Bus Versus Train: A Dying Debate

COST Commentary: The story in the article below is a sequel to the situation several years ago when, in summary, the Los Angeles bus riders formed a “Union” and filed a law suit against the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority alleging discrimination in that the allocation of significant portions of the transit funds to new rail transit was degrading bus transit which carried a majority of the region’s transit riders. This resulted in rapidly declining bus ridership. The Bus Riders’ Union won the case and the judge directed the transit Authority to redirect funds from rail back to the buses. Bus ridership was revived to its previous level. Now, a new chapter is unfolding.

Change a few facts and this article is of the developing transit situation in Austin and many other cities. The article reflects a key debate which Austin has not addressed, but needs to face very soon in order to implement a course correction in the current very defective long range plan vision. The City’s current developing vision is similar to the Envision Central Texas (ECT) vision of 8 years ago. As demonstrated by numerous model cities, this developing Austin plan will result in greater congestion, reduced affordability, reduced families in Central Austin, reduced public school enrollment, closing of many schools, reduced opportunity and degraded quality of life for all citizens. Limited income citizens will bear a disproportionately higher share of the burden.


by Kirsten Moore 04/01/2011 in newgeography

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s cutbacks on its bus line, eliminating about 12% bus service, illuminate the problems of mass transit in LA, specifically the relative inefficiency of trains in the city. This 12% is a further reduction after the 4% cutbacks six months ago, sparking anger from the Bus Riders Union. Metro Chief Executive Art Leahy says that his decision to decrease spending is a result of the low ridership, yet city trains, which are also underperforming, remain relatively untouched.

Leahy argues that buses are easier to eliminate, re-route, and reschedule than rail lines are. However, he also says that the cutting back on lesser-used bus lines will free up the resources to enhance the ones in higher demand. Many bus riders feel that they are getting a raw deal seeing as bus lines, which transport 80% of the MTA’s passengers, only get 35% of the operating budget to begin with. This being true, how much is the other 65% really helping the rail lines then?

The Bus Riders Union thinks that the MTA’s preference for trains over buses is an unfair reflection of class interests. Because rich people do not take the bus, there is no incentive to keep it running. As is becoming increasingly clear, especially with the current high-speed rail discussions, rich people don’t want to ride the train anymore either. This local debate, therefore, is not an argument of whether to cutback on buses or trains; it is an argument about how to deal with the general decline in mass transit.

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