No One Hurt Because No One Was On The Bus

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We need a VERY serious discussion about public transit in Canada.

It works when it works. In fact, in many cases, there’s simply no other solution that comes remotely close to public transit.

However, filling the roads of suburbs with elongated and heavy buses is not a good answer most of the time.

Here’s an unfortunate story about a bus that swerved to avoid an erratic driver. The bus piled into a commercial building in London, ON.

The good news? No one was hurt.

That’s because no one was on the bus (except the driver).

Normally, you’d just wipe your brow and say ‘phew! Thanks goodness no one was hurt’.

But the absence of riders begs the question: why put buses on the road when they’re empty? We’re wasting gas, we’re wrecking our streets and we’re causing – NOT SOLVING – congestion issues.

Maybe I missed something like ‘it was empty because it had just unloaded a crowd of busy workers or students’.

But I know that street and I know that’s not the case.

It’s empty because it’s politically expedient to have very visible buses choking the lanes of urban and suburban streets.

We subsidize the actual driving of vehicles, not the number of passengers or the efficiency of these services.

As mentioned, we indirectly cause MORE congestion with empty buses and compound road damage and need for repairs because buses are typically much heavier than your average commuter vehicle (ie. car).

So what’s the solution?

There are many:

  • Subsidize the number of riders, not buses
  • Track all activity and optimize activity to reflect where people are, not where you think they might be impressed by a bus cruising through the neighbourhood
  • Focus on smaller, more nimble services
  • Work with automation and third-party services (eg. Lyft, Uber) to deliver flexible routes
  • Stop thinking in terms of ‘fixed’ transit corridors unless population sizes warrant this thinking. If population sizes aren’t available, build ‘consolidation areas’ for people to park and ride into core areas.
  • Think about towns in terms of ‘nodes’ instead of ‘cores’.

This last item is probably the toughest for most people to get their heads around because it twists about 2,000 years of thinking around in ways people haven’t imagined before.

We traditionally have ‘cores’ because (a) we needed them as ways to consolidate resources, especially when we were under attack by other tribes and (b) it’s an efficient way for masses of people to meet in a single place.

As businesses themselves become smaller and more nimble, the idea of ‘cores’ goes the way of the dodo. Of course, they’ll persist (see above), but with more people working from home, doing things online and focusing on digital commerce instead of physical movement, we have to rethink how and more importantly WHY we feel it’s critical to move people around by third-parties when they don’t want us to.

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