‘Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run and Win the Fight for Effective Transit’ is a comprehensive guide to reviving usage of public transit systems, specific buses in your cities. Penned by Steven Higashide, urban planner and one of America’s leading experts on transportation, this book focuses on how some deep-rooted societal issues could be tackled to a certain extent by improving bus transit systems. According to him, a society embracing and utilising the urban public transport system is typically more secure, healthy, sustainable & accessible to all. Through presenting case studies of numerous cities like Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Miami-Dade County, Nashville, New York City, and Seattle in America, he has undertaken the study of transit systems by conducting research supported by campaigns and interacting with transit reformers.
Steven Higashide had got inspired by his motivation for the need for a much larger scale reform movement of America’s transit system. He has interacted with numerous professionals from many backgrounds concerning transit: law, planning, and research to present a case drawing from his work and people’s experiences to improvising the bus transit system, thereby enhancing the lifestyles of citizens in their communities.
‘Better Buses, Better Cities’ is divided into an introduction that briefly discusses the issue with eight chapters emphasising various aspects to improvise the bus transit system through choice, frequency, reliability, walkability, equitability, gerrymandering & technology in constructing and establishing a transit-friendly nation.
Steven Higashide begins by elucidating on the need of users in buses and how organising its networks could prove to be advantageous in the long run. He brings about examples of health workers being an hour late, affecting not just their work schedule but their colleagues as well, the travel woes of people in the service-based industry at the risk of being dismissed, etc. The author then emphasises how offering more parking spaces for private vehicles can consume more space affecting the city’s essence, leaving less of it for every citizen to appreciate & how it brings in less tax revenue for the city.
Steven Higashide explores the broader picture of a plethora of transportation issues in cities within the American context. He discusses the necessity to revive pre-existing transit networks and a wide range of mobility modes available today. He observes policy & decision makers’ apathy towards public transit systems, and many times, the decision makers of transit systems have never used the same. Further, he goes on to observe how much people will be able to deliver a successful transit system for the benefit of the community. The author further studies how the major political entities of Republicans and Democrats influence the public transit policies based on their ideologies and beliefs, which affects the overall reformation of the public transit system.
Choice, frequency, reliability & walkability in a bus transit system
The first four chapters deal with aspects of choice, frequency reliability and walkability in a bus transit system. Steven Higashide sets the premise by making readers wonder why people take the bus. Would it be its affordability and availability? He utilises the terms ‘Choice and Captive riders’ to categorise the users. He establishes the pre-conceived belief of ‘citizens who ride the bus having no alternative, and they’ll continue riding regardless of how terrible the service gets’ as destructive. Practically speaking, bus services will gain a strong custmer base only when they provide quality and satisfactory service. Everyone, including those who do not own private vehicles, will figure out other methods of travelling as per their affordability.
Steven Higashide then explains the significance of making buses recurrent, reliable and walkable. Frequency matters: A bus coming every 8 to 15 minutes remarkably impacts efficiency in people’s time however, agencies providing transit facilities analyse upcoming demands before the increasing frequency of buses. Then, the author covers the aspect of the ‘Ridership-Coverage Tradeoff’: Ridership routes attracting bus drivers and coverage routes providing essential access to citizens are covered as well.
Steven Higashide then speaks about the reliability of buses and how the experience of pedestrians can make or break bus transit experiences. Regular buses available every 8 to 15 minutes is promising in increasing efficiency for both bus riders & drivers, however if the bus gets embroiled within the chaos of city traffic flow, it could run the risk of getting delayed or being unreliable for not keeping its promise. Additionally, it’s crucial to maintain walkability for the bus riders to keep them satisfied and as regular users, irrespective of its quick frequency.
Equitability, Gerrymandering, Technology making or breaking a bus transit system
The next chapters revolve around buses being equally accessible to all, the impact of local politics (state and regional level) on the frequency of bus transport, the significance of successful transit campaigns and implementation of upcoming technologies, etc. As Steven Higashide mentions, it goes without saying that the planning of bus services is entwined with social equity. Service and fare changes can affect the underprivileged in numerous ways. The necessity of implementing safety measures by transit agencies to make all riders feel more secure and welcome. As stated in this book, according to a survey from 2016, one-third of former public transit riders ceased to continue traveling via that means due to safety concerns. Introducing fair-pricing policies to encourage more people to use buses through the issue of passes via their educational institution, workplace or residential building and the benefits they gain through state policies required for employers providing incentives for non-drivers.
In the final chapters about technology, Steven Higashide analyses the future of public transportation in comparison with what he terms as ‘Transportation Network Companies, like Uber & Lyft. He strongly advises citizens not to depend on futuristic impending technological advancements. As per recent research and documentation, the concept of sharing rides and the rise in online shopping, thereby increasing the necessity of delivery trucks, are causing the cities to be more congested. Investing time, effort and funds in the transit system can lead to incorporating practical solutions and enhancing the city’s lifestyle as a whole.
Steven Higashide’s transportation planning discussions and illustrations are pragmatic, providing a crucial foundation for both concerned authorities and citizens. The author strongly believes that when activists, leaders of concerned public agencies, and political power representatives work together to upgrade and enhance the bus transport system and its networks, it will be advantageous for every citizen who derives from having equal access to public transportation. He details the evolution of the modern transit system in America since the world war times and gives in-depth comments on supportive networks and infrastructure for bus services. Through providing numerous success stories and resources, Better Buses, Better Cities is a book that will truly inspire readers to become passionate about improving public transportation, addressing climate change and advocating for equality and accessibility.
Higashide, S. (2019) Better buses, better cities: How to plan, run, and win the fight for effective transit.