Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


Buses need better branding...and more

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I'm a fan of public transportation, not only because I am saved the hassle of being behind the wheel, but also because I'm treated to the sight of real people sharing this city with me. It's an experience I shared with Zocalo Public Square a few years back.

I love buses, subways, and trains equally, which is why I was surprised to read this New York Times piece a few months ago, talking about the need for better bus marketing to save on costs to build rails. The article read:
“Riding the bus carries a ‘shame factor,’ ” the researchers found. “Most of the choice riders would not consider using it, or if they did, they would feel ashamed and keep it a secret.”
I'm proud of being a bus rider and I try to take it everywhere it's convenient to go, but I think researchers may be off the mark on this comment. I admit, buses may not have as much prestige as rail lines, but it's probably because of its dependability. I'm more comfortable taking the subway or train because more often it also comes with infrastructure to tell me when a train is coming and how soon it's going to be here. Most of all, it's train tracks assure me that this indeed is the right path I'm taking.

The fear of being late or lost is a constant anxiety. Waiting for a bus at a lonely stop that offers little shade and only a dinky sign is never re-assuring.

This is why I think Los Angeles's Orange Line is such a success. (A Los Angeles Times article says it's one of the busiest routes in the Valley, carrying about 30,000 people every day.) Despite it being a bus line, the Orange Line is unlike other buses. It has its own dedicated lane. It offers a lot of shade and seating. It also tells riders when the next two or three buses will be arriving. In short, it's basically like a rail line, but without the cost.

A recent report says the Orange Line's popularity may mean it's time to convert it to rail, which would cost $1.2 billion to $1.7 billion and take two to three years to complete. I might be missing something here, but I think the bus lane works perfectly fine. I would agree to upgrades like larger buses or added overpasses for faster bus crossings, which would cost up to $350 million, or less than a third of the cost of replacing the route with rail.

Rather than spending money on expensive rail conversions, buses can take a lesson or two from the Orange Line and offer better service and amenities. I do agree with the New York Times article author though, the buses could stand to have better advertising than car ads (which I have personally seen happen).


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