What a bus rider wants

Michael Lewyn's picture

As I began to type this, I was on a Greyhound bus somewhere in southern Ontario, on the first leg of my return from Toronto (where I have spent the past year getting an extra degree) to the United States.  As I type, it occurs to me to ask myself: what are the interests of the long-distance bus rider?  Are they the same as users of other forms of public transit, or closer to those of drivers and truckers?  My short answer to these questions is: a little of both.

First of all, a bus rider needs good roads: smooth roads that enable him/her to read or type without being jolted by stomach-churning bumps.  In this respect, a bus rider is like a motorist: motorists also value good roads rather than pothole-filled obstacle courses.

And certainly a  bus rider places some value on lack of congestion, though probably less than a motorist. In a bus, I don't expect a total free flow of traffic, but I do mind congestion sufficiently severe to create enormous delays.  Although all bus riders value on-time performance, I think this is probably somewhat more true for long-distance bus riders than for riders of municipal buses, since the former group is more likely to be stuck on interstate highways where there is no escape from congestion. (By contrast, if a bus on a downtown street is moving too slowly for your taste, you might be able to get off the bus and start walking to your destination).*

But in other respects, long-distance bus riders and municipal bus riders are like pedestrians and users of rail transit.   For example, even intercity bus riders value public transit, so that once they get in their destination city they can reach a wide variety of destinations within the city. 

And ideally, the bus station should be in a walkable area well served by public transit.  When I ride a long-distance bus, I want my bus station to be in a busy neighbourhood where I can walk to something interesting if I have some spare time.  For example, Toronto's bus station is quite centrally located, which means I can walk to an enormous variety of destinations.

But in other cities, this is not the case.  For example, I was recently on a bus that stopped at the South Bend, Indiana, airport, which appeared to be near absolutely nothing.  (After checking walkscore.com, I found that its Walkscore was 11).  When I visited Chattanooga some years ago, I noticed that its bus station (also near the airport) is a few blocks away from not only the nearest city bus, but even the nearest sidewalk.

Other bus stations are in truly scary neighborhoods; St. Louis's bus station appeared to be in one of the city's large stock of deserted areas.   In my experience, this is a "smart growth vs. sprawl" issue: the most transit and pedestrian-oriented cities tend to have bus stations closer to downtown, while declining or sprawling cities tend to have bus stations in less impressive places. **


*Depending on how able-bodied you are, the degree of hurry you are in, and numerous other variables.

**However, there are plenty of exceptions to this generalization.  For example, Jacksonville's bus station is pretty close to the heart of downtown.

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.



Is there such a thing as a "bus rider"?

Well, first of all, is there a "bus rider" who wouldn't also be satisfied with a train trip of comparable convenience and quality? If not, then when there's good train service bus riders don't care about good roads or congestion.

Second, what about seats that fold out into beds and full meals with champagne served at your seat?

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