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Transit's Future
Avoiding the Crush of the Rush

Changes coming to New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal have a lot to teach us about the future of transit. The WSJ reports that the Terminal will be changing how it organizes busses, moving around where the vehicles leave from and arrive to:

The aim is to give the carriers better control over their dispatching, so if a problem arises it can shuffle buses as needed. That way, they don’t have to work through the other carrier whose buses may be at nearby gates or send buses out of the terminal, only to re-enter to access gates on another floor […]

Earlier operational fixes have helped get more buses into the terminal during evening commutes, the authority said […]

The result, according to the Port Authority, has been reduced bus congestion, less crowding of passengers waiting for buses, and fewer buses clogging city streets.

This story suggests three transit lessons. First, the humble bus remains the key to mass transit. It’s less expensive and more popular than rail.

Second, using existing infrastructure more effectively can postpone or even eliminate the need for massive, new construction that costs billions. There is a lot more to come here as smarter cars and busses—and ultimately autonomous vehicles including busses—make better use of existing roads and terminals.

Finally, as telework takes hold—and it will—look for declines in the commuter rush. Telework won’t just mean that some people stay home all, or almost all, of the time. More commonly, it will mean that workers will stay home (or at convenient, shared satellite office facilities in the exurbs) for one or more days a week, coming in and going home at more flexible times to avoid the crush of the rush—and this, too, will have implications for infrastructure.

The Big Infrastructure lobby, backed by unions and crony construction companies, will scream bloody murder and warn of imminent disaster as some of these changes take hold. But, in fact, while not totally fictitious, the so-called “infrastructure deficit” is one of the country’s problems that’s not as bad as advertised.

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  • Tom

    The problem with this column is that the “infrastructure deficit” isn’t just about congestion, it’s also about basic functionality. Telework is all well and good, but until someone develops teleportation you have to be able to move people and goods cross-country in reliable fashion.

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  • Co-homology

    Come on. No one choses a bus over train. Traveling by train is relaxing and fun. Buses are just gross.

    • Dale Fayda

      Really? Ever take the NYC subway system in the summertime? That’s a train. It’s also a rat-infested, filthy, smelly, overpriced crap hole. A NYC bus may not be much better, but that trian ride sure ain’t relaxing nor fun.

    • michaelj68

      Ever travel on I-95 in Northeast Corridor? Lots of buses taking people up and down that corridor. The Amtrak NE corridor route especially the Acela in not affordable to many people. One of the what are called Chinatown operations is on the sidewalks outside the Port Authority and one sees many different types of people waiting for buses.

      • Co-homology

        yeh if train is not convenient or is crowded, OK. But if both are available, trains win hands down.
        Why sit in a suffocating fumes filled bus (view? ugg!) when you can coast on a train enjoy the scenery.

  • Andrew Allison

    Making better use of existing infrastructure is smart, but does nothing to address the overall infrastructure defict. How are the roads over which the buses travel doing? Nationwide there are thousands of bridges and tens (hundreds) of thousands of road which need repair or replacement.

  • Dan King

    The Chinatown Bus model is probably better than a revamped Port Authority. The Chinatown bus uses street side bus stops all over town, rather than concentrating all the congestion in one place.

    Since bus stops exist on every block, there’s probably no reason for a Port Authority terminal at all.

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