Part 5: Why Greens should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

I don't need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.
I don’t need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.

Greens are most associated in the US with non-motorized transportation. As pedestrians ourselves, we see the many advantages. While many more people could walk than do, and many others could re-arrange their home and work locations over time to enable one or more members of their household to walk or bike, getting people to move home or change jobs to minimize travel costs is a big ask. Creating new (and re-creating existing) urban places (instead of new suburban places) aligns with the philosophy of some Greens. Economic development and real estate  tend to be local issues, and downtown real estate in particular is now an odd ally of the Greens.

The next best thing to minimizing distances through changes in relative location and land use is getting people to their destinations in an energy efficient way.

While Greens don’t fit cleanly on the three-axis model, it is probably most related to Social Justice/ Equality, but extending the object of Justice from People to the Environment as a whole (that is valuing the environment for its own sake, not just for the sake of future humans).

Why Greens should want to invest in buses.

Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE. Figure 27-8 in The Transportation Experience

  • Buses (when more fully occupied) are more energy efficient than other modes, and electric buses show promise to improve this even more. (In practice as shown in the adjoining figure, buses are less energy efficient than cars on average, due to low occupancies in off-peak and suburban services, though the marginal passenger incurs almost no additional energy consumption.)
  • Buses (and vans) are community transportation where people can meet their neighbors and the driver.
  • Rail construction (or any infrastructure construction) is highly disruptive to fragile eco-systems and highly energy intensive, so the payback period for CO2 emissions may be decades, if at all. If you think that CO2 is something to worry about, improving bus service in a matter of months should be far more valuable than potential reductions more than a decade away.
  • Making buses work better adheres to the adage used about housing that the greenest houses are existing houses. The greenest transport is more intensively using existing transport. Even with new rails, existing roads will remain. We should use them wisely.

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

One thought on “Part 5: Why Greens should like buses

  1. The problem with the BRT folks is that they ignore your last point. They want to build new roads for buses. That loses the construction argument.

    For example here in Boston the transportation dept wanted to widen a street by 25 ft for buses. That’s quite a heavy impact on both environment and community. Now they are converting a rail ROW into a bus in another project.

    I would be curious to know if a brand new right of way is more environmentally friendly when constructed as rail than paved roadway. I suspect so.

    Lifetime costs are also important. Cleveland BRT operator bragged about how he doesn’t pay road maintenance costs. Sounds unsustainable to me.


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