Researchers at DePaul have been following the ebb and flow
of bus and rail travel in the United States for more than a decade. Starting in
2005, optimism ran high that expansions to the intercity bus and rail system
would provide travelers with increasingly viable alternatives to driving,
particularly on short- and middle-distance routes, explained Schwieterman.
- Lower fuel prices and heightened competition from
airlines have weakened demand for Amtrak and express coach bus lines. Despite a
recent uptick, new service offerings have lagged and not kept pace with the
country’s rising population.
- Gaps in ground transportation
have emerged, making efforts to avoid driving on some popular routes more
difficult than just a few years ago. These
gaps are due to both slowed investment in new routes, as well as cutbacks
by express coach lines outside of the busy Northeast region.
- Numerous metropolitan areas remain largely inaccessible to travelers who seek
to avoid flying or driving but are unwilling to use conventional bus lines such
as Greyhound. These “Pockets
of Pain” include Phoenix, Arizona; Columbus, Ohio; Dayton,
Ohio; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Ft. Myers, Florida; and Sarasota, Florida.
- Some short- and mid-distance routes with more
than one million trips a year have no service by Amtrak or express coach lines,
including: Los Angeles to Phoenix; Cleveland to Detroit; Chicago to Columbus, Ohio;
Las Vegas to Phoenix, and Ft. Myers to Tampa.
However by 2015, the hoped-for transformation of this
intercity travel market has lost steam. Bus and train traffic had ebbed,
buffeted by low fuel prices, heightened competition from airlines and barriers
to planned service improvements. The rollout of new trains slowed. Express
coach lines began trimming frequency on some routes and ended service to other cities
“Everyone should take notice when momentum to improve bus
and rail service diminishes, as these modes are critical to the mobility of
those who cannot or prefer not to drive while also enhancing safety and fuel
efficiency,” said coauthor Smith.
Drawing upon these findings, the researchers outline steps
that public entities can take to give travelers more opportunities for ground-based
intercity services. For example, researchers call for more effective arrangements
to support states working together to improve rail corridors. They call for
planners to follow the example of Boston, Denver and Washington, D.C., by
creating dedicated, centrally located bus terminals that can help relieve overburdened
curbside pickup spots. In addition, researchers cite Amtrak’s “Thruway Bus
Network” program, which connects riders on buses and trains, as a model for
other cities to follow. Schwieterman says California, Michigan and Oregon have seen
boosts in ridership through the program.
“There are proven ways for planners to better coordinate bus
and rail services, and these success stories from around the country show that there
are practical opportunities to help people lessen their dependence on driving,”
The full report is available for download at http://bit.ly/chaddickDPUrsrch.
C. Scott Smith
Kristin Claes Mathews