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Expanding on some bus discussion in the comments of my May Day post, and probably repeating some old calculations:

Intercity transit
So there's apparently 2.7 million miles of paved roads, 1.3 million unpaved, in the US. Assume average speed of 50 mph, so spacing of one hour means buses every 50 miles, or 4e6/50 = 80,000 buses. Want two ways, so double it, 160,000. 24/7, 40-hour shifts, 168 hours in a week, call it 5 shifts, say $100,000 total labor costs per shift,
160,000 * 5 * 100,000 = $80 billion/year in driver costs.
Buses seem to cost about half a million, call it a million for clean technology, capital costs of 160,000 * 1e6 = 160 billion. But, amortized over 10+ years, 16 billion/year. Of course, then there's maintenance. Call it $32 billion.

Diesel costs... I see one 4 mpg, multiple 8-10 mpg claims. Let me say 5 mpg. Every hour we have 160,000 buses covering 50 miles, or using 10 gallons, so 1.6 million gallons an hour, for about $5 million/hour at $3/gallon. 8765 hours in a year, $43 billion/year.

So 80+32+43 = $175 billion to send a bus down every single road in the US every hour.

Underestimation factors: overhead costs like stations, maintenance and luggage staff, booking staff (if you bother charging; you could just make it zero-fare! free transport infrastructure paid out of genera taxes); lots and lots of those roads being urban and not supporting 50 mph travel

Overestimation factors: a couple safety factors of 2 thrown in; the goal itself being overkill. If we dropped the unpaved roads, and send buses down every other road otherwise, that'd drop by a factor of 4. If we focus just on intercity transit rather than some mixed up idea of public transit, there's 46,000 miles of highways in the US, 1/90th my original figure, giving costs of $1.9 billion. Compare to Greyhound annual revenues of $1.2 billion... um.

Oh, that's just the Interstates. This says 117,000 miles in the National Highway system, for a more reasonable comparison of $5 billion/year.

For comparison, this says 140,000 miles of railroad track, and 23,000 miles of Amtrak. 170,000 miles of scheduled bus-service (intercity, local, or both?) and 7,600 miles of fixed rail transit (in context, local).

For a different comparison: say we take the Greyhound network cost, double it to resume cut service (overkill, judging by the past revenue numbers), then assume they go most places only once a day as is (not true; lots of multiple trips already, especially between big cities), and multiply by 24 for hourly service, and we'd get $58 billion/year.

Greyhound says it has 1250 buses and 1700 destinations. Revenue/bus is $960,000, vs. my initial cost/bus of $1,100,000. Pretty close. 8400 employees, "more than 3000" drivers, less than 3 drivers per bus and 6.72 employees per bus, vs. my 5 drivers per bus and unstated employees.

I see estimates of 18,000 "cities or towns" in the US; of course, metro areas have multiple legal towns smushed together, so they don't all qualify for interurban purposes. 577 Micropolitan Statistical Areas, 366 Metropolitan SA

Mass transit

For a more mass transit approach, say we take the 2.7 million miles of paved road, mostly urban, and apply an average urban travel speed of 10 mph (that's what I've seen online), along with a goal of a bus every 6 minutes. Buses are then separated by a mile, so that's 2.7 million buses, and operating costs of $2.7 trillion. Yowza! OTOH, that's 24/7 service down every road, and not even NYC or SF do that. If you have buses every fourth road, and assume late-night slowdowns double the average time between buses, that's $340 billion/year. Still a lot, at least in terms of additional costs to the government, whereas restoring Greyhound service to small towns seems utterly trivial. (BTW, at 40 people/bus that fleet can carry 108 million people at any time.)

OTOH, that level of service is on the order to be able to outright replace a lot of cars. For societal costs... 16 million new cars, trucks, and SUVs were purchased in 2007; at $20,000 per, that's $320 billion just in purchasing costs, maintenance on older vehicles and gas costs not included. US spends as much or more again in total gas purchases, though I don't know the breakdown there between private cars and freight trucks. 62 million total vehicles, passenger capacity of 248+ million, but not exactly used that way. Not to mention the 43,000 traffic accident deaths yearly. "Riding a transit bus is 91 times safer than car travel. By train, passengers are 15 times safer."

This says the US spends $9 billion on capital funds, and $20 billion in operating expenses, for public transit; $30 billion. 129,000 vehicles, 58% buses, 350,000 employees. That's only $232,000 per 'vehicle', though that could be reflecting the personnel and energy efficiency of light rail. Still, it opens up the possibility of dividing my numbers by up to 4, for $700 billion (overkill) or $80 billion ('reasonable').

Service cut links

In 2005 I made a 6 week bus trip, or maybe was just in Chicago for a while I don't recall, then tried to get home to Bloomington and found I couldn't get there any more. I finally looked for and found mentions of these cuts: here and here. I had heard rumors from drivers that lots of small stops on the Seattle-Chicago arc would be cut, also that Greyhound's new CEO was the same guy who'd cost-cut Northwest Airlines into bankruptcy.

Canada has similar issues; up there governments actually debate such cuts, though not enough -- cuts happened anyway rather than coughing up the $15 million -- yes, fifteen million -- asked for rural subsidies.



It would probably just take a few hundred $million to restore at least daily bus service on all cut Greyhound routes, so people could at least get out of town. Hourly service to all population centers could cost $5 to $60 billion/year, depending on estimation method, and probably closer to $5 billion. Total Mass Transit (Bus) could cost more on the order of $300 billion for something I'd consider reasonable, to $2.7 trillion for massive overkill. Big savings if you ask most people to walk a few blocks to the stop. Also possibly big savings from using different numbers (or more light rail) but I try to be conservative.

Americans would like more public tranport. Even small town or Republican people.


Damien Sullivan

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