Sunday, November 18, 2012

In defense of: bus riders

Am I missing something? Or wouldn't it seem that people who take the bus because they don't have/drive a car are overall travelling around less than those with cars? And that this might mitigate buses' relative inefficiency ride per ride? Because it's, you know, a lot easier and more pleasant to go places by car than by bus. So one way, you're restricting yourself to essentials - a weekly grocery trip, a commute - whereas the other, it's 11pm and you could go for a jumbo pint of Haagen Daaz...

4 comments:

PG said...

Or wouldn't it seem that people who take the bus because they don't have/drive a car are overall travelling around less than those with cars?

But that lesser amount of traveling is exactly what makes the average for mass transit go down. If bus riders did get on the bus at 11pm when they wanted ice cream, they'd improve the figures for mass transit because the bus would be carrying enough people to justify its expenditure of gas (and money, because you'd be forking over bus fare). As nice as it is to have a 24 hour system like NYC's, it's perfectly logical that somewhere like DC runs its transit based on suburban commuters' schedules, so that there's no buses or trains at 4am when they'd be mostly empty. DC says to anyone who's worked weird hours like a 7pm to 3am shift, "Screw you, there are too few of you to make it worthwhile to run our system in the middle of the night, so get a car or something."

Of course, people who live in the DC suburbs mostly have cars, and they actually seem to be the kind of people more addressed by the discussion. Dubner et al are not talking about "I ride transit because I can't afford any other mode of gas-powered transportation." They are saying "you get people to leave their cars by raising tolls on roads and taxes on gas and parking to incentivize more people to ride the transit systems that we’ve already spent billions on and are underused."

Phoebe said...

PG,

You've nicely summed up their overall argument, but haven't addressed their smaller point I'm talking about here. I was responding to the 'see, the bus is more wasteful for the environment than a car' contrarian angle. That is not the main takeaway, but it is what some on Facebook, at least, seemed to be getting from this. If cities that aren't NY choose not to run 24-hour systems, it's not because of the carbon footprint of busses.

PG said...

I was responding to the 'see, the bus is more wasteful for the environment than a car' contrarian angle.

I may not be understanding your argument, then. Why do you think the bus isn't more wasteful than a car at those times when said bus doesn't have enough passengers to make bus/number-of-passengers equal to 1 car? Your post seems to assume that people who ride the bus don't also have cars to use for late night ice cream runs.

Phoebe said...

I do assume people who ride the bus are less likely to have/use a car. With public buses, yes, but also if you take a longer trip by bus, you then arrive wherever you are without a car, as opposed to if you'd driven. And - to preempt - this isn't just my impression from living in NYC. In Chicago, in Princeton, people with cars and drivers licenses and stuff aren't taking many buses. I'm sure you will find a counterexample, because you're PG and I rely on you to have one at the ready, but my point, remember, isn't that no one with a car has ever taken a bus ever. Obviously certain individuals will use both. But as a rule, it seems a fair bet that someone on a bus is less likely than others in whichever locale to own a car.