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Rethinking the city bus

Posting in Cities

City buses across the country are getting some major makeovers.

In an attempt to attract riders that would normally hop in the car, many cities are upgrading their local bus lines, revamping the usually worn-down rides with sleek interiors and replacing cumbersome commutes with exceptionally speedy service. Newly instated rapid-transit bus services across the country promise shorter trips and fewer stops along the way.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

To woo workday commuters, Cleveland and select cities across the U.S. are trying to replace the image of the gritty, pokey, crowded bus by sending sleeker, more spacious and trainlike buses onto certain commuter routes. They are packing these buses with amenities cribbed from the handbook of other cities' commuter rail and light-rail trains.

Cities are hoping to win over “choice riders,” in particular, or those that don’t actually need to ride the bus but could stand to save some money on parking or gas. Attracting such commuters would be part of the bus’s image transformation and would hopefully help fund local transportation while reducing congestion on the road.

But how exactly do buses go about attracting new riders, especially those who can easily get from point A to point B in the comfort of their own vehicles? Here are just a few of the tactics buses are using to improve their image (and service):

  • The exteriors of many fast buses have been redesigned to more closely resemble those of trains. Several buses have replaced their boxy, drab shapes with aerodynamic fronts and bright, cheery colors.
  • In Cleveland, fast-service buses use “signal priority,” a system in which a transmitter signals to traffic lights upon a bus’s approach, keeping green lights green or changing red lights to green. The city’s buses have also cut commute times by making fewer stops than local buses.
  • In Los Angeles, commuters aren’t left wondering if they’ve just missed their buses as the county recently released a smartphone app that allows riders to check bus schedules and their ride’s status.
  • To suit the needs of Silicon Valley’s tech-happy crowd, buses in Santa Clara County, Calif. are equipped with Wi-Fi, reading lights and footrests.
  • Many cities have even given their service’s more exciting names. In Seattle, the rapid-transit bus system is called “RapidRide.” In Kansas City, the line is called “MAX” for “Metro Area Express.”

Efforts at revamping bus services seem to have been worthwhile in select cities. Annual ridership on Cleveland’s new line has increased 70 percent since the debut of the rapid-transit line. Could you be persuaded to ditch your car in favor of the city bus?

The Commute of the Future [WSJ]

Images: Rapid Ride

— By on September 30, 2012, 12:21 PM PST

Sarah Korones

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sarah Korones is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for Psychology Today and Boston's Weekly Dig. She holds a degree from Tufts University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure