Buses do not attract “choice riders” says the Midtown Greenway Coalition

London Omnibus, 1847

London Omnibus, 1847

Being a daily bus rider is not for everyone. I consider myself pretty street savvy, but it is still a bit of a challenge. For whatever reason, its almost impossible to get on a city bus without running into a few questionable (smelly) characters. I have even personally been attacked and robbed on a bus. Perhaps this is what the Midtown Greenway Coalition is referring to when they say on their website that streetcar and light rail would attract more “choice riders” than buses. They cite the Hiawatha light rail line as evidence of this fact.

They don’t specifically describe who is a “choice rider” but I assume they are referring to middle class people. I don’t know if their claim is based upon any statistical data. My assumption is that it’s mostly anecdotal. From my personal experience riding Hiawatha light rail, I have not really noticed any observable difference between light rail and bus riders.

Its not entirely fair to single out the Midtown Greenway Coalition. I have encountered this attitude at all levelsBut, I personally find this attitude very offensive. First of all, it promulgates the belief that buses are for poor people–which only further discourages people that might give public transit a try. Second of all, I worry that Hennepin County and the Met Council are rushing to build streetcar and light rail solely because they believe it will be more appealing to middle class folks. Thirdly, I have heard people SAY they would never ride a bus but would ride a train or streetcar (no connections then?). Light rail projects are mind-bogglingly expensive to construct and maintain. Is this really the only way we can think to attract more riders? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more sensible to address what is really making buses unattractive (see  Yelp reviews).

What if Metro Transit invested more money into making buses cleaner, safer, and more efficient? Here are just a few ideas I have that might make things more pleasant:

-Free on-board wifi

-More heated shelters (not just a heat lamp)

-More bike racks (currently each bus only has space for two bikes)

-Spaces for baby strollers (there is currently a rule that parents are supposed to hold their babies and fold the strollers, not always an option for a parent juggling several children or with a sleeping baby)

-Better transfer connection times (this is really what makes public transit so inefficient). Advances in technology should make this feasible.

-Little things, like hand sanitizer

-I think there are some policy revisions that might make riding the bus more appealing. Many drivers are really great, but there are also quite a few that could use some customer service training.

More diverse transit ridership would make the system safer and more pleasant for everyone. But you can’t attract new “choice riders” by putting a bus on train tracks.
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