The Inherent Shallowness of the Rail vs. Bus Debate

Is every argument for buses also an argument against rail?

Some people seem eager to imply that what's good for buses must be bad for rail. But that couldn't be farther from the truth, says Jarrett Walker. Photo: http://www.tunneltalk.com/Sound-Transit-Jul09-Seattle-embraces-mass-transit.phpTunnel Talk

It seems that, according to the half-baked logic of “anti-planner” Randall O’Toole, the answer is “yes.” The fervent rail opponent recently wrote that because Jarrett Walker at Human Transit penned an article arguing that race-based generalizations about bus travel are harmful, Walker must, ipso facto, share his disdain for rail. Not even close, says Walker:

This is called a “false dichotomy,” identical in logic to George W. Bush’s claim that “either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.” (In a related move, he insists that you can’t improve rail and buses at the same time, a claim directly disproven by the last decade in which LA Metro developed the Metro Rapid buses [and Orange and Silver Line busways] concurrent with rail extensions.)

In fact, I maintain and encourage a skeptical stance toward all technophilia — that is, all emotional attachments to transit technologies that are unrelated to their utility as efficient and attractive means of public transport.

When self-identified bus-people attack rail, and self-identified rail people attack buses, they both sound like the lungs arguing with the heart. There’s a larger purpose to transit, one that we achieve only by refusing to be drawn into technology wars, and demanding, instead, that everything work together.

The idea that a city as vast and dense as Los Angeles can do everything with buses, no matter how much it grows, is absurd. Drivers are expensive, so rail is a logical investment where high vehicle capacity (ratio of passengers to drivers) is required.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure expresses disappointment with the HSR station designs for Fresno and Bakersfield. The Greater Marin reports that Sacramento County might wreck its valiant smart growth efforts by welcoming a Walmart close to a new light rail service. And Streets.mn explains why it’s time to stop spending billions based on dubious traffic projections.