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Michael D. Setty

I know Randal and like him. But on the topic of transit, we have "agreed to disagree;" I can assure you this is "par for the course" in his arguments. He does seem to have a knee-jerk reaction against any form of rail transit. Why I cannot tell you, particularly in comparison with other libertarian types such as Wendell Cox, who at least admits the New York subway makes sense.

Nick Wright

Its good to know that somebody gets it. A large modern city should be using a mix of buses (including bus rapid transit), streetcars, metro, and commuter trains.



Stephen Smith

The only way the conservative dream (shared by Gensler Architects) makes sense is if you smash the unions so that all bus drivers make minimum wage, preferably from low-overhead private operating companies. This is how transit works in much of the developing world, and the result is chaos, inefficient use of street space, and fairly appalling safety records. Most experts I know who've immigrated from such places were glad to trade that for the transit they find in North America, whatever its faults.

I live on Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn, which is perhaps home to the largest concentration of illegal transit in the US – tons of "dollar vans" and livery cabs ply the avenue, while the cops turn a blind eye. I can't speak to the safety record since I don't have any numbers, but I can assure that there's no chaos or inefficient use of space. (In fact, the dollar vans on the whole seem to fill far more of their seat space than the city buses, and the ride is muuuuch quicker, which is why some people even with monthly transit passes are willing to pay the $2.)

I agree that such services are a kludge – that rapid transit is what the corridor really needs – but compared to the ridiculously inefficient US style of bus operation epitomized by the slow MTA buses, it's clearly an improvement.


When I was in LA recently I made a point of riding several modes: Local bus, Rapid Bus, the Orange Line BRT, the Red Line metro, and the Blue Line light rail. In all these modes I was one of the few white, middle-class looking people on the train. It seemed clear to me that both rail and bus in LA are primarily serving the needs of people who either can't afford a car or don't want to pay to own or use one. I'm sure there are some lines that serve a more affluent commuter market, but I have to agree with Jarrett that in the case of LA, most rail investments have served existing demand effectively (although I found the Rapid Bus to Venice Beach distressingly non-rapid). Even the subway to Beverly Hills will most likely be very useful to lower-income people who need to commute to service jobs in that area, but I'm sure people will argue it is just going to serve rich people (as if rich people in Beverly Hills are dying to ride transit).


I think some of the pro-rail argument against "buses" is not against buses per se, but against wasting money trying to make buses do something they're clearly not capable of. It's not an anti-bus argument per se, though it can often end up being an argument against using buses anywhere that their role overlaps with that of rail. Some of this might also come from a mismatch of time horizons: one side will be talking about the Ideal Network of the Future, while the other is talking about how to best use the resources available right now. Of course, in this case, neither side is quite right, and both can benefit by taking a step back and looking at the transit network not just as it is, or at it may be, but at the steps in between, and how one can get from the one to the other. And it's important to realize that the network will never reach perfection: as it's being built, the city will change, and it will turn out that now it needs something slightly (or sometimes not so slightly) different.

Bradley Wentworth

zefwanger, don't know where you're from but in LA and many other cities white people are in the minority. A quick search returns: "non-Hispanic whites were 28.7% of the population in 2010." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles#2010_Census

It's difficult to draw conclusions based on your observations until you know the context. When you wrote "I was one of the few white, middle-class looking people on the train" you ought to have continued, "so it seems all segments of the population are well represented."


Thank you for being a voice of reason Jarrett. I am no transit planner, just an interested reader but whenever my husband and I have been to LA and have driven in that insane traffic we always are incredulous that they are not using many more buses and trains of every sort and have them working together to facilitate transportation there. If even a Montana farmer and his wife can see this I can't see how intelligent transit savvy people can set bus and train against one another.


You should probably respond at Randal's site, I think he would welcome the discussion. What is more salient, in my mind, was the Ryan Snyder paper. Sure Snyder is a hired gun, and some of the ideas, like freeway buses with doglegs for transit connections, don't work especially since LA freeways are notoriously reliable. But LA's transit system, pre-rail, had good bones.

What was needed was faster service, which could be done by both bus and rail. Bus lanes are cheaper but are readily able to be paved over due to political implications. However, dedicated bus lanes could have been just as reliable as rail (especially since rail's reliability has gone done, witness the Blue Line problems). Stop elimination, rapid buses, and implementation of a full grid system, 15 minute frequencies on core routes on the mile square from 5 am to 11 pm at night, 7 days a week, was important. LA's transit system, in terms of night bus service, is still back in the 60's. They've now upped rail to 10 minute frequencies until midnight and trains until 2 am Friday and Saturday night, but you have many bus routes which might have 10 to 15 minute peak and midday service fall off the cliff to hourly after 7 or 8 pm. This is really hard for service workers, people who want to have a night out, and long distance commuters, and is one of the reasons why rail does so well. At least rail never goes below 20 minutes, while the Silver Lie (as some call it) drops to hourly after 8 pm.

Susan De Vos

I am a proud Bus Advocate who does not see an incompatibility between buses and rail either. Nor am I in favor of stop elimination. Just have express buses skip them. Don't take it out on pedestrians who may have mobility issues. Change your state's right-of-way law instead! Dedicated lanes? Yes. Mixed traffic lanes? Yes. Signal pre-emption? Yes.

Similar to Mr. Walker, I see a place and time to favor buses, and a place and time to favor rail. The L.A. Bus Riders Union is correct for instance. Here in the Madison Area of Wisconsin, there is an important role for buses that should not be dismissed or distorted by pro-rail advocates. The idea is to make TRANSIT a safe, acceptable, convenient and affordable way of moving around. Visit our website at www.busadvocates.org.

Beta Magellan

The problem with running expresses and all-stop locals is that most cities don’t have unlimited funds for bus operations. It also complicates having separate bus lanes—if traffic’s bad enough that an express bus can’t pass a local, it’s going to be stuck behind a local, negating any advantage to having an express.

I think that the ~quarter-mile intervals between stops used in many European cities is a good compromise—it speeds up bus travel (and therefore reduces operating costs as well) while still keeping stop spacing relatively short.

Phantom Commuter

Calwatch makes excellent points. There is no city that has such a drop off in frequency. Metro's 15-minute map sohould mean 15 minutes, day and night ! Maybe that's an issue we could get BRU working on, or is that too "techinal" for them ?


The BRU seems more interested in Marxism and class war than in actual improvements to transit service. They're also far more on the side of bus drivers than bus riders, as evidenced by their support of the former at the expense of the latter. This also explains their strong anti-rail stance and also their very emphatic emphasis on buying hundreds of new buses: that last one is the best way to maximize bus driver employment.


You're being too nice to O'Toole, Jarrett. He's ideologically opposed to public transit altogether. Like many other self-described libertarians (though not ALL of them, fortunately), he seems to view markets as a panacea, and thinks that if it can't be profitably provided by the private sector, it ought not exist--social impacts be damned. Unlike many of his more principled ideological brethren, he doesn't hold roads and road funding to the same standard--like many on the US political right, he's managed to marry liberal (in the old sense of the term) political thought with anti-urban attitudes; though most who do engage in that intellectual game of Twister only have a veneer of libertarianism that runs skin deep, if at all.

But O'Toole is opposed to public transit, and will willingly say whatever he thinks will undermine it, consistency be damned. He especially dislikes rail because it generally costs more. You note that he fans the flames of the bus-rail debate--I'd go further and suggest that much of the existence of that debate (and much of the BRT-skepticism among US transit advocates) is precisely because of O'Toole and his ilk using BRT as a wedge against rail projects. Even the term "BRT" seems to be poisoned--unfortunately, because quality bus service is important and should be valued.




Probably better not to have given this oxygen. Just getting drawn into another endless game of Plants vs Zombies. ...b r a i n s...


"Drivers are expensive,"

So's diesel fuel. So's road repair.

"so rail is a logical investment where high vehicle capacity..."

Or high route capacity.

Yeah. If you need volume, you want rail. Buses are good for volumes too low to support rail, but too high to remain uncongested with cars, over distances too long to use bicyles and walking.

This makes buses a very useful but *niche* technology.


"Bus lanes are cheaper"

Only upfront. They have to be rebuilt substantially more frequently than rail lines.


@Nathanael, bus lanes are roads and roads are something that just happens in the middle of the night, as far as the transit agency is concerned anyway. It's not like buses have to pay for their use of roads. The road repair budget is not only separate from the bus budget, it's often in a whole different agency in a whole different level of government (city streets vs. county or state buses).


"...maybe bus and rail are not enemies but complementary tools for different roles in a complete network designed for everyone..."

Right on! In the same vein, I liked this item (from http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/07/12/Bicycle-Capitalists/ )

"I'm a mean capitalist," confesses a blonde suit with a Scandinavian accent, setting the tone for the session. I match his nametag to the list of keynote speakers in the conference program and find he's one Aske Wieth-Knudsen, head of strategy for Denmark's DSB S-Train, the commuter rail system in and around Copenhagen.

"Customers demand door-to-door train support. We cannot offer than in our system," he continues. "So we have to work together with other means of transport, including the bikes. And in our case, bikes seem to be the most cost-effective way to increase our market share around the station."

Alon Levy

All I'm going to say about local and express buses is that on Broadway in Vancouver, the 99-B runs diesels while the lesser used local routes run trolleybuses. This way the diesels can pass the trolleybuses.


"@Nathanael, bus lanes are roads and roads are something that just happens in the middle of the night, as far as the transit agency is concerned anyway. It's not like buses have to pay for their use of roads. The road repair budget is not only separate from the bus budget, it's often in a whole different agency in a whole different level of government (city streets vs. county or state buses)."

Thanks for saying this, anonymouse. And *this* is what creates the illusion that buses are "cheaper".

Though in fact, in Seattle, buses are only allowed to go on roads pre-approved for bus traffic by SDOT (the Seattle roads department).... so this isn't strictly true everywhere. Note that buses are also prohibited on "parkways" in parts of New York and New Jersey. I wonder how many other cities have similar arrangements.

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