Bus travel used to be decidedly downscale, with a clientele that scared off middle-class travelers. That's because, back in the days of heavily regulated transportation, bus lines followed the passenger railroad model, with stations in central cities, routes with multiple stops, fares propped up by monopolies, and operators with no economic incentive to provide comfortable or pleasant service.
Chinatown and Megabus operators ditched this model for one that works for travelers for whom money is scarce and time plentiful. Who needs a station? Intercity buses can occupy curb space briefly just as city buses do. Who needs multiple stops? You can make money on people who want to go from one specific location to another.
Needless to say, the cost to the taxpaying public is minimal. City streets and interstate highways already exist, and maintenance gets financing from gas taxes. And the system has enormous flexibility. If fewer passengers want to line up in Chinatown and more on the Upper West Side, the bus can change stops.
Rock on, Mr. Barone. And he does:
Compare high-speed rail. It is tethered to enormous stations that must be built or refurbished and limited to particular routes that, once the rails are laid down, cannot be changed except at prohibitive expense.
And it is enormously costly. In just two years the estimated cost of the Obama administration's pet project, California high-speed rail, in the "flatter than Kansas" Central Valley, has risen from $7.1 billion to $13.9 billion. Oxford economist Bent Flyvbjerg has found that high-speed rail projects always end up costing more, usually far more, than estimates.
In addition, operating costs almost always end up higher than fares. And fares always turn out to be expensive, comparable to airfare if you book a popular flight the day before your trip.
So high-speed rail is a form of transportation on which government subsidizes business travelers. You don't see backpackers any more on the Acela or Amtrak trains from Washington to New York. They're taking the Chinatown bus or one of its competitors.
And so to conclude:
So the private sector provides cheap intercity transportation while government struggles to waste $53 billion. Please remind me which is the wave of the future.Remember where you heard it first.