Bus Transit Still Faces Social Stigma

Improving headways and making service more reliable can help reduce the negative public image faced by urban bus transit.

2 minute read

September 3, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Baltimore MTA Bus

m01229 / Flickr

A piece by Ely Portillo in the Transit Time newsletter evaluates the stigma faced by bus transit. While "[b]uses still carry the majority of local transit riders, and they’re far cheaper and quicker to roll out than trains," taking the bus still suffers from a social stigma that must be overcome in order to boost ridership and make buses a viable daily transportation option for more Americans. In North Carolina, Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston "pointed to residential segregation and the bus system’s historical use by people like cleaning personnel and domestic workers who needed to get into the city’s center to work but didn’t own cars" as factors in the negative public perception of buses. 

But some transit advocates argue that discussing stigma "just doesn’t get at the real problem." As Jarrett Walker puts it, "[t]he real problem is people don’t use public transit if public transit is useless to them." Additionally, "it’s hard to talk about bus stigma without perpetuating bus stigma." Improving service, reducing headways, and making transit more accessible and affordable would do more to attract new riders, says Walker. The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) "is taking steps to make its bus system more useful to riders," but according to Winston, the stigma remains. "If you don’t overcome that culture change, that’s gonna be tough. CATS can't do that alone."

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