Woe Be the Curbside Buses

With the federal shutdown of 26 curbside bus operators in New York and Philadelphia today, old tensions between city officials and operators of the cheapest intercity transportation systems have come to a boil.

Two years ago, Next American City reported on how when it comes to curbside buses, “passengers are winning in all of this, but communities are suffering.” Credit: Eleanor Grosch

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The success of curbside bus services have, since the 1998 formation of the Fung Wah Transportation Company, represented a major point of contention between city officials, existing transportation modes and a population eager for cheap and convenient intercity travel.

In 2010, Graham T. Beck wrote an article for the old print edition of Next American City (not yet available online) addressing the rising popularity of curbside bus services and how “passengers are winning in all of this, but communities, and maybe other intercity transit options, are suffering.”

Today, the conflict over curbside buses has taken a turn as federal officials ordered the shutdown of 26 bus operators and 10 bus company owners, which, according to the New York Times, must “cease all passenger transportation operations, including selling tickets.”

This latest action follows an attempt by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to shut down the industry entirely in 2006 due to non-compliance with multiple federal regulations. Beck cites the Bus Regulatory Reform Act, signed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1982, as the cause of the deregulation that allowed the curbside bus industry to emerge.

In light of the industry’s success — “approximately 4.2 million people along the Northeast corridor rode curbside buses in 2007, according to Greyhound” — regulatory slip-ups have not been enough to stop the rise of “corporate” curbside bus services such as BoltBus and Megabus.

And while these companies strive for better services — “seamless and invisible” were the words used by general manager of Bolt, David Hall — the issues of safety, traffic and competition with “the already ailing bottom line of state and federally supported transportation systems” remain problematic.

But while strict enforcement is an option, experts Nicholas J. Klein — who at the time of the aforementioned NAC article was writing a dissertation on curbside buses — noted that “these buses also generate new trips and replace car travel,” and that “before we applaud or criticize these companies, I think we need to know more about who is riding these buses and how they are affecting travel behavior.”

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Tags: new york cityphiladelphiainfrastructurebuses

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