GO Transit, one of Toronto’s public transportation agencies, has taken to social media to tout a stunning new transportation device that does remarkable things. In a media savvy presentation worth of Tesla and Elon Musk, it asks viewers to imagine an exciting new way of getting from place to place. You hop on, slide into a comfortable seat, and text or check your e-mail until you arrive at your destination. “Best of all,” says The Verge, “you never even need to input where you’re going. The vehicle just gets you there.”
What is this amazing vehicle? When will it be here? How soon will we be able to ride in it? The answer, GO Transit says, is — wait for it — the bus! Here’s the video.
Is riding a bus really equivalent to taking an Uber or a Lyft? Is it as sexy as Elon Musk’s Hyperloop? The answer is, of course not. Riding with 44 other people in a metal tube is not quite the same as being alone in a private vehicle occupied by no one but yourself and a driver. In the future, even the driver may be removed from the equation as self-driving vehicles from Tesla, Waymo, and a host of other companies become more common in world cities.
Still, there are rumblings in various cities that ride sharing services are actually increasing congestion rather than decreasing it. New York City is engaged at this very moment in a plan to limit the number of Uber and Lyft vehicles permitted to service its residents and visitors.
If a bus is clean, properly heated and cooled, comfortable, and offers conveniences like internet access and app-based scheduling, couldn’t it in fact be a viable transportation option for urbanites? In Toronto, ridership data suggests more people than ever before are taking the bus.
Could cities make the riding experience more attractive? Sure. Budgets for public transportation are almost always under intense pressure, leading to poor maintenance, equipment breakdowns, and dirty vehicles. But if those issues are properly addressed, is there any reason why the bus shouldn’t be an integral part of any urban transportation scheme?
I can attest that I no longer drive into Boston, where congestion is insane and the cost of parking is ridiculous. I take the bus and find it comfortable and convenient. Thanks to onboard wifi, I often can work on stories for CleanTechnica along the way. On the other hand, I took a bus to New York City last summer and had one of the worst experiences imaginable. Any bus company that wants to attract more riders needs to maximize the good rider experiences and minimize the bad.
If nothing else, GO Transportation should be applauded for thinking outside the box to attract and retain riders for its buses. A little creative marketing is no vice.