Have you ever been hours into a day-long road trip and wished for a better way? Ever fantasized about crazy new modes of transport that could zip us from city to city in private, efficient little bubbles? Ever wished that the country's billionaires would stop messing around in outer space and get back to work perfecting self-driving cars and teleportation?
Yet here we are, in 2021, still chugging along the interstates on painfully slow and boring (yet also exhausting) car trips. But flying is expensive and stressful and germy. Trains are unpredictable and inconvenient, and are highly subsidized and underutilized in the U.S. due to our cultural resistance to them. What other options are there? Surely not... a bus??
Harvard professor and infrastructure expert Ed Glaeser thinks we should take another look at the lowly bus. On a recent Freakonomics podcast focused on American investment in infrastructure, Glaeser reveals a secret, long-standing love affair between transit economists and buses, which he calls "the forgotten child of American transportation." Glaeser argues that instead of investing more tax dollars into passenger rail, which has consistently failed to meet ridership projections, Congress should focus funds on developing the infrastructure for autonomous, long-distance bus lines.
A few decades ago I was a frequent passenger on the Chinatown bus between Washington DC and New York City and I always found the buses to be clean, quiet and comfortable (plus, WiFi and bathrooms!). Although Googling "Florida man Greyhound bus" presents a slightly seedier picture of bus travel. But in Glaeser's words,
"I think this is a model that the U.S. should take more seriously, especially in a world of autonomous vehicles. One of the problems of rail is that it’s remarkably fixed. You pretty much just run trains on it. Whereas lots of things can run on a road. And so it’s one thing to think about, do we need a train between, let’s say, Chicago and Milwaukee? Or would we be better off with a dedicated lane that only runs autonomous buses and autonomous cars? And lets them run 150 miles an hour."
If thoughts of encountering Florida Man are enough to make me apprehensive about taking the bus, I'm not sure if traveling at 150 miles per hour would do anything to calm my nerves. On the other hand, the promise of WiFi, bathrooms and getting to my destination twice as fast are pretty appealing...
This bus is going way too slow
Here are a few more:
Why the U.S. still doesn't have high-speed trains
How China used more cement in 3 years than the U.S. did in the entire 20th Century