How many times have you ridden a bus where you were the only passenger? Or watched a bus pass by nearly empty? While busses in dense urban areas are usually packed like the passengers are escaping a localized apocalypse, busses in more sprawling areas frequently operate at a fraction of their capacity.
GOING SMALL IN A CITY THAT LOVES TO GO BIG
In Houston, where a controversial vote recently limited public transportation funding, Metro has opted to substitute smaller 27-foot busses for the standard 40-footers on certainly low-ridership routes to save money.
INCREASING SERVICE FREQUENCY
Assuming there are genuine savings, I think it’s something cities all over should be doing. With the savings, your local transit agency could run smaller busses every half hour instead of a giant one only once an hour.
More frequent service would constitute a better level of service to the people who use that stop. Since I don’t know the exact math on it, I don’t know that the example above is perfect, but across a whole city worth of bus routes, lower operating costs per bus would compound, opening up new possibilities for increased service across the city.
LOWERING TAXES OR EXPANDING OPTIONS
If your local transit agency doesn’t elect to expand the bus system with the savings it gets from using smaller busses, it has plenty of other options. One is to lower taxes that fund transit due to lower operating costs. The other is to use the savings to help fund other transportation initiatives, like bike lanes, rail lines, etc. Either way, your benefit from lower costs or increased options.
BUSSES THAT FIT IN
Large busses are unwieldy for many neighborhoods, especially older cities with narrower or irregular roads. The shape of your standard 40-foot bus carries plenty of social stigma with it, too. That makes smaller busses great for serving areas currently underserved, whether a quaint historic district originally built for horses or a quiet residential neighborhood with NIMBY flair.
In short, we should apply some real-world right sizing to our nation’s busses. Whether it results in increased service levels, other transit improvements or lower taxes, it appears that small busses could be the next big idea for getting smart about transit.
Read more about Houston’s small bus push.