The future of urban transit
"Next bus" signs in Berlin, Germany
Considering that approximately 65 percent of Chicago public transit users ride buses, it’s clear that improving the quality of bus service will retain existing and attract new people to public transit. As a regular bus rider myself, I know how much my commute – and, by extension, my daily life – improved with the advent of CTA Bus Tracker. Before the days of bus tracker, I remember bearing the elements (for what seemed like a lifetime!), waiting for a bus to arrive at my stop. Now I not only know whether I’ll catch a bus in time to get to work, but I can wait in a safe, comfortable place and build in a few minutes to pick up the daily paper before my bus arrives.
So I welcome the news that the city of Chicago recently received a $35 million federal grant to continue to improve CTA bus service. In the next couple of years, we’ll see Bus Tracker digital kiosks at bus stops so that all riders can anticipate the next bus. Some buses will operate in dedicated lanes to dash past traffic congestion. Easier connections from Union Station to the Loop and beyond will help make transit a no-brainer for more commuters and visitors.
Chicago isn’t alone in focusing on improved bus service as a main strategy to improve transit and reduce congestion. Not only is it faster and cheaper to implement and operate bus service than it is rail service, but the way the world thinks about buses is changing. Cities such as Curitiba, Brazil, and Bogota, Columbia, are leading the way with systems that have it all: dedicated lanes, prepaid boarding, and buses with two large doors that open to allow many passengers to board at the same time (much like an airport shuttle or, even more to the point, a subway car.)
In the U.S., other cities also received funding to experiment with elements of bus rapid transit, including New York, which will also have additional bus-only lanes by 2012. This is a great first step toward bus rapid transit.
As for the future of bus service in Chicago, New York, and other U.S. cities, I love this quote from Kyle Wiswall, general counsel for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (complements of a great post by Victoria Broadus on The City Fix): “When [New York] adopts a world-class Bus Rapid Transit system, people are going to have a tough time, efficiency-wise, telling a bus apart from a subway – it’s going to be like a subway with a view.”
A subway with a view. That’s the ultimate goal. Meanwhile, I’m excited to see Chicago and other U.S. cities begin to improve our buses, which may very well be the future of urban transit.