Friday, March 14

I can still smell the rubbery seats

Buses are a great way to get around, but Americans don't seem to want to ride them. Transportation analysts can scratch their heads over adding more routes, faster service, lower fares, more consistency, but at the end of the day the real hurdle to overcome is simply the uncoolness that buses exude. In the movie Pursuit of Happiness, the chapter entitled "Riding the Bus" was the point at which Will Smith had begun his descent into poverty. He had to hide his embarrassing bus ride from his Wall Street coworkers. While it may not be the case elsewhere in the world, most Americans believe that the only people who ride buses are those who are too poor to drive.

I have my own little theory about this. I suspect that Americans' deep-seated aversion to buses was ingrained in our psyches during grade school, when we would be shuttled away from home half-awake to spend our days behind a desk. Once high school arrived, the bus was the receptacle for those still caught in adolescence without a license or at least an older friend. High schoolers will suffer through any amount of inconvenience in order to avoid the school bus. A couple years ago, a judge in Indiana struck upon the brilliant idea of punishing teen traffic violators with mandatory school bus rides. One girl broke down into tears right outside the courtroom.

You'd think that adulthood would purge those insecurities out of most of us, but then again maybe it doesn't always work that way. So what do we do? One possibilities is just to scrap buses entirely and work on building an accessible light rail system, which bears none of the same baggage. That would take some dedication. But there may also be a way to thoughtfully improve the image of bus travel, much like ad campaigns have fairly successfully tarnished the image of cigarettes. A place to start would be to make public buses look as little like school buses as possible.

Here's a picture of a bus that I spotted near Copacabana, Bolivia. Who wouldn't want to ride "the cruise of the love"?


touchstone said...

Busses are uncool...or too cool?

Like the Green Tortoise bus line...

I rode it once from SF to Seattle. Good times.

Daniel Nairn said...

Sounds like an experience. On the east coast, the Chinatown buses offer a great service. They charge a fraction of the greyhound price and always run on time. There's also something fun about boarding and getting off in a different Chinatown.