Sebastian Montes brings us this article on plans for a rapid bus route through various Montgomery County communities to the Northwest of Washington, DC. The line would run from the Shady Grove Metro station through Gaithersburg, Germantown and Clarksburg. The main reasons a bus option was licked over a rail one was because it is flexible, meaning it is easier to abandon if money or politics become unfavorable, and because it’s cheaper than rail. A number of groups are opposed to the bus decision for a variety of reasons, and I would have to agree with them. Especially in the DC area where people have gotten so used to having good rail service, fewer people are going to take a bus, no matter how fast, efficient, or cheap. Bus ridership usually falls short of predictions, whereas rail often exceeds them. Bus transit rarely fosters TOD, whereas rail is almost a requirement for it.
Americans, especially suburbanites, are not going to ride buses. Unless an area is already experienced with and used to bus riding, the people will see a bus, no matter how new, as dirty, inefficient, and predominately aimed at poor people. Trains, whether because they are well-accepted overseas, because the few examples we have are so good, or because they’re just tech-sexy, almost always fair better than buses. Unless you find a way to use articulated buses or other technologies that share that same tech-sexyness, the bus system will fall short on ridership and won’t encourage TOD. It is better to spend the extra money upfront and get the good ridership and development than to save money money now and get no return in the future.