Category Archives: public transport

New London buses

Part 6: Political parties, three-axes, and public transport – A summary

By David Levinson and David King.

A comment on power: politics maximizes the ideal subject to the real

To be clear, everyone near power is instrumental – the Democrats favoring rail and construction in general due to  the association with unions and Republicans with their association with “free” roads, or Paul Weyrich with his justifications for suburban commuter rail.  Merriam Webster defines instrumentalism as  a doctrine that ideas are instruments of action and that their usefulness determines their truth. Thus it represents a situation, where values are an instrument to build a coalition to obtain power, as opposed to using power to support core values.  The Libertarians and Greens are purer of heart as they are farther from actual power. (And perhaps they are farther from actual power because they are purer of heart. The causality is mutual.)


Get on the Bus
Get on the Bus


Despite the transportation logic,  trains are more politically popular. A new train on new track in an exclusive right-of-way is a more comfortable ride than a bus on beat-up pavement shared with cars, trucks, and other vehicles.

People riding buses are unhappier with their commute than commuter train riders in Montreal (though about the same as Metro riders). Walking and biking make their commuters happier still.  By implication Greens are happiest with their non-motorized travel.

The unhappiness with bus use is for a variety of reasons. In part poor people (are rightfully) not as happy about the state of reality than those with more resources and opportunities. In part bus riders are likely less happy because of the stigma associated with buses and because of the underfunding of buses due to that stigma.

While that may seem like bad news for an argument about investing more in buses, we think it is an opportunity. It is the mode most easily improved. Thus it is where happiness can be most readily increased by reorganization and increases in service, better integration of information technology,  and enhancing the environment around stops and stations. We should increase the dignity of riding the bus.


Bus has received far less attention than rail. In the Twin Cities, the number of planners and engineers, leave aside dollars, per bus rider falls far short of the number per rail rider. In addition to high level design questions, attention to local details does matter, and does pay off. Attention is required.

New London buses
New London buses

Typically, bus/rail comparisons contrast existing local buses, which are old, noisy and slow,   with new trains. New beats old.  Where buses have been used to provide high quality, speedy, quiet (electric), lane separated transit in good markets they perform really well. Finding ways to make buses work requires cooperation of the bus operator (public or private) and the infrastructure provider (almost always the public).

The land use argument is one of choice. Zoning can be changed without building rail, but no one seems to be doing that. Economic development effects have been demonstrated for significant bus improvements.

There is so much more than can be done with buses, and can be done within a year, that it is depressing (if not insane) so few even try.

Take away a few parking spaces, and even some general purpose traffic lanes, and put some paint on the road (reallocating road space to buses), then see how people like the new bus versus the old bus.

Reallocate transit dollars and see how many new high frequency bus services can be deployed for the same resources otherwise dedicated to a short  rail corridor that .

The mainstream political parties tend to exist for political purposes more than for pursuing a coherent set of policies. The evidence suggests no one in power actually wants less public spending, and arguments are about marginal increases in spending. Yet most of the public is far more interested is being able to get around affordably and easily, reaching their valued destinations, than what technology is used.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary
London Green Bus (Country Bus)

Part 5: Why Greens should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

I don't need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.
I don’t need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.

Greens are most associated in the US with non-motorized transportation. As pedestrians ourselves, we see the many advantages. While many more people could walk than do, and many others could re-arrange their home and work locations over time to enable one or more members of their household to walk or bike, getting people to move home or change jobs to minimize travel costs is a big ask. Creating new (and re-creating existing) urban places (instead of new suburban places) aligns with the philosophy of some Greens. Economic development and real estate  tend to be local issues, and downtown real estate in particular is now an odd ally of the Greens.

The next best thing to minimizing distances through changes in relative location and land use is getting people to their destinations in an energy efficient way.

While Greens don’t fit cleanly on the three-axis model, it is probably most related to Social Justice/ Equality, but extending the object of Justice from People to the Environment as a whole (that is valuing the environment for its own sake, not just for the sake of future humans).

Why Greens should want to invest in buses.

Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE. Figure 27-8 in The Transportation Experience

  • Buses (when more fully occupied) are more energy efficient than other modes, and electric buses show promise to improve this even more. (In practice as shown in the adjoining figure, buses are less energy efficient than cars on average, due to low occupancies in off-peak and suburban services, though the marginal passenger incurs almost no additional energy consumption.)
  • Buses (and vans) are community transportation where people can meet their neighbors and the driver.
  • Rail construction (or any infrastructure construction) is highly disruptive to fragile eco-systems and highly energy intensive, so the payback period for CO2 emissions may be decades, if at all. If you think that CO2 is something to worry about, improving bus service in a matter of months should be far more valuable than potential reductions more than a decade away.
  • Making buses work better adheres to the adage used about housing that the greenest houses are existing houses. The greenest transport is more intensively using existing transport. Even with new rails, existing roads will remain. We should use them wisely.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary
Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes

Part 4: Why Libertarians should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

Today libertarian (if not “Libertarian”) transportation policy (best represented by Reason) favors moving towards road pricing, public private partnerships, contracting out, HOT lanes, and privatization as strategies, but doing so intelligently. All of this will have the consequence of raising the cost of travel by automobile and result in fewer vehicle miles traveled than current policies. It also suggests that if auto travel is more expensive, the use of other modes will increase. One of those other modes is buses.

Libertarians uphold the value of “Liberty”, freedom of action. Providing mobility for those without effective options increases overall freedom.

Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes
Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes

Why Libertarians should support buses.

  • Buses are more easily contracted out or franchised to private firms in a competitive way than infrastructure itself, which is embedded capital subject to natural spatial monopolies. The evidence for the ease of contracting is the extent of contracting (many non-US cities already contract out or franchise bus services).
  • Bus routing and scheduling is also more dynamic and adaptable to actual and changing needs given an environment with ubiquitous roads and evolving land uses.
  • Buses can take advantage of High Occupancy/Toll lanes, and integrated busways/HOT lanes are useful for suburb to city radial commuting markets, sharing the fixed costs of expensive facilities over more users than exclusive transit ways, without a time penalty.
  • Buses enable people without other options to travel farther than no motorized transport at all, increasing freedom.


Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary
Buses are coldly efficient.

Part 3: Why Republicans should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

Today Republicans are associated with roads (and “free” roads at that). The reasons we hear from politically connected folks are their constituency drives cars, and they don’t want to subsidize inefficient “toy” trains. The business community, traditionally Republicans, does support transit investment as a public amenity they don’t have to pay for.

Buses are coldly efficient.
Buses are coldly efficient.

It should be noted the late, racist, Republican,  rail-advocate Paul Weyrich continues to be trotted out by “conservatives“. Weyrich was embraced by the rail community despite admitting his “sordid grab bag of lamentable beliefs”.  His argument was that trains serve white middle class republican voters, so (a) Republicans should support their constituency (not much about actual core values of balancing budgets or efficiency required), and (b) rail advocates should accept the support as the coalition to build trains needed to be large due to their large public cost.

To the extent Republicans uphold the value of “Fraternity” and support the existing “Social Order” they should endorse buses.

Why Republicans should like buses

  • Buses are much less expensive to build than rail, and thus much more cost effective per passenger served in most markets. If you are a Republican who wants to provide public services (that is, you believe in governing as the outcome of victory), you want to provide them effectively.
  • Bus transit helps more lower income workers get to jobs than a similar investment in rail in most places. Employed people have a stake in the system.
  • Republicans can foster the many private bus operators serving US cities, including many of the suburban bus companies.
  • By supporting buses Republicans can show that they care about an actual problem their constituents have and work to improve how bus service is supplied.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary
Buses are S.M.A.R.T. in Starkville Mississippi

Part 2: Why Democrats should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

Today Democrats are associated with rail. The reason we hear from politically connected folks is construction jobs and unions and real estate development and property owners. Of course their more urban constituency prefers rail to roads, while higher densities fit with their urban ideal. To the extent that Democrats have an underlying principle of “Equality” and “Social Justice”, they should support Buses.

Buses are S.M.A.R.T. in Starkville Mississippi
Buses are S.M.A.R.T. in Starkville Mississippi

Why Democrats should want to prioritize improving buses

  • Buses serve more people than trains ever will0 (since they are more cost-effective1), so bus improvements benefit more people.2
  • Bus riders are much more likely to be Democrats since they have lower average incomes compared to rail users and the general population.
  • Buses generate more operating jobs than trains, as bus drivers are labor and buses don’t carry as many passengers as long trains.
  • Buses are harder to automate than trains, so driver jobs are longer lasting jobs. While there are fewer construction jobs than rail projects, those are short term anyway.
  • There are more manufacturing jobs per passenger.  Bus manufacturing is more likely to be local.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

0. [Updated 9/4/14: in the US, certainly outside of New York City, and probably including New York City. More than half of US rail use (2.4 B out of 4.2B annual unlinked passenger trips) is in New York City. Caveat, rail share is growing some nationally (which is not too surprising given the amount of investment in new rail infrastructure replacing bus service). As with anything, rail investments face diminishing returns, since the high benefit/low cost rail projects have been built.]

1. [Updated 9/4/14: See, e.g. [1] and [2] and [3] and [4] which look at capital costs per rider in the Twin Cities. Of course operating costs per rider are different, and a full train may be lower than a full bus. Neither is full most of the time. Whether lower operating costs offset higher capital costs is an empirical question and case-contingent, in most cases the marginal new rail line vs the marginal new bus line will net out to be more expensive overall with reasonable interest rate assumptions. None of this is to say rail isn’t (or is) a better investment than highways (or doing nothing/no build) at the margin, which is an argument for another day.]

2. [Updated 9/4/14: Presently, only in New York, Massachusetts, and DC does rail ridership exceed bus ridership (New Jersey is close). Of course those are the best transit markets, and rely on mostly early 20th century rail infrastructure (Boston and metropolitan New York). Nationally BTS reports bus overall has 52% of the transit market, and rail 44%. ]

Part 1: Political parties, three-axes, and public transport – An Introduction

By David Levinson and David King.

As a gross over-simplification, the current rap is that Democrats like trains and Republicans like roads, Greens like bikes and Libertarians like tolls. No party stands up for buses, which are by far the most used transit mode.1

Transportation policy has become politically divisive, especially for local politics which have been less constrained by national parties in the past. Why should something as fundamental as infrastructure policy lead to such vitriol and moral superiority?

Roads (Republican) Rail (Democrat)  Don't Know (Independence),  Bikes (Green)
Roads (Republican)
Rail (Democrat)
Don’t Know (Independence),
Bikes (Green)

We need a good framework to start working through why advocates of a particular transport technology are so assured of their rightness. In the current environment, there is no room for reasoned critique of transit, roads, etc., or reasonable agreement that these things are important.

Maturity (peak travel) is one explanation. Transport policy has become ideological because there are not clear priorities for new investment for any mode, and spending on maintenance doesn’t make anyone happy, it just prevents future unhappiness.

Another plausible explanation is that as federal dollars have become more competitive (for all things) strict party loyalty is more important at the local level. This means that federal representation sets priorities for non-formula spending and if you want any money you best conform to that vision. As Republicans dominate rural areas and Democrats dominate cities, party loyalty helps determine what transport policies you favor.

 Three-axes Model

If you take a charitable view of the world of ideas, and politics,  you can adopt  the three-axes model of political beliefs popularized by Arnold Kling. People have internal value systems that array on three axes. For convenience we have mapped these to the three-point French Revolutionary slogan of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

This idea is in the ether, [So we won’t take credit for originality]

Keith Wilson
04-08-2013, 05:51 PM
Perhaps it would be better, or at least less fractious, to get back to something like the subject of the original post?I propose another way of looking at it. Three civic values, all good things, but sometimes in conflict: liberty, equality, and community (probably a better translation than ‘fraternity’, which seems an unreliable cognate). One’s political ideology is a reflection of the relative weight one gives these three. Libertarians value liberty, and don’t care much if at all about the others. A traditional conservative might value community most highly; modern libertarian-influenced conservatives community and liberty, both value equality a distant third. A utopian socialist, or even a genuinely idealistic communist (rare breeds these days) would value equality much more highly than the others. An orthodox Catholic distributist would value community above all, with equality perhaps second.Personally, I think the trick is to try and maximize all three, or at least maintain a pretty good balance.


In brief:

  • Liberty is associated with Libertarianism, and privileges individual freedom.
  • Equality  is associated with modern American ‘liberalism’ and social justice, and thus the Democrats, and prioritizes fairness (with all that means).
  • Fraternity (or community), considers most important group loyalty, respect for order and hierarchy, and obedience to the social order, preservation of civilization, abhorrence of barbarism, and is associated with modern American ‘conservatism’ and thus Republicans.

There are important core-values associated with all of the axes, and society requires a tension between them to be successful.

Without social justice, (which is bad of itself), the out-group will not be loyal to the system.  If out-groups provide value (e.g. by increasing international trade), this is a major loss. Even without a clear racial out-group, people naturally form divisions over even trivial distinctions, as shown in the Robbers Cave Experiment.

Without any individual freedoms, (which is bad of itself), and rewards and responsibilities associated with personal action) there will be no innovation or progress.

Without any respect for order, there will be no stability or government or framework under which the others can operate.  There also needs to be defense against the outsider.

It is entirely reasonable to believe that society has moved too far on one axis and away from another.  It is entirely unreasonable to believe only one axis has value. Absolutism on any of these axes (as a core belief) is politically unsustainable. Pretended absolutism as a way of opening the  Overton window  may be, however, a logical strategic move, depending the degree to which people believe you are true to your beliefs.


Nevertheless, regardless of your political persuasion, everyone should like buses. Over the coming week, the rationale for the various political persuasions will be presented.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

1. [The Independence Party (in Minnesota) shown in the photo was an offshoot of Ross Perot's Reform movement that was aligned with independent governor Jesse Ventura, and has been captured by some others in recent years. In practice, Ventura funded the first LRT line in the Twin Cities (thanks in large part to Representative Oberstar), but underfunded  maintenance of roads and bridges.]

“Minneapolis Needs a Subway” – Comments on the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Policy Plan |

“Minneapolis is the largest CBD in the United States without a subway.” I don’t know if that claim is true, or relevant, but it very well might be, since by some measures it has the fifth densest CBD in the US. More to the point, there is no CBD in the US that has more transit commuters that doesn’t have a subway (except Seattle, which has a bus tunnel with LRT, which sort of counts). (Table 7 here, and list of US subway systems here). This of course does not mean that more transit growth cannot come without a subway. It does mean that I should expect to hear the usual gong-bangers about transit investment pushing for a true Metro for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, at least in the long term plan. A vision from a transit agency should note the need for more north-south and east-west transit capacity in the center, and the time savings from a grade-separated rapid transit system that did not get trapped at traffic lights. These time savings would both benefit current riders and induce more transit riders, and with the positive feedback mechanism between accessibility and development, lead to more intense land development at stations.  Yet this discussion is so far beyond the pale in the MSP region that it is barely even mentioned on the UrbanMSP forums.

(For the record, I don’t actually support or oppose a subway at this time, but I do think it should be seriously considered given changing population totals, demographic mix, technologies, and so on.)

Where this discussion should show up is in regional visions.

The 2040 Transportation Policy Plan: Connecting communities, fostering regional prosperity is the draft version of the official regional vision.  It claims to be “advancing a bold regional vision.” There is of course a vision here. It is not my vision. It is not an urbanist vision. It is, unfortunately,  not a bold vision.

It is a fiscally constrained vision. It is a vision of an organization whose leadership is entirely appointed by a governor representing seven mostly suburban counties. It is a vision of an organization that thinks the metro area has “nearly 3 million people” rather than the Census recognized 3.8 million people in the Minneapolis–St. Paul–St. Cloud, MN-WI region. These are just spatial definitions, and in some respects a smaller area is better than a larger one, but it illustrates parochialism of the official outlook.

The Policy Plan is critique-able on a variety of grounds. I have not compiled a complete list, but will throw some things out for discussion.

  1. So many resources are aimed at areas that are not transit serviceable except by park and ride. Look especially at the amount of purple lines in the exurban east metro. This is not surprising given the spatial make-up of the organization, just disappointing.
  2. Little is even proposed for the urban core cities and some first ring suburbs. Arterial BRT is an improvement of course, but there is so little of it.
  3. “Access to destinations” is one of the key transportation goals. I like the words of course, since I authored some of the 14 reports in the CTS series “Access to Destinations.” Sadly, accessibility (such as number of jobs or stores that can be reached in a given time (e.g. 30 minutes)) is not actually one of the performance measures. (page 30)
  4. The maps focus on lines rather than stations. Yet nodes of activity are at least as important, it is where all the positive benefits of service accrue. The lines themselves generally are the nuisance of train noise or pollution.
  5. The maps give equal weight to all areas, rather than focusing on areas with more people. Zoom in and the service provided per person is not as great in the center as at the edges.
  6. I don’t see any discussion of road pricing, even vehicle mileage taxes, which will likely be in place by 2040, as electrification or other power-train technology obsoletes the gas tax.
  7. I don’t see any serious discussion of changing transportation (and other) technologies. 26 years ago was 1988. There wasn’t even a World Wide Web yet.
  8. This should be scenario based, considering alternative futures, and responses to them. We know forecasts are bad. We should use alternative tools.
  9. Everything I said here: Framing Regional Development.

Add more to the comments section below. Of course to be officially heard: Testify. Submit your comments. Attend and discuss at the public hearing. Schedule below:


Public hearing is September 17 at 5 p.m.

The public hearing on the draft TPP is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the Metropolitan Council Chambers, 390 Robert St. N., Saint Paul.

Comment by October 1

The Council is accepting comments on the plan August 14 through October 1.  Once comments are received, the plan is revised to address comments and a final plan is presented to the Council for adoption.  The Council is expected to adopt the plan in December 2014.

  • Comment forms can be filled out at a workshop or the public hearing or mailed in.

  • Phone Public Information at 651-602-1500.
  • E-mail

  • Testify at the public hearing at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the Metropolitan Council Chambers, 390 Robert St. N., Saint Paul.

Workshop dates and locations

At each workshop, a very brief presentation will give an overview of the plan.  Afterwards, participants can engage with planners on a variety of topics. Note: Staff will be available to discuss the Council’s draft Housing Policy Plan as well.


Tuesday, August 26, 5 – 7 pm
Roseville Library
Community Program Room
2180 North Hamline Ave
Roseville, MN 55113


Wednesday, August 27, 5 – 7 pm
Chanhassen Library
Wilder Room
7711 Kerber Blvd.
Chanhassen, MN 55317


Wednesday, September 3, 4:30 – 6:30 pm
Marschall Road Transit Station
1615 Weston Court
Shakopee, MN 55379


Thursday, September 4, 12 – 2 pm
Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, 55401


Tuesday, September 9 , 5 – 7 pm
Anoka County Sheriff’s Office
Community Room
13301 Hanson Blvd NW
Andover, MN 55304


Wednesday, September 10, 5 – 7 pm
Brookdale Library
6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy
Brooklyn Center, 55430


Thursday, September 11, 12 – 2 pm
Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
Auditorium A
451 Lexington Parkway North
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104


Tuesday, September 16, 5 – 7 pm
Eagan Community Center
1501 Central Pkwy
Eagan, MN 55121


Thursday, September 18, 5 – 7 pm
Washington County Government Center
Room LL13-14
14949 62nd Street North
Stillwater, MN 55082


Thursday, September 25, 5-7
Sherburne County Board Room
Government Center
13880 Business Center Dr.
Elk River, MN 55330