Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Wheels On The Bus Say "Deal Deal Deal!"

Mass transit is the under-discussed topic in the American efforts to deal with our energy/climate crisis. Overinvestment in highways and suburbs undermined and underfunded mass transit and now we're paying the price - just compare our paltry intercity train service with Europe's. More efficient cars are a great development, but pleasant, functional mass transit would be transformative, especially since people are more and more likely to be stuck in traffic wasting their time, their money, and polluting all the while. People are gradually exploring what little mass transit there is - ridership is up.
I am huge fan of mass transit. I love trains, especially. When I was a kid in the Midwest, train rides were very special. The diner car had heavy silver service, white tablecloths, and exotic wait staff. (That's a euphemism for "black" - in those days, African-American men made up most of the labor for trains, since so many other employment avenues were barred.) Trains were middle class travel, buses were for working and lower class folks, and airplanes were a very upper crust activity. Trains aren't classy anymore, but they're way better than driving or flying.
Amtrak has become very expensive. And I was surprised to discover they utilize congestion pricing. The Philly-DC train I checked on in the morning was priced at $42, but when I bought my ticket at the station, it had jumped to $62. More power to Amtrak, I suppose, but lots of folks are comparing it to the new cheap bus rides and bailing.
It seems the Chinatown bus phenom now has copycat competition, and it's getting more clever all the time. The new guys on the block park their Megabuses right near train stations, making themselves an ever more convenient option. They provide express trips between cities, which speeds the trip up. They maintain pretty nice buses, and wow! The prices are great - with a great gimmick. The early you sign on, the cheaper the ticket is, as low as $1.00, as reported in The NYTimes.
With gas skyrocketing, along with parking, and the nastiness of sitting in traffic, these el cheapo buses will undoubtedly become ever more popular. I love how innovation beats public policy - our legislatures can only figure out how to fund Amtrak for a year at a time, and in the process, make it a luxury rather than a real transport strategy.

Picture from The Wheels on the Bus by Paul O. Zelinsky

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Actually, we were pleasantly surprised by Amtrak's prices. My son and I rode coach from Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-DC out on Tuesday morning and returned on Monday morning for $51 apiece each way. I thought it was a decent price but we used discounts and bought ahead of time. Check out the specials on Amtrak's home page as well.

better luck next time :)