Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bus good, train bad

There is an old joke that 40 years of transportation economics at Harvard can be boiled down to four words: “Bus Good, Train Bad.” The many advantages of the bus were first illustrated in the classic text, “The Urban Transportation Problem,” by John Meyer, John Kain and Martin Wohl. (Meyer and Kain were both mentors of mine). Buses are flexible, cheap and can move almost as fast as urban trains if they operate on a dedicated road or a private tunnel. Perhaps the most positive transport innovation of the past decade has been the enormous competition of private buses plying the roads of the Eastern Seaboard.

Cars can’t be the only answer for urban commuters, especially for poorer Americans during an era of high gas prices. Buses can be a pleasant alternative, with televisions and Wi-Fi connectivity. Buses can move quickly if they are given enough space to drive. Instead of chasing the quixotic dream of high-speed rail in Texas, public-transit aficionados should start agitating for better bus service, with plenty of private competition.
--Ed Glaeser, Bloomberg, on getting over our rail obsession. HT: Marginal Revolution