The Perfect Bus System
Some people fantasize about love, power, or money. I have a fantasy about the perfect bus system.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Where I live, there are numerous buses, and their routes look like a plate of spaghetti. The routes are so interwoven that it is difficult to figure out which routes and transfers to take. A person new in the city might want to go a certain direction. At the bus stop there is a sign with several letters for various bus routes, none of which are explained. He takes the first bus going down that street, when suddenly it turns and travels for several blocks in a perpendicular direction until the next stop, and he has to get off and walk back to the street he wanted to traverse.
One often does not know the frequency of the busses. There are so many routes that one needs to be armed with a large stack of schedules, and then do some serious study to get the optimal route and times. Exact change is needed, and there are multiple fares for adults, senior, children, transfers, and express busses. Everyone must wait while some unprepared rider digs into his pockets for the last dime he needs.
Need bus systems be so complicated and difficult? That's where my bus fantasy kicks in. There is a fine novel by Leonard Bishop entitled Down All Your Streets. A bus system cannot go down all streets, but it should cover the main streets in a regular fashion.
In my fantasy bus system, a bus would go up and down from one end of a street to the other. At each bus stop, there would be benches to sit on, a covering for shade and protection against rain, and, a schedule of the frequency of stops. Each major street has its very own busses.
Now a bus rider need not have any schedule. If he wants to go downtown, he need only walk to the nearest major street and look for the nearest bus stop. There he reads how long on average he needs to wait. He takes that bus and gets off at the next major street, and he will know that there are busses that will take him as far down that streets as he wishes to ride. There should also be busses riding along the major freeway routes for long and swift routes; they would go to the freeway exits, pick up passengers, and then get back on the freeway.
The bus transfers should be valid for several hours in any direction, so that one may go to a destination or take a round trip on one ticket. Better yet, busses should be free of charge. Some free-marketeers might exclaim, "There is no free lunch!" Well, there is a free lunch, and her name is "efficiency."
In hotels, the transportation is free of charge. They don't charge you each time you ride the elevator or escalator. The cost is paid from the charge for a room. The room rental also pays for the hotel corridors, security, recreation, and the public park they have at the lobby where you can sit by a fountain.
It's efficient to have gratis vertical transit, since there would be transaction costs in collecting fees from riders, and the fees would also make the hotel less attractive. Similarly, some privately owned communities provide gratis bus transit to the residents, paid from their monthly dues or assessments.
If it is efficient for a private community to provide gratis transit, it is likewise efficient for a city to provide gratis bus service to the residents and visitors. The free and easy transportation makes the city that much more attractive for residents, business, and visitors. That added demand lifts up the site rents, and that extra rent should be sufficient to pay for the bus system. The rent also provides a clue as to whether the bus system is worth having: yes, if the extra rent it generates is greater than the cost of the bus system. The busses become self-financing.
Man does not travel by bus alone. Jitneys are small vehicles with several seats that can supplement the busses, less expensive than taxis. They should be privately owned, but the city should provide curb space for them. In many cities of United States of America, jitneys are illegal, to protect the government bus monopoly. Jitneys should be legalized and harmonized with free bus transit. Taxis would take up the slack for point to point special-order transit, with no limitations on starting new taxi companies.
"But the demand is not there!" cry the bus administrators. Well, sure, if you subsidize automobile travel. Put in tolls high enough to eliminate traffic congestion; electronic devices can make that efficient. While we are at it, put in variable parking meters with charges high enough so that one can usually find a parking spot with a couple of blocks. The street and freeway charges will make drivers pay the social cost of adding to crowding, shifting them to the busses. There is your demand, and the demand for more bus rides adds to the rent, and there is your finance.
Cities exist because of efficiencies in packing a lot of people close together, and they can operate most efficiently with rapid, fluid transit with minimal transaction costs. The marginal cost of one more rider is very low; efficiency requires that the fixed cost be paid from the land rent, with the passenger riding at no charge on busses that run frequently on clear routes.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2001 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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