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People Still Want Buses, But Buses Aren't Delivering

Urban light rail has enjoyed a renaissance since the Great Recession, but during the same period cities have quietly reduced bus service. Daniel Hertz argues that while rail is commendable, buses remain a vital transit component.
June 8, 2015, 10am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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High-profile transit projects are exciting, but because of their sexiness the dependable and unglamorous city bus may be getting short shrift. 

Since the 2008 recession, "Light rail in particular has continued its decade-plus boom, with a service increase of more than 12% in just two years. By contrast, bus service – which already took a heavier hit in the first years of the recession – was cut an additional 5.8%."

Hertz argues that demand for buses has not dropped. In fact, he finds no real correlation between dips in ridership and subsequent service cuts. 

The bus decline may have more to do with political demographics: "Even though more people take buses than trains in nearly every metropolitan area in the country, train riders, on average, tend to be wealthier and whiter [...] In other words, rail tends to have a more politically powerful constituency behind it than buses."

"There are serious equity issues with shifting resources from bus to rail – again, not because of anything inherent to those technologies, but simply because of who happens to use them in modern American cities."

For a response to the arguments of Hertz's article, see a Planetizen blog post by Michael Lewyn citing examples of light rail systems that add bus riders, rather than cannibalizing them.

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Published on Monday, June 1, 2015 in City Observatory City Commentary
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