Posts Tagged ‘policy’

my other bus is a volvo

5 May 2014

I used to laugh at Jonathan Richmond‘s passionate advocacy of buses as more flexible and cost-effective than trains. If you put in a train line, it stays, I thought, while bus lines are easy to cut in times of austerity, and leave the most vulnerable workers without ways to get to work. So let’s commit to trains. Also, what’s wrong with big public works projects? Is there a better way to stimulate the economy? Aren’t we grateful for past investments?

But look at Los Angeles, was his argument. Trains don’t work in a dispersed, networked urban layout. And I would say, but if you put in a train line it attracts dense building – with proper zoning and planning cooperation, of course – and over time you’ll no longer have a network of suburbs, but actual connected urban centers, which is more green and efficient. The network creates the city. I have never understood what’s good about the suburbs. I grew up in one, about an hour (pronounced “40 minutes”) from Boston. It was a perfectly nice place, but the same people could have built an equally nice place that was less car dependent.

The buses in that suburb would not sell you on the bus solution. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have any kind of bus to the T and as a public transportation snob I have depended on that service all my life. The Charlie Card has improved the bus rider’s lot greatly; before it, you needed to have six quarters for every ride. The buses themselves, however, are noisy, uncomfortable, jolting monsters, where it’s difficult to read and impossible to write. They replaced a suburban train line that was cut in the ’70s (so much for the permanence of trains; see also Beeching cuts) and is now a heritage bike path instead of a working metropolitan artery.

But there are better classes of buses and there are places that treat bus riders better. In Finland, I became accustomed to smooth-riding Volvos that were like sitting in your living room and riding around. “Kotilinjasi! [Your home line!]” they proclaimed in campaigns for new vehicles equipped with curtains and family-style facing seating. You could thread a needle while riding the 55 from Koskela. The UK also does buses well with the double-decker London model, an exemplary public space. In California, the Google bus has done a lot for the image of buses, although not without moral hazard.

So to the point: We know rail is broken, so why don’t we have direct express buses from Ipswich to London? Oxford (60.4 mi, 1 hr 18 min) has them; you can roll up at the last minute and get on for as little as £14 (Oxford Bus, Oxford Tube). Ipswich is a bit further (82 mi, 1 hr 40 min), but that could be trimmed by running to an outer Tube stop such as Mile End or even Stratford, rather than all the way to Victoria. It would make an enormous difference to creative workers and students who could take day gigs, meet clients, pop down to museums; and would also draw people up to Ipswich. Sling a bike rack on it and you have a complete green solution. A modest proposal for your consideration.