Why the humble city bus is the key to improving US public transit

Public transit in the U.S. is in a sorry state – aging, underfunded and losing riders, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Many proposed solutions focus on new technologies, like self-driving cars and flying taxis. But as a researcher in urban policy and planning, I see more near-term promise in a mode that’s been around for a century: the city bus…

As I show in my new book, “The Great American Transit Disaster: A Century of Austerity, Auto-Centric Planning, and White Flight,” few U.S. politicians have focused on bus riders’ experiences over the past half-century. And many executives have lavished precious federal capital dollars on building new light, rapid and commuter rail lines, in hope of attracting suburban riders back to city centers and mass transit.

This was never a great strategy to begin with, and the pandemic-era flight of knowledge workers to home offices and hybrid schedules has left little to show for decades of rail-centric efforts. Meanwhile, countries in Europe and Latin America have out-innovated the U.S. in providing quality bus service.