Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rail or bus? More arguments for the urban bus ...

[More on transportation during this busy travel week ...]

  The nation continues to spend billions of dollars on urban rail systems, which are touted as green solutions to congestion, pollution, and unease over gasoline supplies.  But for the most part, the social benefits (broadly defined) of such systems fail to cover their enormous costs, according to a Larailmap_1 study by Winston Clifford (Brookings Institution) and Vikram Maheshri (U.C.-Berkeley), neither of whom should be accused of a pro-auto bias.  Only the San Francisco Bay area's BART provides a net social benefit, they conclude.

  The biggest problem with rail is that it simply does not serve conveniently a huge number of Americans who live and work across the hundreds of square miles of a typical modern metro area.  Although lauded by politicians and environmentalists for their speed, cleanliness, and hi-tech feel, rail lines are simply inconvenient for most commuters.  Take a look at the Los Angeles rail system map (top left) and imagine how far most of these lines are from millions of southern Californians. 

Labusmap_1   A potential solution?  Read here the recent opinion of Los Angeles's Michael Woo and Christian Peralta, who argue for an expansion of a dedicated bus lane on Wilshire Boulevard.  Although not as "hip" as trains, a modern bus system (see the L.A. bus map at bottom left) can get far more people around at much less cost.

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Rapid Bus Transit is the clear way to go. Trains have a romantic appeal, but it's largely nostalgic. With good vehicle design and attention to rider environment, passengers don't need to feel like they're on a "bus". In fact it should probably be called something else. It can feel like a train (or better), get people from where they are to where they want to go with greater flexibility, and at a cost per passenger mile that makes it feasable in lower density settlements.

Posted by: EML | Nov 24, 2006 5:23:16 PM