Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit

Steven Higashide

Island Press



Better Buses, Better Cities focuses on US cities, which generally are not known for being bus-friendly. To take one striking example, some crosstown buses in New York City apparently move at half the speed of Hawaiian lava.

Part of the problem is an elite bias; policymakers and the politically powerful are unlikely to be bus users themselves. The policy bias toward the private car, with the postwar expansion of highways and suburbs, was partly driven by an impulse toward segregation. And it is maintained by budgets that disproportionately allocate funding to road maintenance over mass transit.

Highashide is clearly an evangelist for buses. He bemoans how much space-per-person is taken up by cars, both when they’re being driven and when they’re being stored. He explores how reducing public transport has worsened inequality. And he notes the environmental and health costs of the American addiction to cars.

But he insists that an aversion to buses can change thanks to thoughtful policy. This needs to include seven key conditions that transit users consistently mention as being important for buses:

- Usefully located

- Frequent

- Reasonably fast

- Reliable

- Within walking distance of final destinations

- Comfortable and safe

- Affordable

With this optimistic vision in mind, Better Buses, Better Cities showcases the many ways, down to the smallest details, to improve passenger experiences. For instance, during the transition to a reformed bus service in Houston, taxis were initially made available for riders who were unable to navigate the new system. As well, allowing passengers to board at all doors cuts average boarding time from 5 to under 2 seconds per person. Higashide hopes that sharing such details can inspire planners throughout the country to get on board.


Further reading:

CityLab (2018–2019), “Bus to the future”, available at https://www.citylab.com/special-report/bus-to-the-future/.

Newman, Peter (1996), “Reducing automobile dependence”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 8, No 1, pages 67–92, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/095624789600800112.

Patel, Shirish B, Jasmine Saluja and Oormi Kapadia (2018), “Affordable housing needs affordable transit”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 30, No 1, pages 123–140, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956247817738188.

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