Part 3: Why Republicans should like buses

Buses are coldly efficient.

By David Levinson and David King.

Today Republicans are associated with roads (and “free” roads at that). The reasons we hear from politically connected folks are their constituency drives cars, and they don’t want to subsidize inefficient “toy” trains. The business community, traditionally Republicans, does support transit investment as a public amenity they don’t have to pay for.

Buses are coldly efficient.
Buses are coldly efficient.

It should be noted the late, racist, Republican,  rail-advocate Paul Weyrich continues to be trotted out by “conservatives“. Weyrich was embraced by the rail community despite admitting his “sordid grab bag of lamentable beliefs”.  His argument was that trains serve white middle class republican voters, so (a) Republicans should support their constituency (not much about actual core values of balancing budgets or efficiency required), and (b) rail advocates should accept the support as the coalition to build trains needed to be large due to their large public cost.

To the extent Republicans uphold the value of “Fraternity” and support the existing “Social Order” they should endorse buses.

Why Republicans should like buses

  • Buses are much less expensive to build than rail, and thus much more cost effective per passenger served in most markets. If you are a Republican who wants to provide public services (that is, you believe in governing as the outcome of victory), you want to provide them effectively.
  • Bus transit helps more lower income workers get to jobs than a similar investment in rail in most places. Employed people have a stake in the system.
  • Republicans can foster the many private bus operators serving US cities, including many of the suburban bus companies.
  • By supporting buses Republicans can show that they care about an actual problem their constituents have and work to improve how bus service is supplied.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

Part 2: Why Democrats should like buses

Buses are S.M.A.R.T. in Starkville Mississippi

By David Levinson and David King.

Today Democrats are associated with rail. The reason we hear from politically connected folks is construction jobs and unions and real estate development and property owners. Of course their more urban constituency prefers rail to roads, while higher densities fit with their urban ideal. To the extent that Democrats have an underlying principle of “Equality” and “Social Justice”, they should support Buses.

Buses are S.M.A.R.T. in Starkville Mississippi
Buses are S.M.A.R.T. in Starkville Mississippi

Why Democrats should want to prioritize improving buses

  • Buses serve more people than trains ever will0 (since they are more cost-effective1), so bus improvements benefit more people.2
  • Bus riders are much more likely to be Democrats since they have lower average incomes compared to rail users and the general population.
  • Buses generate more operating jobs than trains, as bus drivers are labor and buses don’t carry as many passengers as long trains.
  • Buses are harder to automate than trains, so driver jobs are longer lasting jobs. While there are fewer construction jobs than rail projects, those are short term anyway.
  • There are more manufacturing jobs per passenger.  Bus manufacturing is more likely to be local.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

0. [Updated 9/4/14: in the US, certainly outside of New York City, and probably including New York City. More than half of US rail use (2.4 B out of 4.2B annual unlinked passenger trips) is in New York City. Caveat, rail share is growing some nationally (which is not too surprising given the amount of investment in new rail infrastructure replacing bus service). As with anything, rail investments face diminishing returns, since the high benefit/low cost rail projects have been built.]

1. [Updated 9/4/14: See, e.g. [1] and [2] and [3] and [4] which look at capital costs per rider in the Twin Cities. Of course operating costs per rider are different, and a full train may be lower than a full bus. Neither is full most of the time. Whether lower operating costs offset higher capital costs is an empirical question and case-contingent, in most cases the marginal new rail line vs the marginal new bus line will net out to be more expensive overall with reasonable interest rate assumptions. None of this is to say rail isn’t (or is) a better investment than highways (or doing nothing/no build) at the margin, which is an argument for another day.]

2. [Updated 9/4/14: Presently, only in New York, Massachusetts, and DC does rail ridership exceed bus ridership (New Jersey is close). Of course those are the best transit markets, and rely on mostly early 20th century rail infrastructure (Boston and metropolitan New York). Nationally BTS reports bus overall has 52% of the transit market, and rail 44%. ]