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The Wheels on the Bus Go Green

by Jay Walljasper - June 2, 2008

prices--compounded by economic anxiety, continuing congestion and environmental concerns--are sending commuters onto trains and buses in unprecedented numbers.

"In almost every transit system I talk to, we're seeing very high rates of growth in the last few months," William Millar, head of the American Public Transit Association told the New York Times.

This represents an historic opportunity for the Greening of American cities. But to win the hearts of commuters, public transit systems will need to do more than simply sit back and wait for drivers to get frustrated about the cost and hassles of driving. Everywhere but the largest cities, transit--especially buses--has been stigmatized as "transportation of the last resort" for poor people.

The Toronto Star reports that the future of public transit is rolling today on the streets of San Francisco, where the "Connected Bus" offers 21st century commuters wireless Internet and up-to-the-second information about connections and delays thanks to a satellite tracking system.

"What transit customers want most is consistent, reliable service," said Judson True of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency "But they're increasingly looking for amenities that enhance their trip."

A study commissioned by Toronto's transportation planning agency offers other improvements that can convince middle-class passengers that buses are the way to go.

  1. More frequent service on bus routes.
  2. More comfortable vehicles and transit stops.
  3. Reliable information about bus schedules.

"Restaurateurs and retailers have long known how vital it is provide service that encourages repeat business," notes the Star. "But transit operators are behind schedule when it comes to treating riders like customers."