Buses Are Under Threat, and Cities With Them

Buses are often the best tool for making a dynamic, equitable city, but they're in a period of decline that shouldn't be allowed to become a death spiral.
May 10, 2018, 9am PDT | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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David Wilson

Public transit in general is on the decline in the United States, and buses in particular have seen sharp drop-offs in travel speed, investment, and ridership. "Nearly 90 percent of commuters in this country drive private cars, and in many urban areas traffic congestion—i.e., wasted time, gas, and money—is getting worse," Laura Bliss writes for CityLab.

In most American cities, traffic congestion is slowing down buses as well, but there are good reasons to keep investing in buses. Not only are they cheaper and more versatile than rail and point-to-point transit, but also "buses can carry large numbers of people in a compact amount of road space. They don’t require special rights-of-way (though that’s sometimes ideal)," Bliss writes.

The recession saw cuts to bus funding that, in many cases, never got replaced during the recovery. And while some cities opted to invest in other forms of transit, the results have been mixed. "Even some cities on rail-building bonanzas, such as L.A. and Denver, are watching transit ridership decline across the board, in part because investment in buses has trailed so far behind the commitment to trains," Bliss argues. As people flee buses and services decline, their constituency gets smaller and less powerful. "They are disproportionately people of color, reinforcing the racial stigma associated with the bus in many cities," Bliss writes.  

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Published on Monday, May 7, 2018 in CityLab
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