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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Better Busses

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Alan Durning says that if buses were given "special powers" to avoid being trapped in rush-hour gridlock with cars, more people would choose to ride the bus.


CURWOOD: Commentator Alan Durning says no form of public transit gets less respect in America's car culture than the city bus. So he's been thinking about ways to update its image.


DURNING: I'm a bus rider. I've been one all my life. My grandmother showed me the ropes when I was seven and I roamed the city freely before I was a teen. But for most people these days, the bus is synonymous with inconvenience, not freedom. And I must confess, my time on Seattle's number 16 has grown frustrating.

(Coin machine, followed by a diesel engine revving up)

DURNING: Every day this bus carries dozens of commuters, but it gets stuck behind lines of solo drivers. What we need is a better way for buses to compete with cars. So imagine if we treated buses like fire trucks, installing sirens and requiring everyone else to get out of the way. All those SUVs and minivans out there would have to scramble to the curb.
Okay, sirens might be too much. But you get the idea. We ought to yield to public transportation. Imagine this: bus drivers pointing remote controls at traffic lights and turning them green instantly. No more red lights, ever.

Or how about city buses with fold-out stop signs, like school buses have? Cars would have to brake when buses merged into traffic. Or, buses with wide doors and low ground clearance: no stairs to climb, no lines to wait in, no need for wheelchair lifts. We could even try whole networks of streets just for transit, to get buses out of gridlock. Or maybe even cyber-buses linked to your phone. You get a call when it's time to stroll to the stop. No more standing out there on the corner, waiting, miserably watching the cars roll by.

This may all sound like pie in the sky, but almost all these ideas have been tested. And combined, they'd make buses faster and more popular. That's the bottom line. Experts say that time truly is money when it comes to transit. They call it the currency of transportation. If buses save people time, more people will become bus riders. It's that simple. When we arm buses with special powers, they'll be symbols of freedom for everyone.

I suppose, though, if that happens, I'll have a harder time getting a seat.

(A bell dings, signaling a stop)

CURWOOD: Alan Durning rides the bus to his job as director of Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle.



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