Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Buses anyone?

with 4 comments

The comments section of this blog seems to be dominated by the almost theologically intense debate about trams v skytrain. So it comes as something of a relief to have another subject suggested. The Sightline Institute (formerly  North West EnviroWatch) has asked me to draw your attention to a post on their blog about buses.

The data is American, but favourably compares passenger miles per gallon between intercity bus, train and plane (in descending order of fuel efficiency). It would be nice if someone with time on their hands could dig out comparable Canadian data. Note that we are not talking about city buses – which spend such a lot of time starting and stopping that their fuel consumption is higher, and one reason why hybrids perform better in city traffic.

Intercity passenger trains do not do very well in a US comparison – since the type of service now provided is far inferior to most other advanced countries – and even some third world ones. There is little electrification or even decent speeds outside the North East corridor, and in most places trains use tracks designed for and dominated by freight trains. But of the choices now offered, a well filled bus is quite a good choice (apparently) if you want to reduce your carbon footprint.

Of course most people have other, more pressing concerns.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 31, 2009 at 12:23 pm

4 Responses

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  1. My wife is a veteran of the Greyhound service to small town BC and further afield. It’s generally reliable and punctual, but spending most of 12 hours (or more) sitting takes its toll on the body. With rail service getting up and walking around is a much more viable option that alleviates that problem, but even in the distant past the trains didn’t go everywhere and are unlikely to ever serve most of small town Canada. The bus will always have its place.

    Hopefully we’ll see improvements to major corridors to permit high speed train service and eliminate a lot of short haul air travel. Seattle could be 90 minutes away with a high speed train, but we lack the will to upgrade and relocate the right of way to permit such a service to exist. If the US gets serious about high speed rail Canada will likely make at least a few steps in the same direction.


    March 31, 2009 at 3:25 pm

  2. The US is serious about high speed rail. Obama placed $8 billion in the stimulus at the last moment. He wants HSR to be his legacy. California voters approved $10 billion in the last election. Hopefully we will wake up soon and at least start to do some planning like reserving corridors and ensuring train stations can be expanded to support the demand created by HSR.

    In addition to the longer trips between cities like Vancouver, people in cities such as Toronto and LA are starting to look at HSR for regional trips with trains travelling between 150-200km per hour for trips of 20-30km. The ideal being that the combination of HSR and local transit such as buses, trams and metros can create travel times that are much faster than driving while encouraging density and hub and spoke development that is transit friendly.


    March 31, 2009 at 7:50 pm

  3. This talk about highway buses remind me the summer I spent in Finland–long ago–doing a college practicum on roads and bridges building (the college was in France, my native country, by the way). I had free housing on a bridge building site in the suburbs of the town of Turku. The area looked somewhat like the Gulf islands would if the closest island was by Vancouver and several hundreds of islands stretched out in the sea from there. The suburban buses going from downtown Turku to way way beyond our work site was a fleet of very comfortable buses that EACH had a hostess whose main job was to put our shopping bags in the cargo hold and give it back to us when we got off. Standing wasn’t allowed and the buses would stop near your home, even if it was between stops.. Many islands were linked by FREE ferries that were slowly replaced by bridges built by the National ministry of roads and bridges. Interestingly there weren’t a big number of cars on the road as many “islanders” commuted daily to Turku with a small motor boat. Finland also had a good train system between major cities. It allowed me to take a train from Turku, in the southwest of the country, to Rovaniemi, a town right on the Artic Circle, where I joined other foreign students on a bus tour of artic towns in Finland and Norway.

    Red frog

    April 2, 2009 at 11:20 pm

  4. In many places in the world, highway buses are quite comfortable. I would not hesitate to book a 14 hour overnight bus trip in Mexico; it is not as comfortable as a good sleeper train but far better than sitting all night in a train where the seats don’t fully recline. I suspect that if you are the height of the average Mexican it is even more comfortable.

    In contrast, Canadian and US buses are cramped and don’t have enough leg room for me to be comfortable for more than a few hours. Some of the PCL buses to Victoria have less leg room than a standard Translink city bus.

    We need an integrated network of buses and trains so each can do what they do best. We can afford comfortable buses and trains.

    Eric Doherty

    April 5, 2009 at 8:40 pm

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