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.
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
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
- Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
- Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
- Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
- 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.  and  and  and  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%. ]↩