Gas Prices Too High? Take the Bus!

Andy DarrellThis post is by Andy Darrell, vice president for Living Cities at Environmental Defense Fund.

NJ Transit bus, photographed by Adam E. Moreira

The high cost of gas has pushed retail gas purchases down 2 to 3 percent. What are people doing instead? Taking public transportation!

The first quarter report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that use of public transportation is skyrocketing in tandem with gas prices. Last year 10.3 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation — the highest in 50 years. Ridership on streetcars, trolleys, commuter rails, subways, and buses are all up. Even Amtrak ridership is soaring.

This shift presents an historic opportunity.

It was hard to get us Americans out of our cars when gas was cheap, but now we’re trying public transportation in record numbers. And once people try it, odds are they’ll prefer it, which is great news for the environment.

Good public transportation is more pleasant than a private car (you can’t read while you’re driving), and far cheaper. A calculator on the APTA Web site shows how much you can save by leaving your car parked at home.

Public Transportation Savings Calculator

The problem is that too few Americans have convenient and reliable access to public transportation. When the transportation bill comes up for reauthorization, Congress will have an opportunity to address this. Instead of the usual tired formula that favors roads over innovative transit, we need to fund public transportation that delivers real choices.

Public transportation doesn’t have to mean gigantic investments in infrastructure. Shuttle buses can ease the growing parking problem at commuter rail stations. Bus Rapid Transit — buses that operate in dedicated lanes, bypassing traffic — can be as quick as a subway train, but are much cheaper to deploy.

Buses can be pleasant, too. Google provides shuttle buses for its employees with leather seats and wireless Internet access. New York City’s new Select Bus Service has traffic-signal priority that boosts rush-hour service up to 20 percent.

Cities need the resources to try innovative ideas like these. It’s time to reinvent our country’s transit system to make public transportation accessible to everyone.

How would you rather get to the beach this holiday weekend — speedy and effortless Bus Rapid Transit, or creeping along bumper to bumper watching your fuel tank (and wallet) getting emptier?

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  1. fred1
    Posted July 3, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    let the free market figure it out with minimal government regulation

  2. patdecat
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Sounds good to me but there is no bus or set of busses that can get me from where I live to were I work. As a matter of fact it was Government and the people like you who wanted to protect the consumer who killed public transportation in Atlanta GA. At one time, prior to the joke of a mass transit system in place in Atlanta now, many cities in GA had a practical street car system that worked well and was poised to grow. Sad thing was that individuals who had the same mind set as many in the “Al Gore save the earth” gang demanded that “greedy” corporations could only own one utility. Net result of the actions of those who think that government can solve made up problems was that the electric companies who owned the street car lines sold off the equipment to countries in south America.

  3. paulm
    Posted July 9, 2008 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    so price of Public transport is going to go up!
    But you didnt include service cost of car….

  4. ascii
    Posted August 8, 2008 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Crisis in Cleveland

    With gas prices as high as they are and people urged to, more and more, take public transportation the Regional Transit Authority in Cleveland Ohio has decided to use this time to increase fares (second time this year) and petition to cancel at least half the bus routes and further reduce service in perhaps a dozen more routes.
    I have been a regular on R.T.A. for 10 years and have seen service slowly reduced and fares increased; all of which I considered acceptable as operating costs rose but this is absolutely beyond comprehension.

    My monthly pass (allowing me to travel from a nearby town to Cleveland where I work) is currently $70 which will rise to between $104 – $114 for the same monthly pass while the bus I ride could end its route approximately a half mile from where I live! The route I take is not direct or expedient. I take a bus to downtown Cleveland to catch a Rapid train to a station where I catch another bus to get to work each day and the same route home each night. I leave my apartment at 5:35AM and return home (on a “good” day) at 6:30PM. While this is certainly not convenient, and frustrating to say the least, I also know that I can get to work and home. With these changes I will have to leave my apartment at 5:15AM to walk a half hour to the “Park and Ride” and reverse that to come home. Meaning I will leave my apartment at 5:15AM and return home at 7PM (on a good day).

    All the while the “Euclid Corridor Project” (designed and planned in the mid 80’s when Cleveland had a much higher population base) was finally shoved down the public’s throat in 2006-2007 for R.T.A. to operate extremely expensive new buses up and down Euclid Ave supposedly moving people efficiently through Cleveland. This is (and still is ongoing) a very expensive project that no longer has the importance it did in the 1980’s when Cleveland had a real need to move its populace efficiently.
    Downtown Cleveland is one closed store front after closed store front, and this project will NOT save Cleveland and smells to have been a pet project of someone who finally got it pushed through.

    R.T.A. wants to cease its circulators in downtown Cleveland. These circulators are vital to move people from off the main routes to the main streets to pick up transfers to main bus lines. These people include a large portion of elderly people who can’t get around any other way, or children going to/from school as the Cleveland City School don’t have enough buses of their own. Not to mention local businesses benefit from people being able to get to their establishments.

    R.T.A. has held meetings to allow the public to voice their views before they “make their decision” but most regulars are totally apathetic that the decision has already been made that they are not going to the meetings. One person attending a meeting told me that the R.T.A. officials at one meeting spent too so much time talking that there was only time for three people to give their opinions. Another person told me that at another meeting the C.E.O. Joseph A. Calabrese became angered at the several hundred people attending who were upset (with good right) that he announced that it was only by law that he was holding the meetings and if given the chance not to he would choose not to hold the meetings. It has been clear over his tenure that he will cut routes outside Cleveland and has done his best to do just that over his time in office.
    Communities outside of Cleveland have had R.T.A. – affiliated lines but unless “blessed” by R.T.A. they don’t last and are discontinued; and R.T.A. seems to have a “Cleveland-only” mentality.
    There is absolutely NO reason to move into Cleveland to enjoy a much reduced service with our school system in shambles, the housing inadequate or worse…not able to afford any of the condos being built or planned; and worst of all the absolute criminal behavior that goes on daily on the streets. That being said many people take pubic transportation into Cleveland to work (and pay taxes) and they are being shown in concrete terms that R.T.A. will not help them in this endeavor.

    An example of the consequences of R.T.A. behavior is in the following example: I was talking to a regular who her and her husband take public transportation into town. Two monthly passes (current price $70 each); with the increase (and for this example we’ll round down in R.T.A. favor at $100 each) they will be paying $200/month to get to the same place. They have a car and can get a monthly parking pass from the wife’s company at $80/month and the $120/month savings will pay for gas. If the changes are implemented they will lose this couple and more.
    This couple is further encouraged because they live in Brunswick, about a 10+ minute drive to the Park and Ride in Strongsville (where they will have to go to catch the bus downtown with these changes) and only another 10-20 minute ride to Cleveland (depending on time of day/night); another reason to drive if they have to go to the Park and Ride to catch the bus.

    With the previous year’s cuts in buses from routes many are standing room only now. Being a regular you expect crowded buses from time to time, but I am personally seeing people standing from the extreme back all the way to the front, and beyond the yellow safety line (in one case I personally saw five people past the line with one person sitting on the exit stairway). I’m sure the drivers (in part) are trying to do their best and get as many people home as possible; but this will only get worse when the changes are finally in place.

    While this is meant to be a cry for help in a desperate city; I will say that R.T.A. (in my 10 years) has been mostly reliable and I appreciate I can get to work and home. That said R.T.A. has steadily shown apathy towards its customers (THE PUBLIC) at best; and antagonistic towards anyone outside Cleveland at worst.
    In a time when the economy, here in N.E. Ohio especially, is depressed and jobs are hard to come by and people need to get to where the jobs are; R.T.A. has the most golden of opportunities to re-invent themselves and gain a larger loyal rider ship that would increase as service areas increase.
    R.T.A. has seemingly chosen to do the complete opposite. They are raising their fares (for me for example) by over 60% and reducing my route service. And these changes affect both ends of my travel, my last bus in the morning is packed now…packed with working people who need that bus, and R.T.A. cut one bus out of that route this year already and it is going to be reduced in service with these changes. People that ride that route (and so many others) because it can get them to the job they are working.

    My reason for writing you is because the local media seems to be just reporting the news and not investigating the news. Why is this going on? Why doesn’t R.T.A. try to find alternate solutions to this severe change in their service? Why doesn’t Cleveland city government try to offer solutions or help? Why don’t people in position understand the profound change they are planning to a large group of people that use and need public transportation? Why doesn’t R.T.A. support affiliated routes in surrounding communities that provide employees in Cleveland, supporting local businesses in various ways throughout their work day? Why was the Euclid Corridor Project allowed to continue? Why isn’t R.T.A. finding every way possible to become a model for public transportation instead of mirroring the uncaring corporations that ignore a customer base that they know they have no other choice? Mismanagement? No one seems to be looking. Why on earth would a public transportation service raise rates so drastically, and propose to make such drastic cuts in service at the same time (just in time for winter)?

    I say that R.T.A. behavior proves that they are rapidly becoming neither regional NOR public transportation.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and I (and many many others) hope you will look into the crisis that is about to occur in Cleveland.

  5. Posted August 12, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Did you see our post on the funding crisis in public transit? It addresses exactly this issue:

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