Putting the Lowly Bus on a Fast Track To the Future
Text and Illustrations by EDEN WEINGART
Buses are the most widely used form of transit in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all transit trips.
If you’ve ridden a bus in the United States, you may have come to the same conclusion as many Americans: They’re slow. They’re unreliable. And, if you have the choice, there are probably better ways to get around.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Politicians and transit agencies have long ignored buses, which disproportionately serve lower income people, in favor of road construction and rail projects that tend to cater to wealthier passengers.
But in the last decade, some have turned to modernizing an old idea: Bus Rapid Transit — a set of tools and changes to technology, road design and route planning that, when combined, can supercharge buses, making them faster and more reliable.
Billions of dollars are now being poured into transit through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with a focus on getting more Americans out of cars and into more climate-friendly transit. Out of the 61 transit projects currently up for funding by the Federal Transit Administration, 40 are classified as B.R.T., dotting the country from Alabama to Washington state.
“People are now seeing the opportunity in the bus lane,” said Janette SadikKhan, a former New York City transportation commissioner who is now an adviser on transit issues.
■ The stigma against buses exists for good reason: They have not been set up for success.
■ In the U.S., buses often drive in traffic, where they are stopped by the same signals as cars, which practically eliminates their advantage over driving. ■ Bus stops can be hard to find — sometimes, they are nothing more than a signpost on the side of the road.
■ Routes are unclear and buses typically arrive so infrequently that it is impossible to plan a trip that relies on them.
Despite these disadvantages, buses are the most widely used form of transit in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all transit trips.
“For so many people, buses are just not sexy. Light rail is sexy, streetcars are sexy,” Ms. Sadik-Khan said. There has been a bias, she said, toward heavy infrastructure projects that are seen as a spur to development. But rail projects are less flexible, can cost billions of dollars and may take decades to complete.
Improving bus systems also allows cities to take advantage of infrastructure the U.S. has already invested hundreds of billions of dollars in: roads.
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