus will never win driving and parking in the big lot.

In NYC, buses work, and people take them because they have to. They could be better but the alternative is hundreds of dollars in parking if you think about owning a car.


You have to at some point accept that the vast majority of people, while they don't live in nowheresville, Montana, also don't live in the very largest cities. A million or two people within say 10-15 miles is the sort of place a large portion of the country lives, and changing that on a national scale seems very far fetched to me. 85% of the country by population is outside the metro areas of NYC, LA, Chicago, and Dallas. Regarding them as a small group of people many miles away from civilization is not reasonable, but it's also not reasonable to assume the resources exist for infrastructure like the largest cities.


It's also not reasonable to assume the resources exist for infrastructure like the largest cities.

Cities have actively made decisions to design cities around the car at the expense of every other mode of traffic. It's pretty unreasonable to expect that the status quo can't change.

In fact if you look at the Bay Area, the problems with transit are largely due to other sorts of dysfunction, not due to lack of funding. Los Angeles, OTOH, has been building out public transit in a coordinated way (far more successfully than the Bay Area has). IOW where there's a will there's a way.


> A million or two people within say 10-15 miles is the sort of place a large portion of the country lives

That's more dense than Oslo, which has several major rail arteries and a light-rail/subway system, most of which was initially built at a point where Norway was still a relatively poor country. It's vastly more than e.g. Bergen, which has 280k people, a tram

It boils down to whether or not you're willing to actually plan for it and spend money on it.


I don't understand what you mean at all.

If I didn't have a car, of course I would ride the bus to the train station. And I have in the past taken a fairly long distance bus to get to an airport hub.

But this doesn't seem to have any relationship to daily life where I am, or similar places, because train or plane rides are for going on long trips, say over 200km.

Indeed, to travel to NYC from where I live by train would be the same time as driving, and considerably quicker than a bus. But no way would I ever spend about 2.5 hours daily going back and forth, so it's all unrelated to my normal transportation needs.

Maybe by a "well developed rail system" you mean a subway, but it doesn't seem realistic for an area with a million or two people to support one. With infinite resources, you could run infinite free buses too, rather than indirectly trying to create some sort of synergy.


> Maybe by a "well developed rail system" you mean a subway, but it doesn't seem realistic for an area with a million or two people to support one.

Population of Kyoto: 1.47 million

Kyoto subway map:

https://youinjapan.net/maps/kyoto/kyoto_metro_train_map.png

I didn't cherry pick this from some ordered list of cities by train lines to population ratio; I just picked it because I lived there and the train was as incredibly convenient as it looked. And also gorgeous:

https://ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%BA%AC%E9%98%AA3000%E7%B3...


In Kyoto half the population of the entire metro area lives within city limits. In a comparably sized American city like Philadelphia it might be a quarter. Or you might have something like Atlanta, with a city that has 1/3 as many people as Kyoto in a metro area that has twice as many.

The net result is that a good subway system in Kyoto can serve a majority of the metro population, while that is not true for Philadelphia or Atlanta. (That is true even though Kyoto is not particularly dense--closer in Atlanta to density than to Philadelphia.)


Perl4Ever was expressing doubt that an area of a million or two people could support rail. I think Kyoto is an excellent counterexample to this claim, and the rail lines are what propel the density as people want to buy homes that are walking distance from a train station.

But let's look at Boston instead. Population 700,000 in the city limits; 4.8 million in the metro area, so about one seventh lives in the city proper.

http://www.rochestersubway.com/images/photos/boston_subway_m...

While perhaps not as developed as Kyoto, that's still a very healthy rail system. And its first subway was built in 1897 when it had a population of just about half a million.


"an area of a million or two people could support rail. I think Kyoto is an excellent counterexample to this claim"

The metro area in which Kyoto is located is around 20 million people. The metro area of Boston is almost 5 million people, you say. These are not counterexamples to what I was trying to communicate. I don't really think my comment was as hard to understand as you make it seem.


The bus system is also excellent.


In the process/after writing the above comment, I was looking at Amtrak's schedules, and thinking about the concept of commuting to NYC from Albany. It occurred to me after a minute, to imagine a job where, instead of trying to get to the city in time for work, I got on the train more like 8-9 AM, and was considered to be "at work" on my laptop for the next couple of hours, and the same coming home. Perhaps there are people who do that, and it might be an interesting way to live.


Of course, that begs the question of: If you can do your job on a train on your laptop, why the hell are you traveling to an office in the first place?

The best car alternative is not going anywhere.


Of course, that begs the question

Begging the question is a logical fallacy.

If you can do your job on a train on your laptop, why the hell are you traveling to an office in the first place?

Potentially there are some, but not all, parts of the job that can be done without face-to-face interaction. Or potentially there are parts of the job that can be done without face-to-face interaction but would still benefit from being in the office.


Yeah, I mean, let's say you need to be in the big city in the first place to have meetings with people, you get to work on the train in relative peace, you have your meetings around mid day, and then you get to work alone in the afternoon.

The drawback would be that the train isn't that smooth or quiet.


> But this doesn't seem to have any relationship to daily life where I am, or similar places, because train or plane rides are for going on long trips, say over 200km.

Which seems to suggest you live somewhere without a well developed rail system.

I grew up in Norway - a country with a population density of ~14 or so people per square km. Only 8 US states (Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska, Nevada) has a lower population density. But yet, like in the US, most of the population live in much denser conurbations.

What is different from the US is that most of these people as a result also live along rail corridors that makes rail competitive with or faster than driving as the commuting option for a large proportion of the population.

> Maybe by a "well developed rail system" you mean a subway, but it doesn't seem realistic for an area with a million or two people to support one.

Oslo has a light rail/subway system with a population of 673k in the city itself and 1m in the urban area, or 1.6m in the metro area (though the latter includes towns well outside of Oslo proper separated from the city by forest in many cases).

The London suburb I live in has a tram system that is grade separated along substantial parts of the network, for a population of about 400k.

> Indeed, to travel to NYC from where I live by train would be the same time as driving, and considerably quicker than a bus. But no way would I ever spend about 2.5 hours daily going back and forth, so it's all unrelated to my normal transportation needs.

And yet large cities like NYC does have commuter belts that stretch out that far. E.g. London as well - the typical Londoner commutes an hour each way, and about 70% of journeys happen by public transport, because car largely is not competitive unless you happen to live in really odd locations relative to were you work.

But smaller towns do as well - my London suburb attracts commuters by rail from similar distances away, some in fact coming by rail through London from the other side.

But many people commute in to London from 2h+ away - the first trains to arrive in towards London from the South Coast in the mornings are always full of commuters.

Of course London does have the advantage of significant density.

But this was true even when I lived in Norway - trains in to Oslo in the early morning brought in long range commuters, and then filled up by people like me travelling "only" 20-30m from a nearby small low density town, because taking a bus to the local train station and the train in was competitive with car unless you live 20-30+ minutes by bus away from the nearest train station, in which case you'd be living in the middle of the wilderness.

Which of course is possible, but the proportion of the population that is true for even in Norway with it's extremely low population density, is extremely low - even in the US states with lower population density, most of their population is concentrated in relatively dense conurbations.

The point being that once you actually develop rail networks out to those kind of locations, people start using them over time - this is true in the US too - a whole lot of US towns grew out of development around the rail rather than being somewhere that existed prior to rail. Once you then add feeder bus routes utilization tends to go way up, as it takes away the day parking problem.

This whole "the US is just too big" thing just doesn't make any sense, because as you point out, most people have a clear limit on how far they want to commute, and if you parcel up the US similarly based on commuting centres and a ~1h travel radius around them, you cover the vast majority of the US population in regions that are for the most part more dense than many places with perfectly fine rail networks.

Nobody is suggesting rail, or light rail/subways or buses will be viable for absolutely everyone, but as someone who has lived somewhere with population density well below the US average without a car, I'll tell you that it seems weird to you because you have a century of no policy of trying to create an integrated transport system most places.


"> But this doesn't seem to have any relationship to daily life where I am, or similar places, because train or plane rides are for going on long trips, say over 200km.

Which seems to suggest you live somewhere without a well developed rail system.

I grew up in Norway - a country with a population density of ~14 or so people per square km."

If I Google "Norway" and "subway", I get hits for Oslo. The Oslo metro area is close to two million people.

So I don't see any indication that my view of what's possible is likely wrong.

Patronizingly saying "you don't have a well developed subway system" implies that is something that could be changed if Americans were just sensible like Scandinavians. But is there any magical solution outside the largest population centers, in any country? In another post, Kyoto was mentioned, as though that was a refutation of something.

When I ask how you can have a certain level of infrastructure in an area with a million people, pointing to all the arbitrary boundaries enclosing a million people within a significantly larger population doesn't seem like constructive dialogue to me.


Express bus lines can also work in a similar role: You end up taking a feeder route for 10-15 minutes that is barely faster than cycling[0], the switch to an express route where you have one or two stops and is equivalent in speed to driving. Obviously capacity is lower, but it's a lot cheaper to setup a bus route than rail route.

[0] Even in London where buses stop every few hundred meters they are faster than walking (unless there is a lot of traffic). How badly designed is GPs system?


Triple the price of gasoline, rigorously enforce traffic law, eliminate all free parking.

In short stop subsidizing the actual fiscal and opportunity costs for driving personal vehicles and mass transit starts looking pretty good.


I took the bus to work from marin to san Francisco. I did so even though driving is faster because (a) in the morning, i could do work the moment i got on the bus (free WiFi) instead of shouting at the driver in front of me, (b) because i started work earlier, I could leave earlier and (c) in the evening i could browse the internet and watch Netflix on my way home. The extra 15 minutes i spent because I took the bus instead of drive was spent in luxury essentially.


Marin to San Francisco is an interesting example because Marin Transit has next to no idea what the fuck they're doing. My experience over a few decades is that getting to/from Marin-SF on public transit typically takes 2-3 hours depending on how far away from downtown SF and 3rd/Hetherton you're going. If the delta between driving and taking the bus is only 15 minutes you either get stuck in awful traffic or live very close to a 30/70/101 bus stop.

Grievances:

The 101 is a great idea, a limited stop bus from SF to Santa Rosa that can basically camp out in the carpool lane. Except that in their infinite wisdom, Marin Transit doesn't actually time transfers in San Rafael. Unless you live within walking distance of a 101 stop you're often just wasting your time.

Real-time predictions sound great, except that Marin Transit is pairing with the Transit app. For a while was providing completely fabricated predictions. Sorry, you're only going to leave me stranded in the middle of the night once before I dump your app. NextBus has its share of problems too, but the difference is that Muni runs such frequent service you're more concerned with predictions and headways than with schedules. Marin Transit runs such sparse service that you absolutely need to adhere to a schedule.

A zone based fare system sounds reasonable to most people. Unfortunately Marin Transit is not set up to refund overcharges when you can't tag off as you exit the vehicle (e.g. when their own equipment doesn't work). Zone based fares also complicate cash payments wildly slowing down the boarding process. Unfortunately Marin Transit refuses to let people alight from or board with RFID payment via the rear doors slowing down the whole process even more.

The Golden Gate Bridge District (one of the folks Marin Transit contracts out to) leased another ferry knowing that the engine wasn't compliant with California emissions requirements. In their due diligence they never realized that it is physically impossible to retrofit a compliant engine into that heap. It's still not in revenue service.

Historically there have been very few feeder routes because people tend to like to keep the poors out (Tiburon is notoriously bad). So to get from Marin to San Francisco you're often walking all the way out to the highway, sometimes along roads with no sidewalks (I'm looking at you Sleepy Hollow). SMART also suffers because of this. Getting to a SMART station can easily be a 30 minute walk along a route with no bus service.

That said, things don't actually have to be this way. But Marin likes its privilege[1].

1: https://www.reddit.com/r/Marin/comments/coz8ro/smart_train_s...


Golden gate transit and marin transit are different authorities. I like golden gate transit. The buses are the best public ones I've ever been in. Ive lived in marin and South bay and marin is way more connected to SF. Bus service runs much more consistently from and to more parts of the city than anything from South bay (if i recall correctly, some routes are 24/7)

I took the 24 and yes i lived near a bus stop because thats what you should do when you have money (like everyone in marin) and are choosing where to live.

Marin is by far the most livable and accessible place in all the bay area. You can get to all parts (including the coast and natural areas) via regular bus service and some walking which puts it lightyears ahead of South bay.


Golden gate transit and marin transit are different authorities.

Marin Transit contracts out to Golden Gate Transit (the bridge district), Marin Airporter, Whistlestop, and MV Transit. For many years they simply used the bridge district but that was too expensive so they've farmed many routes out to cheaper (read: non-union) companies using smaller equipment.

Bus service runs much more consistently from and to more parts of the city than anything from South bay (if i recall correctly, some routes are 24/7)

Here's a map of late night public transit service. Note that Marin is conspicuously devoid of any routes. While it will take an extraordinarily long time you can get from San Francisco to San Jose late at night on public transit. Public transit in Marin shuts down between 9pm and midnight.

https://511.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/RTC/allnighter-v10....

I took the 24 and yes i lived near a bus stop because thats what you should do when you have money (like everyone in marin) and are choosing where to live.

Most people don't and can't do this. Transit oriented development is regularly protested to a degree that SF NIMBYs would be green with envy if they saw how things worked in Marin.

Marin is by far the most livable and accessible place in all the bay area.

Based on?

You can get to all parts (including the coast and natural areas) via regular bus service and some walking which puts it lightyears ahead of South bay.

Yeah, that's definitely not true.


So their use of union v non union labor is immaterial to my experience as a bus user. Golden gate transit drivers were the nicest drivers ever.

You are completely wrong about transit shutting down between 9 and midnight. The 101 route definitely has north bound buses runnjng every hour at that time (my wife and i took them regularly). This is really low effort critique on your part: http://goldengatetransit.org/schedules/updates/route_101.php

The livability claim is based on how east I found it to live in marin compared to mountain view, Palo Alto, and sunnyvale. It is a personal claim. Marin is way less stressful and overall better connected with san Francisco.

And yes, you can go from east marin to west marin via bus and you can go to mt tam via bus and you can go all the way to inverness via bus, passing through a good portion of marins natural areas.


You are completely wrong about transit shutting down between 9 and midnight. The 101 route definitely has north bound buses runnjng every hour at that time (my wife and i took them regularly). This is really low effort critique on your part: http://goldengatetransit.org/schedules/updates/route_101.php

I was referencing the entire system, the 101 is a minuscule fraction of the overall service. But if you'd like to look at the timetables, the last southbound 101 leaves Santa Rosa at 9:55 PM, arriving in SF at 12:17 AM. The last northbound 101 leaves SF at 12:08 AM and arrives in Santa Rosa at 2:30 AM. So, sure, some parts of the route get service past midnight. But if you're counting on taking the 101 home from SF past midnight, good luck.

Meanwhile SamTrans, for instance, runs hourly service to San Francisco between 1–5 AM.

The livability claim is based on how east I found it to live in marin compared to mountain view, Palo Alto, and sunnyvale. It is a personal claim.

Personal claim, perhaps, but it's objectively false. During the day you've got a few different rail options to get from SF to SJ as well as regular bus service.

Meanwhile Marin sees a few routes to SF maybe twice an hour during peak hours, and a handful of ferry trips. During the weekend you're typically down to hourly service and maybe three ferry trips a day.

And yes, you can go from east marin to west marin via bus and you can go to mt tam via bus and you can go all the way to inverness via bus, passing through a good portion of marins natural areas.

Sure, if you time it right. The timetable for the 68 may as well be swiss cheese though.

Point being that there's nothing stopping Marin County from doing a good job with transit. Nothing, that is, except for a populace that would rather sit in traffic.


I agree. The other problem is density which turns into chicken or egg problem. People will ride when it's faster than car. To be faster than car to most people, you need a dense network of bus routes that map to a lot of A->B routes (instead of hub and spoke model where almost every ride goes downtown, you transfer, and go back out to where you need to go). More buses = more money. To justify money you need ridership. And around we go.


I'm not even worried about longer commutes as much as reliability. Most cities in the US have bus lines, but I've heard absolute horror stories about buses being / early late and people having to wait an hour before another one comes.


Do buses run to Sydney airport? I usually take the train to the airport and I hate it. For whatever reason the airport line is privatized and they absolutely gouge you on ticket price.

It costs me $22 to get train to the airport (it's around $17 from central station to airport). I can get a flight to Melbourne for ~$70 it shouldn't cost 1/3 of my plane ticket. If there are two people traveling in a group taxi is cheaper and depending on time of day faster.


Yep the 400 bus does! It goes via Mascot Station and then via UNSW and Randwick to Bondi Junction.

A good hack is getting off the train at Mascot, walking across the road and catching the 400 one stop. They come every few minutes and you save the airport train station fee!


> The thing I hate about buses in many cities is that they take longer than driving to get somewhere.

I've found the same with walking in some cases.


> Interestingly, this has also allowed taxis to have an edge over Uber et. al.

Why is this wanted? We have bus/taxi lanes here as well, but Uber is allowed to go there as well (they require the same taxi license as anyone else).


I understand privileging buses but under what pretenses should we privilege taxis over transportation network companies?

If anything, only pool ridesharing companies should get the benefit of these intracity HOV lanes.


My comment wasn't a justification of allowing taxis to use those lanes, I was just pointing out how well they worked anecdotally.

I think the transit lanes can be used by buses, taxis, chauffeured cars, etc. Mainly for politicians/important people to get the airport or city quickly I suppose.

I think since taxis pay heavy license fees to the state (whereas Uber etc. cars only pay car registration like all other cars) allowing them to use the lanes has been justified by the city. But of course, these licenses aren't open to Uber or other providers so it's a difficult situation that does stifle competition.


One reason why only licensed taxis can use those lanes is to prevent regular people using them.

If you just needed to sign up to be an Uber driver, and you could use the HOV lane, everyone would do it. Even if you had to do that and pay a fee of $5000/year, there would be plenty of people who could justify that over the time saved in traffic (but probably not Uber drivers).


Can't say I agree with it but the thinking goes that taxis are an alternative to owning/using your car so are privileged in various ways like this, dedicated short-term parking in ranks etc. It's not _only_ rich people who use taxis, so the thinking goes. (Rich people are also banned from sleeping under the bridges, just like poor people...)

When Uber et al took all the value out of the expensive taxi number plate one of the few ways the government had to compensate their owners is that advantage they still have, so they haven't leveled the field there. That conversation might open up the entire concept to evaluation though.


Particularly for airports, prices for licensed taxies are usually regulated to be within a very narrow, predictable range. Opening up the Uber app, the estimated price for an UberX to SFO from my current location is $47.30, which is almost exactly what a taxi would be--$45-50 in this part of the city. Licensed taxis are, at least to some extent, a deliberately planned component of the public transportation infrastructure.

And as I about to post this, the price for UberX changed to $49.80. Thanks for the illustration, Uber.


I'm a firm believer that we need to get the private busses out of the express lanes. In Seattle it is really bad, all of the Microsoft and Amazon busses crossing east west have destroyed demand for quality public transportation across that corridor. Every day going to work I drive the same route as a Microsoft bus, the current alternative is three busses for 90min best case. This is also the only HOV Lane in the state that is 3+, further limiting carpooling incentives, which I have a hard time not believing stems from lobbying from the companies that run these busses.


You do realize that if you get rid of those busses then the traffic will be even worse right? Even if all of those people end up carpooling, they'll occupy way more space in the HOV lane.

The real solution should be to expand the number of HOV lanes.


My point is they have effectively become restricted public transportation where there was demand for a viable real public transportation. This has made it so the average person no longer has an option. These routes are not viable for both a public and private option. Everyone coming from the West side to work at my office both drives and is a short walk from a Microsoft bus pickup.


> The real solution should be to expand the number of HOV lanes.

Haven't you heard that increasing the number of lanes makes traffic worse?


I think (and may be wrong) they meant conversion of lanes to HOV, but not actually increase lanes.


Why? Private buses are solving the same problem as public buses--taking cars off the road and reducing traffic. You could make them unpalatable, but I'm guessing most Microsoft and Amazon employees will revert to cars before public buses, which makes traffic worse for everyone, including you.


And incur the extra 15-20min of drive time each way? I doubt that.


Around 2000 there was a bus that went from downtown Seattle out through the MS campus via 520. I was confused when that line was dropped, it was awesome and nearly the same commute time from LQA


The author completely forgets there is a whole world outside the US, where public transportation is efficient, preferred, and often makes good profts too.

- Singapore has a very good bus+ metro system and people actually prefer it. Cars are heavily taxed which contributed to it, but their well planning has helped too. Airport served by metro, so is the Malaysia border, and every neighborhood has at least two nearby metro lines and a plethora of bus lines.

- Kuala Lumpur has quite heavy traffic, but they have two free public bus lines going around the important places in the city. They are free of charge, every 15-30 minutes, have their routes well marked, and even has free WiFi.

- Jakarta: they have the world's biggest bus rapid transit system. Dedicated lanes, platforms, cashless payments, and the massive coverage help this massive city to have slightly less traffic jams.

Jakarta also has motorbike taxis (ojek, Gojek/Uber apps) that serve the last miles well. They are quite cheap (about 10 US cents per km) and I doubt they will be economical once the VC money is burnt, but they are better than a sedan with a driver and a passenger.

- Berlin/Munich: Good tram system with commuter passes, day passes, etc. It's common to give the day passes to someone at the ticket machines when we are done for the day. They help keep the costs low in otherwise expensive cities in Munich.


I think it’s clear the author is only talking about bus transit in the US.


The motorbike taxis existed way before Uber, and they will probably outlast whatever subsidies they are getting. The only way to shut them down is by law (which is how southern Chinese cities are getting rid of them ATM).

Tuktuks are also a great last mile alternative. Maybe a bit safer and more comfortable than riding behind someone on a motorbike.


As a Jakarta resident I can confirm that the bus transit system (TransJakarta) have massively helped mobility amongst the populace. With a flat fare of 2 cents you can get from one end of the city to the other; it's an amazing system.


In Bangkok, between getting around between the trains, the bus, the river/canal boats, songteaws (pickups with bench seating in the bed), you have a number of cheap public options. In a pinch there's Grab motorbike taxis and general cabs, but a city being set up to mostly be walkable from transit hubs, means owning a car is completely optional--it would just help if it weren't seen as a status symbol. I noticed the same thing in Hanoi where people wanted to own cars because of status, which is disappointing.


In the bay area, there was an express bus line from my town straight into downtown San Francisco. I could work through my whole commute (as I had a seat and a laptop), not worry about traffic or deal with road rage, and was filled with a wide variety of people.

If each community added their own similar route, I wouldn't be surprised if rush hour traffic was noticably impacted.


The HN demographic skews young and male, so I think many of us fail to appreciate that older people and women often feel unsafe — or at least uncomfortable — on public transit. Increased law enforcement presence and enforcement of decent behavior would do a lot to make people love the bus.


>I think many of us fail to appreciate that older people and women often feel unsafe — or at least uncomfortable — on public transit. Increased law enforcement presence and enforcement of decent behavior would do a lot to make people love the bus.

That may be true for the US, but interestingly in Spain (and I daresay in most of Europe) the opposite is true: the prototypical users of public buses are older people, and particularly older women. They generally don't use or don't need a car, are not in enough of a hurry to use the Metro, and want to avoid the latter's long stairways and escalators.

Maybe the solution for women and older people in the US to start using the bus more needs to start with stricter law enforcement and presence, but I can't say it is a factor in Spain. Law enforcement and security guards are very rarely seen in buses, though their overall heavy usage and the fact that most of the city has a high density of foot traffic anyway is probably enough to discourage feelings of unsafety.


"the opposite is true: the prototypical users of public buses are older people, and particularly older women. "

That's not the opposite. The statement isn't that old/women don't use public transport; it's that they feel unsafe using it and would use any alternative were it affordable/possible.


When I was young, in the US, there were equal numbers of men and women on the bus. As I got older, I stopped taking the bus. But on the random occasion that I have to, it's still just filled with... young men and young women in equal ratios. I think it's just an age thing, not a gender thing, that people stop taking the bus.

That being said, it's not just because I have a car that I don't ride anymore - and safety isn't the reason. I get overwhelmed with either Marijuana or Perfume both of which are awful smells. Then there's the people that play music out loud for everyone - or in some cases a game on the phone at full volume instead of through buds. Lastly, and this doesn't need explaining, but the pee-seats. It's enough to make me want to always own a car or have a personal transportation option. If you can outlaw perfumes/marijuana/noise and figure out the pee-seat problem I'd be down to use it more.


Honestly I feel unsafe much of the time on BART these days. Unfortunately BART PD presence is part of the problem.


My city's buses often take longer than walking, and I have to stand on them because the suspension is not sufficient on our roads, it's probably not even safe to sit sometimes. The HVAC and rattling/flapping noises are extremely loud.

I ride the bus here when absolutely necessary, I usuallly walk the 3km to/from the regional train station to avoid it. Often it's not even an option, since all of the routes close down at about 1:30, and at that point come every couple hours.


Busses have to be one of the worst modern mass-transit options. Auckland NZ has bus lanes, so that is fine. But they are diesel. So they are noisy and polluting. Get two or three busses in a row and you cannot see past them. They block entire roads, and really, the have a low head count for the amount of space they take up. I'm not even speaking as a driver, I'm speaking as a pedestrian. Busses really suck.


A large bus on a road takes space of 3-4 cars. With a typical car carrying 1-2 people, the hugest bus uses space more efficiently if it carries more than 8 people; a smaller bus, 1-3 people. Where I live (admittedly a large and reasonably dense city), bus occupancy is an order of magnitude higher at peak, hours.

This is instant efficiency; this does not take into account the fact a bus is not point-to-point, and carries more passengers than its average occupancy, because passengers get on and off along the way.


It seems like your compliant should be directed more specifically towards diesel vehicles than actual busses. There are low-emission busses out there.


Here in Norway the trend is toward battery electric buses via diesel hybrids and gas (not gasoline).

But even the diesels are quieter than the buses I have seen in the US and certainly a lot cleaner.

Buses in both the US seem stuck in some alternate reality where clean fuel and quiet motors are somehow impossible. I realize that this might well be an unwarranted generalization from my experience in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle, perhaps it's better elsewhere.


Also, good diesels are fine. We have lots of terrible diesel buses here in Hamilton, ON, but I've seen diesel buses which don't spew ghastly acrid smoke everywhere.


The school bus system is an interesting microcosm of transportation to look at; Over the last 30 years, bus use has dropped while [privileged] parents drive their children to school, wait in a carpool lane;

Interesting concepts

- Time Wasted in the pickup lane (and often the drop off lane)

- Traffic in the pickup and drop-off lanes

- High School parking lot size

- Use during inclement weather

In Snowpocalypse in Atlanta, a large portion of the mess was contributed to by the 3 trips; Parent to Home, Parent to School, Parent and Child to home; Instead of offering for parents to pickup their children from school, much of the traffic could have been resolved with the existing bus system; In the end; if chains were needed, it's easier to fit 50 busses with chains in a bus yard than 1000+ cars.


Sometimes chains aren’t even needed.

While I was an undergrad at The Ohio State University, I was a part-time bus driver for the campus bus system (which used 35- and 40-foot city-type buses).

During my time there, we had one snow day, and I was on-shift that day. That was when I learned that the bus had traction control. Once I learned that, I was able to adjust my driving such that climbing the hill to the Freshman remote parking lot was no problem.


In Boston because of traffic, even with dedicated bus lanes, bikes and/or electric scooters were always faster than public transit. Only downside was in the winter when bike lanes and sidewalks were covered in snow / ice.


Another downside of a bike is that you arrive covered by sweat if you try to ride faster than public transit in the summer.

An electric bike solves this, of course.


Agreed, my office had a shower and it was still a hassle.

1) there was only one shower per bathroom, which meant if anyone else decided to ride their bike to work or go for a jog there'd be a 30min queue for the shower

2) even if there wasn't any wait - it still takes 20min minimum to shower and change before work

3) it's dangerous AF to ride a bike in adverse conditions like snow or cold rain around cars (never-mind frost-bite / injuries involved with slipping on ice)


Reading all the comments here makes me happy about living in East Asia (Taiwan and Japan specifically).


I will use the bus the moment I can have the same level of peace and quiet I get in my car. My commute is not long, but it gives me time to think about things. My experience with public transport is pure unrelenting noise.


Have you tried noise canceling headphones. I have a pair of bose QC headphones that can turn a packed hearing damage level pub down to a fairly relaxing sound level. On a bus with some music playing I can't hear any sound at all from outside.


>I will use the bus the moment I can have the same level of peace and quiet I get in my car. My commute is not long, but it gives me time to think about things

I had the exact opposite experience when I took public transit to work. I had a nice quiet and relaxing trip onboard commuter rail for a 28 minute trip to the City Center.

I never found any peace and quiet or ability to think while driving in rush hour traffic.


Fortunately in Canada, we view busses as transport for the plebes. So when we finally brought LRT service up (a bit late) and the bus trip from home to work went from 45 minutes to an hour, my 15 minute driv was unaffected.


you can't just tell people to "love the bus", the bus has to actually be loveable. No one is avoiding the bus because 'climate change is cool man, fuck the bus'. People don't ride the bus because it's jam packed shoulder to shoulder, can smell like puke and piss, subsidezed homeless travel while the rest of us need to pay a dumb fare, requires exact change in world ruled by tap-to-pay devices. And then yeah, traffic and time, but that's not really the core detraction. Oh, yeah, and Uber pool and Lyft rides are nearly as cost effective, when you consider time-to-income it's often more cost effective.

Make the bus an experience that at least doesn't make want people want to vomit and then people may start to take the bus again. As another commenter said, there are countries where busses don't suck, and ergo busses are used.


We have a commuter bus from Annapolis to DC. Super nice, air conditioned, wifi, etc. No homeless people. Socially enforced library silence atmosphere. It’s pretty sick.


> People don't ride the bus because it's jam packed...

Yogi Berra? Is that you?


> it's jam packed shoulder to shoulder, can smell like puke and piss, subsidezed homeless travel while the rest of us need to pay a dumb fare, requires exact change in world ruled by tap-to-pay devices

This sounds like every subway I've ridden in the states.

(Although most subways have since upgraded to digital payments, the card-filling stations never seem to work, and the attendants aren't always there, so you can't even use exact change. At the same time, most metropolitan buses now use tap-to-pay)


Nailed it. I'd love to use the bus but it's just not a realistic option given the state of bus systems in most US cities.


If you are not aware, this type of comment is fairly common on HN when discussing public transit.

> Make the bus an experience that at least doesn't make want people want to vomit and then people may start to take the bus again.

Please do not take personal offense to this, but this type of comment leads me to believe that you have very derogatory views of people that have chosen or have ended up in different life paths. Have you ever considered that it is possible that you live a very isolated and segregated life and that something like the bus is unsettling to you because it forces you to associate with the general population as opposed to your typical, highly controlled, environment?


Contrary to what some people believe, the “general population” follows rules and decorum and doesn’t like people blaring music on the bus, or aggressive pan handlers, or people talking to themselves any more than OP does. If they had a bit more money they’d be driving instead to get away from the troublemakers just like OP. And they are the ones who suffer most when elitists insist that public transit (and public schools, etc.) should be forced to deal with troubled or anti-social people, be de facto homeless shelters, etc.


> And they are the ones who suffer most when elitists insist that public transit (and public schools, etc.) should be forced to deal with troubled or anti-social people, be de facto homeless shelters, etc.

I've gotta second this. Public transit and schools end up dealing with many of the US' social ills because we don't want to pay to deal with the problems directly.

I don't blame the homeless folks on the train, as uncomfortable as it is to be on the train with them, because I realize that many people wealthy enough to never have to take the train feel it's not worth the higher taxes and building of housing + treatment facilities needed to deal with the problem.

The status quo almost seems to be working as intended.


Those people are a sample of the general population. Most of the people on that bus are not blaring music or aggressively panhandling. A small percentage, just like in the general population, are.

I imagine, from the above poster's comments, that they have chosen to live in a community which isolates itself from a large portion of the population. When utilizing a service like the bus, or maybe the DMV(Department of Motor Vehicles), they are now forced to be around the general population that they have been able to avoid for most of their life.

My point is that their comments have less to do with the bus, and more to do with their opinions on the general population. Of which they typically spend very little time around.


> Most of the people on that bus are not blaring music or aggressively panhandling. A small percentage, just like in the general population, are.

My point is that the rest of the "general population" is upset by that "small percentage" as much as OP, and the "general population" wishes there was more aggressive enforcement of social and legal norms on the bus. And that it's elitist to fault OP for his view, instead of faulting the government for not properly policing the bus.


The percentage seems to be a lot higher than the general public. We don't see anything like this rate of crazy and abusive behavior at baseball games or Walmart.


Having grown up in relative poverty, if you think any of us in the "general population" wanted to be around the addicts, high, and/or mentally ill riding the bus, you are out of your ever-loving mind. We merely didn't have much choice in the matter.


>derogatory views of people that have chosen or have ended up in different life paths

I have no qualms admitting that I have derogatory views regarding the homeless guy that screams racial slurs at the driver when he's asked to stop smoking on the bus. Most people aren't concerned about the "average" passenger, they're concerned about the worst one you'll experience on a given day. And the worst can range from minor things like the kid blasting shitty trap music on his bluetooth speaker, to someone who is in such a low place in life that it would actually improve their situation to shove you in front of a train and spend the rest of their life being housed and fed in prison.


> Please do not take personal offense to this, but this type of comment leads me to believe that you have very derogatory views of people that have chosen or have ended up in different life paths.

Or they just have reasonable views about what kind of behavior is acceptable in public spaces.


In the US, government transportation is similar to government housing: you only use it if you can't afford the alternatives.


That’s manifestly untrue for New York, DC, Boston, and Chicago, etc.


Or is it that personal transportation is so expensive in those cities that even middle class people (who could afford personal transportation in most cities) are forced to use public transportation. I know that's the case for at least New York. Unsure about the other three.


If I worked in midtown Manhattan, I would jump through flaming hoops to avoid driving, even if I wasn't paying for parking. That traffic crawls, and it's not exactly a relaxing drive.


Fair enough (I was remembering parking being insanely expensive in NYC). What I was getting at is that it's not that public transit is necessarily better in the large eastern cities, but that that personal transportation is (comparatively) worse.




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