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Not Your Grandfather’s Greyhound: Buses Take Off for Inter-City Travel
BoltBus rolls up into New York City. Photo by Somewhat Frank.

"Bolt for a buck" -- by bus! -- to New York City. Photo by Somewhat Frank.

Buses are a transportation success story, according to this article in the New York Times.

Last year, the story says, bus service increased by 5 percent, and it rose nearly 10 percent in 2008, according to research led by Joseph Schwieterman, from Depaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, whose findings have been featured in a long line of news articles over the past year, hearkening the arrival of an inter-city bus renaissance. Catchy headlines abound: “Thinking Outside Rails and Runways, and Taking the Bus“; “Planes, Trains … and Buses?“; “The Rebirth of Buses: N.Y. to D.C. for $1“.

The New York Times highlights popular long-distance services like BoltBus and Megabus, which offer cheap express service between major cities like New York City and Washington, D.C., and offer added bonuses like online ticketing, guaranteed seats, curbside departures, and on-board technology (i.e. free Wi-Fi.) Who ever said buses can’ t be cool?

Nancy Kete, the former director of EMBARQ (the producer of this blog) commented on the potential of bus travel when the Obama administration first announced its high-speed rail plan. “The President is on the right track,” she said, “But there’s a missing mode in the plan. To complement rail, we also need to help cities build high-quality, high-capacity bus rapid transit systems, which can offer good high-speed service, but at a fraction of the cost of rail.”

In response to the recent New York Times article, Kete comments further on the importance of complementing bus service with the right bus infrastructure:

This article is about how the market has found and is expanding the missing mode, without a lot of public sector attention or subsidy. But to really make express, intercity bus work well, cities need to create protected corridors for buses or bus and other high occupancy vehicles so that these high capacity travelers don’t get stuck in traffic as they arrive at the city edge and move from the edge of town and into the downtown. Planned right, these corridors could be shared with local bus rapid transit systems, which could provide the same kind of express, congestion-free access to local commuters. All this would cost far less time and money than the alternatives — and certainly are better than the dominant alternative of doing nothing to ease traffic congestion except make more road space for private cars.

It’s also important to note that specific policies can help manage congestion, as well.

Joe Schwieterman himself advocates for congestion pricing: “The public understands that unpredictable traffic conditions make everyday driving like a game of roulette. Congestion pricing is about the only weapon we have in our arsenal to encourage more efficient use of our expressways [and tollways].”

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