Finally, a Commercial for Buses that Delivers

Image: Go Triangle
Image: Go Triangle

The humble bus: so useful, so efficient, so under hyped.

But Go Transit, which serves metro Toronto, has done us all a service by creating a humorous homage to this urban transportation juggernaut in the same high-drama style of cliched car commercials.

“It’s like the self-driving car has arrived already and we saved you a seat.”

The ad is winning fan across the internet. It is a fan favorite on Reddit and Youtube, where it has about 750,000 views.

30 thoughts on Finally, a Commercial for Buses that Delivers

  1. Since when is the bus efficient? According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the average transit bus in the USA uses more energy per passenger mile than the average car.

  2. Really? That is not intuitive. Maybe that number is computed using average passenger loads. At least in my area ridership and farebox recovery are low because it is hard to compete with the lavish investments in roads and parking. The bus service isn’t being run to save energy, it is run as a transport mode of last resort for the demographic that cannot drive.

  3. Use none of your senses on a bus? Is this commercial kidding? I am always aware of my surroundings on a bus. Always.

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  5. There is no such thing as the efficiency of a full bus. You can only have a full bus because those riders know they can get home any time during the day, which requires all those empty buses. There are some rush-only transit services, but that’s rare, and they can be efficient. Even they run more and more empty as they get to the end of the line. So it is only the total system efficiency which you can consider, and buses have terrible total system efficiency. It’s just a reality.

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  8. Where do you live, rural Iowa? In urban areas with high passenger traffic the buses are scheduled to smooth out load. GO is a regional commuter agency that runs services mostly at rush hours.
    It carries 215,000 people per day by train, 61,000 per day by bus. It’s rather crowded, as it is designed to be. When there is enough demand for trains, they run trains. At quieter times they run buses. If there is not enough demand they run nothing at all. That’s the reality of how large transit systems work.

  9. You’re assuming that people make the same trips by bus that they’d make by car.

    When they do, it’s because they are trapped in suburban sprawl and have no other options. That’s always inefficient, whether it’s served by bus or by car.

    Well designed transit oriented areas served by buses are plenty efficient, and the buses are too.

  10. No, I don’t live in rural Iowa. I grew up in Toronto, used to ride GO Transit every day. GO bus is more efficient than transit buses, but the article just started out with the general myth that buses are efficient. Some buses can be efficient (though it’s difficult for them) but the broad idea that the bus is an efficient form of transportation is hardly something to be taken as a given.

  11. Can you name me the bus transit system you are referring to that is “plenty efficient” and tell me its energy usage per passenger mile? Seriously, if there is one in North America that can beat my electric car or a Prius with 2 people in it, I would like to know about it.

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  13. Are you listening?

    How many emissions does the existence of your car induce–never mind when you drive it? How many trips do you need to drive that you could have walked if it wasn’t for all the cars in the way. How many emissions caused by building parking. Transportation is a system, you’re trying to look at one part of the system in isolation, that doesn’t work.

  14. And like I said, those numbers focus exclusively on vehicle mileage and ignore land use. Land use and transportation are inexorably linked. Pretending that you can look at transportation in isolation is simply lying to ourselves.

  15. There is more than MPG. Poorly utilized bus systems have the under appreciated mpg penalty that you speak of. GO, as noted, is slightly different and has high ridership. But a significant benefit is getting cars off the valuable road real estate. The savings, in so many forms of not having to build out the extra road capacity, to maintain a modicum of transit times, is significant. (And why Governments around the world continue to subsidize transit in many forms… because it is “cheaper”.)

  16. Certainly there is a road use benefit, but how significant is it? I am only interested in real world results for whole systems. For example, low occupancy buses appear to actually interfere with traffic because of their size, to a let out of proportion to the few cars they are replacing. My research says that the most efficient form of transport (other than electric scooters and bikes) is the vanpool. Vanpools pack people well, and only run at high occupancy. They are less unwieldy on congested roads and are more popular with riders (resulting in higher occupancy) because by carrying fewer people, they offer fewer detours and stops to their riders. That people are always seated also increases the attractiveness of the service and thus the full system occupancy. (A packed bus has high occupancy of course, but can’t be considered on its own.)

  17. Total system cost is elusive because not everyone values things the same. Even worse, you might agree on a ‘cost’ but then that cost is offset to something you can’t agree on. But keep pushing assumptions and people to think about total system costs.

    My current bugaboo is the complete absence of thinking about total system costs associated with proposed bans on single use plastic bags, forks and knives. But don’t get me started.

    Back to buses. Aside from hard whole system numbers, people may complain about GO Buses and Trains (and TTC buses), but if the system wasn’t there tomorrow would cause pax to make serious life changing decisions on where they work and live and where companies establish their offices. So within the ‘system’ that pax and tax payers see the costs and benefits, the system continues.

  18. Of course group transportation options are a valuable thing. The question is how to provide them so as to provide the greatest efficiency, lowest cost and best service to meet the needs of riders. It’s become fairly clear the bus is not that answer.

  19. I somewhat agree that bus may not be the answer in all circumstances. (And most metropolitan bus systems in the US, it definitely is not.) But I would disagree it is clear, because it is better than most other options that are easily available based on the metrics that most people use because it is difficult to calculate a whole system cost.

    From your time living in the Toronto area, you would recall that GO Buses are not your typical transit ‘Bus’. They augment GO Train service routes at off-peak hours, provide connecting service beyond the last train stop, and provide some limited connectivity between major park-n-rides. The average distance between GO Bus stops is probably on par with the average bus route length in a city like Indianapolis. Most GO Bus riders take 30km+ rides.

    Seeing that the goal is to get drivers out of their car; you have to minimize stops (a comfy and warm car from beginning to end is compelling), a reasonable frequency (so they can leave work when they want), provide a comfortable ride (no hard plastic Flyer seats, comfy coach seats with tinted windows please) at a price that given how poorly people estimate their cost to drive is still tolerable.

    With that, GO Transit’s Buses meet those goals well.

    Now if we want to talk about the metro bus system of say Memphis, Indianapolis or even Toronto. Different discussion.

  20. No, you are at an obligation to prove your claim right when the only numbers on offer contradict your claim. However, you don’t agree with that, so we’re at an impasse, and this discussion is concluded.

  21. I do agree the GO bus is not the typical transit bus, and has a much greater ability to be efficient. The lead of the OP just made the false statement that it seemed to go almost without saying that the bus is efficient. There are places where buses are efficient. BRT is much better than LRT, for example. But buses (like trains) are much too large to be efficient. The reason they are so large is they must have a driver each. This coming decade that constraint will come off, and we should move to more efficient van-sized vehicles which run nearly nonstop with higher frequency (on demand, really) and thus attain much higher load factors.

  22. A Mazda 3 gets about the same mileage as an Airbus 320, but I’m not taking a Mazda 3 from Houston to Chicago on Sunday. But I do agree that the presumption of superior efficiency of a bus is not always true. Much like the shift to the perception that plastic straws or single use plastic bags are horrible. (Most reusable shopping bags need to be reused hundreds of times to be energy equivalent, before we talk about hygiene.)

    And I think you are getting at the point that as we enter the age of driverless vehicles, everything changes. This is totally unappreciated. When trucks can travel 24h a day, and passenger cars aren’t stopping/starting because drivers reaction times are no longer are factor, then the concept of rush hour traffic jams will likely be history. I’d expect the concept of a personal car will disappear as well. You’d call an Uber++ it will pick you and an optimized set of neighbours in an efficient sized vehicle (like the community bus you describe), whisk you from Milton to Downtown Toronto in 30 minutes, drop you and your random travel mates at your workplace door and then go hide in a parking garage and recharge it’s battery.

    Efficiency focus would be optimizing the number of pax per vehicle much like the size of the elevator.

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