The future of urban transit - Metropolitan Planning Council

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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.


  1. 1. Regillio from rXBcpudUXOguVXlop on December 11, 2012

    I just finished renaidg all these comments great insights from everyone. And it's hard to hear sometimes, but I think at the root of it are some very helpful perspectives. I'm also one of the people who chooses to ride the bus, even though I have a car and can certainly get to/from work and school in it a bit more quickly. Some people, shockingly or not, just simply don't like to drive. I feel like I've started my day in a much better place mentally and emotionally if I can avoid road rage filled drivers, accidents and backups, and people weaving in and out at the 55/Memorial Drive/PSB exit nonsense when I head downtown. I also get fresh air and a bit of zoning out time when I wait for the bus/train.I have the luxury of using a student pass from UMSL right now so I don't have to pay any extra and can choose to hop on a bus any morning I have the time and don't feel like driving (and don't have out of office meetings). But I haven't gotten to the point where I do it every day.The thing that keeps me from doing that is a 40 minute door-to-door commute for 5.5 miles (bus and train), vs. a 15 min door-to-door commute by car. Some days I just NEED that extra 15 minutes or so in the morning. Or it's too cold.I agree that we need tools that will entice folks who WANT to like/use/support transit but can't quite make the jump, such as the GPS tracking of buses so you know how long till they'll be at your stop (approx.). DC has this, I saw it in action this fall. Very cool. Also, easier fares (cash-free cards), which I realize is in the works for the relatively near future. And of course, things like correct signage/directionals/bus depot comfort would all improve the image of being a bus rider.I know Metro doesn't own the CWE bus depot, Wash U does, but who else would know that from the looks of it? The station gets very dirty and at times last summer would smell like trash and urine. There aren't enough benches, and the ones that are there are metal and freezing in the winter. All these things make it somewhat unpleasant to wait for your bus there. I appreciate all of the comments people have taken the time to leave, and also Metro for asking us. Viva la bus!

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