Want to Invest in Mass Transit: How About Bus Stations?

In my most recent column, “Liberate Mass Transit,” I argued that Virginia could stimulate shared-vehicle ridership by scrapping local transit monopolies and fostering a wave of private sector innovation. Government, I suggested, could deploy its scarce resources far more effectively by investing in transit “infrastructure” — particularly the public places where people gather to catch a bus or jitney — instead of subsidizing money-losing transit operations.

Writing for the Transport Innovator, a newsletter published by the Bus Rapid Transfer Center, Derek Trusler cites a busway network in Brisbane, Australia, where bus ridership has increased 120 percent in the last four years. A key factor in Brisbane’s success was the construction of attractive, functional bus stations. The stations offer a number of features that improve the customer experience:

  • Protection from the weather and the elements
  • Real-time passenger information signs and public announcements
  • Station access through bicycle and pedestrian paths, as well as park-and-ride lots
  • Closed-circuit TV and other security measures
  • Attractive landscaping
  • Adequate customer facilities such as ticketing machines, maps, drinking fountains, rubbish bins, toilets, bicycle parking and storage
  • And more…

A network of bus stations like Brisbane’s in Northern Virginia would do a lot to encourage road warriors to trade in their car keys and take a bus for that hour-long commute.

(Read the full article in the “Transport Innovator,” published on the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Center website.)

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10 responses to “Want to Invest in Mass Transit: How About Bus Stations?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I agree with bus station construction and renovations.
    If you ever traveled Greyhound
    recently – you’ll know what I mean!
    Get the private sector involved.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Right on target. Jitneys, atrractive surrounding, current information, cost effective transit instead of transit for transit’s sake. Now you are talking sense.

    However, we should recognize that cost effective transit probably means less extensive transit. Whilea at first this may result in slightly more auto use, the end result may be more incentive for people to locate where transit actually works.

    It may also be true that cost effective transit, where it works, will be somewhat more expensive: no more free ride; pay for what you use, and all that. A less extensive system will require that adequate parking be supplied at the perimeter, a condition that does not exist now.

    This isn’t going to be easy or cheap. Just because some costs are transferred off the public books doesn’t mean that someone isn’t going to pay. The transition will be gradual and painful, but if we can pull it off the end result will be better for all.

  3. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Transfer Centers are an excellent technique for improving transit service. They allow matching frequent trips in high density areas with express runs across town. When the centers are located at the center of things, many riders can make a single bus trip, others a two bus trip, first to a transfer center and then across town to their destination. Dallas and Austin Texas have used this technique successfully.

    This is in contrast to the current practice in many areas of providing hourly service for every stop whether or not anyone rides and whether or not enough riders live in the area to make the stop sucessful. A 10 minute loop can serve a two and one half mile route through a high density neighborhood. An hour route becomes a ten mile trip which most prospective patrons avoid.

    Two ways to increase ridership are 1) Increase frequency 2) Increase the density within a quarter mile of the stop. Transfer Centers help both techniques.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    In some places driver get paid partially according to the number of passengers they pick up. It encourages them to make suggestions on improved service, and insist they are implemented.

  5. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    As one whose state job is trying to help people start businesses, I can say that there is a lot of interest, all around the state, for transport-for-hire start-ups. There is very little to encourage this type of business, or to encourage flexibility. Lots of vehicles that do Medicare transport could potentially do am and pm commuting routes around their patients’ schedule, for example.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Another inovation to pay attention to – Flexcars.


    which are already in the DC
    area with 139 vehicles.


    .. and a trend to pay attention to – plug-in hybrids… teamed
    up with flexcars… that get charged up with electricity…at
    night… they already have conventional hybrids available.

    .. like those “carts” in the WalMarts except these are cars
    parked at curbside…

    Flexcars .. can (and are) deployed at transit stations..

  7. Ray Hyde Avatar

    As I understand it, Flexcars are still running on partial public subsidies. I don’t have a problem with helping people start businesses: in fact I wish I could have gotten some help when I was working on the short distance Virginia Airline idea or the Potomac water taxi.

    I was skeptical at first, but now I can see a niche for flexcars. I’m not convinced of all the benefits claimed for them, but part of a car is better than no car. Maybe they will make the traditional auto rental agencies wake up: their practices have become user unfriendly and predatory.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Part of the philosophical discussion about transportation is whether the approach should be for the government to decide or to allow/enable/incentivize the private sector to step into the fray with solutions that are market-based.

    Has anyone else observed…
    for instance, most van pool vans sit unused in parking lots for much of the day – when folks are complaining that transit doesn’t “work” because it doesn’t go everywhere they need.

    As they speak.. two blocks away, in a parking lot.. sits an unused van. Isn’t there a level of irony here?

    Why are those state-subsidized vans sitting in those parking lots
    while at the same time… people are whining that there is not enough money for roads?

    The State encourages VDOT and the localities to identify every single road project that they think is needed, put in on a list.

    Note.. the state does not do this with transit much less with “other” ideas .. like using unused Van pool vans during the day.

    The state policy is, in effect, saying.. roads are the solution.. so make your lists.

    What this does is it promotes and legitimizes a nether-world where the mantra becomes – “If only we had enough funding” for roads rather than… gee.. should we really be looking at transportation in a more comprehensive way?

    Government and higher taxes is the ONLY solution to transportation?

    If someone doesn’t want to sit in the “cheap seats”.. fine.. direct them to the ticket booth for an upgrade.

    What the state policy does, in effect, is allow anyone who does ot want to sit in the cheap seats to go to the ticket booth for front-row seats.. then the ticket prices for everyone else is raised to compensate.

    This works fine until everyone else realizes they can get the same deal at no cost to themselves.

    Needless to say – this is not a sustainable practice – and – guess what.. the 100 billion dollar backlog of roads.. is clear proof of this.

    The solution is quite simple.
    Let people choose but let them pay for what they want.

    If they want NoVa plowed over with new roads – fine. Tally up the costs, build the toll roads or raise their real estate taxes and get on with it.

    Telling folks in NoVa that Richmond is going to pick the pockets of those living in Wise County … to pay for NoVa roads is in simple terms.. what all the hoola is about in Richmond with regard to transportation.

    In effect, our transportation policy is based on .. a ponzi scheme.

    And it seems no one want to really deal with the fundamental issue but rather dance around trying to find different, more politically acceptable ways of pretending that you CAN put lipstick on a pig.


  9. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Bill Vincent, an occasional Bacon’s Rebellion e-zine contributor with the Breakthrough Technologies Institute, notes that subscriptions to the “Transport Innovator” are free. Just sign up here.

  10. Wow, I’ve never thought of the bus stations here in Brisbane as a good thing. The only reason massive bus stations have been built is because Brisbane is dominated by buses. Yet buses are the worst way to travel. Uncomfortable, and the drivers are underpaid, most of them drive like maniacs. In hilly Brisbane, you have to hold on for most of the trip. Also, buses are never on time. It is quite unusual for a bus to leave its first station on time. Often they drive right past other bus stops because they’re full.
    The train system is outdated and the stations are badly located (and there are not enough of them), I’d definitely like to see an improvement in the train network rather than the massive amounts of money being spent on increasing traffic congestion with more buses.

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