Streetfilms: Bill Lind, a Conservative Voice for Transit

At last month’s Rail-Volution conference in Boston, Streetfilms was able to grab a few moments with William Lind, a politically conservative transit advocate. Lind aims to provide "liberal transit advocates" the language to build support for public transportation (okay, just rail) in terms that conservatives can relate to. Some of Lind’s arguments don’t reflect our views here at Streetfilms, especially his disdain for buses (which we don’t cover in this video), but he makes a thought-provoking case for transit investment. Streetsblog readers won’t want to miss his critique of highway spending as a massive government intervention.

  • Great video, Elizabeth. Thanks.

  • Good video. Do you not cover his anti bus view points because he didn’t speak to them during the filming, or were such segments edited out? I would love it if he was taped discussing buses that have that in as I’m curious about he arguments. I personally feel that Buses get much more positive attention than deserved by livable streets and public transportation communities. I’m mostly a rail and bikes person myself.


  • JK

    Noah (#2) what little “positive attention” buses get is due to the fact that they account for 2/3rds of all public transit trips. Buses are far and away the most important form of transit outside of the handful of big cities with subways and commuter rail. To disdain buses is to disregard the sustainable travel alternatives taken by more people to work than take trains, bike and walk put together.

  • Noah (#2) what little “positive attention” buses get is due to the fact that they account for 2/3rds of all public transit trips.

    i agree completely, JK. car commute trips are what, about 90%, of all trips in the U.S.?

    To disdain cars is to disregard the work travel habits of more people than take buses, trains, bike and walk put together.

  • Omri

    I think this just about sums up why we can leave out where Lind disdains buses. It doesn’t reflect well on Lind and it detracts from the things he has to say that are worth listening to.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Bill Lind believes that white, wealthy suburbanites simply can not be convinced to ride the bus. In Cleveland, for example, he suggested adding a kind of “first class” car to the RTA system that would allow all of the white wealthy suburbanites to pile in to their own car, separate from the less wealthy black passengers boarding as the train moves deeper in to the city. I kid you not.

  • Abe

    @ Marty:
    Well, while that particular idea of Lind’s is ridiculous, outside of truly urban areas, buses, due to the car- centric lifestyle, have an association as the poor (read black/Hispanic) person’s form of transport. focusing on rail in these areas may have the benefit of giving a workable example of non-car transport that “works”. with the experience of taking these trains, these suburbanites would be more amenable to use buses and other forms of non car transport.

  • JK

    I disagree that you can separate what Lind has to say about buses from his advocacy for trains. Lind is not so different from many purportedly progressive transportation types who get excited about spending billions on “High Speed Rail” and urban heavy rail, while bus systems across the country are melting down. You cannot ignore the opportunity cost of spending billions for a hoped for future of affluent transit riders, while leaving current transit riders stuck waiting for the bus.

  • My perhaps “disdain” for bus and car commuters is not meant as a disregarding of the people who choose those modes of transportation. Rather I think by offering better transit options we can make many of the car drivers switch to mass transit and make many of the bus routes that exist more efficient by being rail.

    I agree one can’t fully write off either buses or cars as they all have there places, but I don’t think many of our transit decisions have been made after careful analysis of the facts, but rather out of a need to satisfy the short elections cycles that we have as well as industry lobbyists, which makes highway improvements and bus line implementations much more workable than new subway and light rail lines. Buses are great for short low density trips, but when you get to long distance trips carrying escalating numbers of riders as the trip progresses I think buses fail (this is particularly my issue with BRT). Assuming equal waits a subway trip will almost always be faster than a BRT trip running the same line and the Subway can carry considerably more especially when looked at a number of people moved per operator, which has a huge effect on the operating costs of a transit line. Not even getting into maintenance savings of subways.

    I don’t want to talk about the demographics of the users. However if you simply survey people pretty much around the world, rail has a much more positive image than bus transport does, which means that if we want to get more people using public transit we need more rail. Now it might be said that we simply need to give a better image to buses, but for long distance trips buses present little advantage other than ease and initial investment for installation. It is my understanding that when all costs are taken into account a Bus line costs considerably more to run and maintain over its life than a similar subway line.

    So essentially what I’m saying is that I don’t think that 90% of trips should be by car and I don’t think that 2/3 of mass transit trips should be by bus. I think we should fight for solutions that will actually change the transit habits of Americans and I don’t think concentrating on buses will do that. I think that as long as we keep on putting bus lines down that could otherwise be served by a rail option we will never really take a bight out of car use.

  • J:Lai

    Buses are important and necessary at the very least as an interim measure. As a country, we have a massive infrastructure in place to move motor vehicles, which buses can use. We have far less rail infrastructure, and we need to build, repair, or upgrade on a massive scale before we can significantly increase the overall share of rail.
    I don’t think we can just keep status quo for a couple decades while we build out rail infrastructure. Instead, we need to increase use of buses now with an eye towards shifting some of those trips to rail later.

  • @J:Lai

    I fully agree, but I think the discussions need to be couched as such. Everything I hear about BRT always posits it as a permanent solution rather than a temporary one.

  • Based on my experience in Houston, buses simply cannot be relied upon. Houston buses are often late, sometimes seriously late, yet the Houston light rail line has never been late in my experience. I say this after hundreds of trips on Houston light rail and buses. Buses get bogged down in traffic and light rail, even though most of it is street-running, doesn’t. Electric rail cars accelerate faster, they don’t have to negotiate with passing traffic when they try to pull away from the curb after picking up passengers and their street right of ways can be made difficult for automobiles to drive on.

    I’m not a conservative, but, for heavily-traveled urban lines, with a lot stops and starts, buses are garbage transportation.

  • mfs

    His point about highway subsidization vs private rail is a good one, however, the counterfactual that it invites does not exist elsewhere. Most other industrialized countries that subsidize rail more than we do nationalized their rail networks in the 1930s, so there is not a real model out there of a wealthy country with private railroads.


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