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Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit

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"Likely the best book ever written on improving bus service in the United States." — Randy Shaw, Beyond Chron "The ultimate roadmap for how to make the bus great again in your city." — Spacing Imagine a bus system that is fast, frequent, and reliable—what would that change about your city? Buses can and should be the cornerstone of urban transportation. They offer affordab "Likely the best book ever written on improving bus service in the United States." — Randy Shaw, Beyond Chron "The ultimate roadmap for how to make the bus great again in your city." — Spacing Imagine a bus system that is fast, frequent, and reliable—what would that change about your city? Buses can and should be the cornerstone of urban transportation. They offer affordable mobility and can connect citizens with every aspect of their lives. But in the US, they have long been an afterthought in budgeting and planning. With a compelling narrative and actionable steps, Better Buses, Better Cities inspires us to fix the bus. Transit expert Steven Higashide shows us what a successful bus system looks like with real-world stories of reform—such as Houston redrawing its bus network overnight, Boston making room on its streets to put buses first, and Indianapolis winning better bus service on Election Day. Higashide shows how to marshal the public in support of better buses and how new technologies can keep buses on time and make complex transit systems understandable. Higashide argues that better bus systems will create better cities for all citizens. The consequences of subpar transit service fall most heavily on vulnerable members of society. Transit systems should be planned to be inclusive and provide better service for all. These are difficult tasks that require institutional culture shifts; doing all of them requires resilient organizations and transformational leadership. Better bus service is key to making our cities better for all citizens. Better Buses, Better Cities describes how decision-makers, philanthropists, activists, and public agency leaders can work together to make the bus a win in any city.


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"Likely the best book ever written on improving bus service in the United States." — Randy Shaw, Beyond Chron "The ultimate roadmap for how to make the bus great again in your city." — Spacing Imagine a bus system that is fast, frequent, and reliable—what would that change about your city? Buses can and should be the cornerstone of urban transportation. They offer affordab "Likely the best book ever written on improving bus service in the United States." — Randy Shaw, Beyond Chron "The ultimate roadmap for how to make the bus great again in your city." — Spacing Imagine a bus system that is fast, frequent, and reliable—what would that change about your city? Buses can and should be the cornerstone of urban transportation. They offer affordable mobility and can connect citizens with every aspect of their lives. But in the US, they have long been an afterthought in budgeting and planning. With a compelling narrative and actionable steps, Better Buses, Better Cities inspires us to fix the bus. Transit expert Steven Higashide shows us what a successful bus system looks like with real-world stories of reform—such as Houston redrawing its bus network overnight, Boston making room on its streets to put buses first, and Indianapolis winning better bus service on Election Day. Higashide shows how to marshal the public in support of better buses and how new technologies can keep buses on time and make complex transit systems understandable. Higashide argues that better bus systems will create better cities for all citizens. The consequences of subpar transit service fall most heavily on vulnerable members of society. Transit systems should be planned to be inclusive and provide better service for all. These are difficult tasks that require institutional culture shifts; doing all of them requires resilient organizations and transformational leadership. Better bus service is key to making our cities better for all citizens. Better Buses, Better Cities describes how decision-makers, philanthropists, activists, and public agency leaders can work together to make the bus a win in any city.

30 review for Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Excellent. Delivers on all the title promises, striking a balance between real world examples and illustrative data/statistics, between policy/tech solutions and advocacy tips. Engaging and informative. I take Atlanta public transit whenever possible, and in my experience our bus system is simultaneously more effective/efficient than car-only naysayers proclaim *and* far far more frustrating/difficult then it has the potential for (lots of room for improvement, no doubt). Buses in general get a Excellent. Delivers on all the title promises, striking a balance between real world examples and illustrative data/statistics, between policy/tech solutions and advocacy tips. Engaging and informative. I take Atlanta public transit whenever possible, and in my experience our bus system is simultaneously more effective/efficient than car-only naysayers proclaim *and* far far more frustrating/difficult then it has the potential for (lots of room for improvement, no doubt). Buses in general get a bad rap, despite being one of the most adaptable and affordable solutions for mobility and access in cities -- nice to see them be treated with their due in this book. I should check out volunteering with the "MARTA army"...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    After I sold my car in 2007 the bus became my primary means of getting places. (Plus walking, of course.) The author makes an excellent case for the value of buses for public transit. Bus routes are flexible and buses efficiently carry many people to work, school, medical facilities, homes and myriad other places. All kinds of issues are covered in a clear, succinct manner with examples and plenty of supporting documentation through footnotes. I'll be keeping my copy of this book for future tran After I sold my car in 2007 the bus became my primary means of getting places. (Plus walking, of course.) The author makes an excellent case for the value of buses for public transit. Bus routes are flexible and buses efficiently carry many people to work, school, medical facilities, homes and myriad other places. All kinds of issues are covered in a clear, succinct manner with examples and plenty of supporting documentation through footnotes. I'll be keeping my copy of this book for future transit advocacy actions.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rosalie Ray

    This is a book that needed to be written. Its best feature is the dozens of examples the author has found of activists, agencies, and elected officials getting it right on buses, stories that are understudied to date. The book collects these stories into one place, documents them well, and sorts them smartly. The first half focuses on what good service looks like (frequent, fast, reliable, walkable, dignified, fair, and welcoming) and the second on how to get there. Higashide's book is notable f This is a book that needed to be written. Its best feature is the dozens of examples the author has found of activists, agencies, and elected officials getting it right on buses, stories that are understudied to date. The book collects these stories into one place, documents them well, and sorts them smartly. The first half focuses on what good service looks like (frequent, fast, reliable, walkable, dignified, fair, and welcoming) and the second on how to get there. Higashide's book is notable for putting almost as much focus on the social aspects of transit (dignified, fair, and welcoming) as on the technical. He was the first person to call out the use of the "captive" v. "choice" binary as both insulting and incorrect, and that same attention to both values and facts are present here. He is clear that a fast, frequent, reliable bus does not help the rider who cannot afford it, who is profiled while riding it, or who cannot stand in the sun long enough to wait for it. It follows then, that not only does policy need to change, but processes, to bring decision-making power closer to riders. He highlights the work of activists bringing transit into the public conversation (Miami), working with agencies for more inclusive engagement processes (Minneapolis), successfully winning referenda (Indianapolis), and organizing to win campaigns and change the narrative (Boston). I wish the book came with an associated website of resources, almost like a textbook. It would be great to be able to go online and find tutorials on how to make a "Where's my bus" site for my local transit agency or code to generate bus report cards, but this is all part of Higashide's call for a bigger, stronger, and more formal national transit advocacy movement. This book makes a great rallying cry for such a movement.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jackson Moore-Otto

    Indispensable overview of too-often overlooked, yet essential, mode of mass transit. I'm glad to see bus improvements becoming more prominent in the policy conversation, and this book is *the resource* for those looking to get up to speed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jim Sestito

    Steven is a transit person in a great way. His book regarding how the bus can create a great way to get around our cities and towns is a good read indeed. We often chase after sexy ways to fix our congestion such as Elon Must and flying cars but really the bus was a pretty good invention and will keep working really well if we get cars out of its way and run them more often to more places.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    A must read for people who care about their towns and cities.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hugo

    A good book with good info and advice, I'm just not the intended public: it is really a guide of what to do to get better buses, and by that he means buses that run more frequently and that are more reliable in terms of scheduling.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bett

    A quick, sharp, and compelling case for making the most out of bus services in our country. Higashide has a conversational tone which makes this book an easy read, on what I consider to be a vitally important topic. Recommended especially for those interested in environmental policy who might not know much from this angle.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michael Lewyn

    Short, well done and full of interesting ideas

  10. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Mustread

    Great ideas for improving bus service and ridership.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Cordano

    Loved it. I am going to buy it, I loved it so much. BETTER BUSES, BETTER CITIES. Higashide makes convincing point after convincing point. America needs a transportation reform and buses can lead the way.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David

    I wrote a Washington, D.C.-centric review of this book (available here) for the blog Greater Greater Washington after they sent me a free paper copy for review. I wrote a Washington, D.C.-centric review of this book (available here) for the blog Greater Greater Washington after they sent me a free paper copy for review.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An objective summary of the ideal role of bus service within the urban surface transportation system and its status quo. The book piqued my interest initially as I had worked on a few structured financings for bus systems, mostly in Latin America. It blew my mind how much diversity and variation there is among the different local systems at each state level and then city level. The various programs and the misalignment of power and interest invited the natural question about what types of polici An objective summary of the ideal role of bus service within the urban surface transportation system and its status quo. The book piqued my interest initially as I had worked on a few structured financings for bus systems, mostly in Latin America. It blew my mind how much diversity and variation there is among the different local systems at each state level and then city level. The various programs and the misalignment of power and interest invited the natural question about what types of policies would facilitate "equity", which in this context the author defined as "policies that reduce the burdens and mitigate the structural pains put on marginalized." For me the problem and solution are less racial than socio-economical, for example, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act has not substantially created protection for those who demanding better, more frequent and safer service, because the "differentiating" factor is more rooted in location (access, connectivity, etc.). Nonetheless, it adds another component to the whole equation. The allocation of funds (federal money into transportation then divided into transit vs. Highways) is also a bit bewildering, as it seems that while highways, given their much higher exposure and profile, are conventionally more active in the capital markets (private placements) and are much closer to investors (infra funds), the author mentions that in some cities, building a more robust bus system achieves a higher return on investment? It is a bit disheartening the end when the author mentions that in Japan, Hong Kong the UK, buses have been (at least as one might be able to tell from literatures and movies) a much more naturally integrated into the social fabric and remain a "neutral" means of transport not much different in comparison to trains and others. In contrast, there is connotation attached when one has no better alternative but to ride the bus. The construction (both literally and conceptually) of a more robust and convenient image of the city (urban and suburban) bus system is one that deserves much attention.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    I heard about this book on an episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called Missing the Bus (Episode 388, 2/4/2020). Author and transit expert Steven Higashide outlines his argument that more robust, Effective bus networks are the only sustainable answer to urban transit problems. After reading his book, I don't disagree. But I'm not sure I'm the audience for this book. While there are great arguments for why buses are the answer that the layperson can understand, the real drive behind this book is I heard about this book on an episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called Missing the Bus (Episode 388, 2/4/2020). Author and transit expert Steven Higashide outlines his argument that more robust, Effective bus networks are the only sustainable answer to urban transit problems. After reading his book, I don't disagree. But I'm not sure I'm the audience for this book. While there are great arguments for why buses are the answer that the layperson can understand, the real drive behind this book is to motivate transit activists and policymakers in how to get local and state agencies to support (and fund) transit projects. l got really bogged down in the parade of acronyms and agendas and agencies. I just kept imaging Leslie Knope and her binders. Hgashide makes good arguments for buses -- their flexibility, their carrying capacity, and the equitable opportunities that exist in this mode that don't translate to rideshare and light rail systems. My own hometown transit system, CapMetro, got some shout-outs, and large city redesigns like those in Houston and Indianapolis get special attention. There are also some cautionary tales here about how NOT to roll out new transit initiatives (cough, cough, Nashville). The early chapters roll out ways to make bus transit more effective -- frequency, reliability, transit interfaces with walking, and safety. He also spends time poo-pooing the latest crazes like hyperloops and self-driving transit. I will say that I'm more "on board" about bus transit than I was before I read this book. And once it's safe to get out and about again, I'm likely to use the free transit pass supplied by my employer more to get around my city.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bart

    Is it true that “the greenest transportation infrastructure is the one we already have?” Yes, in the sense that by far our biggest transportation infrastructure item is our network of paved roads. And rather than rushing to construct a new infrastructure – with all the up-front carbon emissions that would entail – we should simply stop squandering most of our road lanes on the least efficient mode of transportation, the private car. While new light-rail systems, subways, inter-urban commuter trai Is it true that “the greenest transportation infrastructure is the one we already have?” Yes, in the sense that by far our biggest transportation infrastructure item is our network of paved roads. And rather than rushing to construct a new infrastructure – with all the up-front carbon emissions that would entail – we should simply stop squandering most of our road lanes on the least efficient mode of transportation, the private car. While new light-rail systems, subways, inter-urban commuter trains all have their place, simply giving buses preference on existing roads could improve urban quality of life while bringing carbon emissions down – long before the planning and approval process for new train lines is complete. Steven Higashide’s new book Better Buses, Better Cities is a superb how-to manual for urban activists and urban policy-makers. The book is filled with examples from transit reforms throughout the United States, but its relevance extends to countries like Canada whose city streets are similarly choked with creeping cars. Full review here: https://anoutsidechance.com/2019/10/2...

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alexander Miles

    I picked up this book after hearing an interview with the author on the 99 Percent Invisible podcast. I was curious to learn more about the ways transit could be better in the US, primarily because I had the same set of experiences the author related - I worked in Germany for a few months and was blown away by how much better the entire transit experience was, only to return to the US and see the contrast much more vividly. The book turned out to be less of a study guide to transit design and mo I picked up this book after hearing an interview with the author on the 99 Percent Invisible podcast. I was curious to learn more about the ways transit could be better in the US, primarily because I had the same set of experiences the author related - I worked in Germany for a few months and was blown away by how much better the entire transit experience was, only to return to the US and see the contrast much more vividly. The book turned out to be less of a study guide to transit design and more of an activist handbook for actually making changes to transit systems happen, which is ultimately more useful for Americans wishing for a better city experience. I've never personally gotten involved in activism, so it was an illuminating look at how the sausage of city planning decisions actually get made. I'd recommend this book more for those insights into activism rather than the technical insights into transit, which perhaps I expected more of.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Brown

    "Better Buses, Better Cities" is revelatory when it comes to getting transit improvements done. Higashide asks and answers questions that you never thought to ask, but would have if you knew how — about your bus service, the planners who design it, the government agencies that control it and what you can do to help make it better. While other books more clearly and thoroughly explain the fundamental technical aspects of good transit planning — Christof Spieler's "Trains, Buses, People" comes to mi "Better Buses, Better Cities" is revelatory when it comes to getting transit improvements done. Higashide asks and answers questions that you never thought to ask, but would have if you knew how — about your bus service, the planners who design it, the government agencies that control it and what you can do to help make it better. While other books more clearly and thoroughly explain the fundamental technical aspects of good transit planning — Christof Spieler's "Trains, Buses, People" comes to mind — and the book can leap from topic to topic pretty quickly, Higashide does a stellar job of clearly identiying and explaining the various reasons American bus service is so bad and what can be done to make it better. It's another must read for anyone riding, planning or covering transit in the U.S.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    "Better Buses, Better Cities" is a perfect read for someone new to and interested in transit planning and advocacy. It's also a great refresher for transportation professionals, who need a moment to step away from the weeds and think about the big picture. While the transit planning field is multidisciplinary and full of nuances, Steven manages to break down the essentials (from the basics of bus service to broader social issues) in just under 150 pages, so it's a book that is easy to finish in "Better Buses, Better Cities" is a perfect read for someone new to and interested in transit planning and advocacy. It's also a great refresher for transportation professionals, who need a moment to step away from the weeds and think about the big picture. While the transit planning field is multidisciplinary and full of nuances, Steven manages to break down the essentials (from the basics of bus service to broader social issues) in just under 150 pages, so it's a book that is easy to finish in a few bus rides but leaves you thinking about how to improve your local transit system.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hanna Lupico

    A very pragmatic approach to improving public transit that is dynamic, equitable and efficient. Higashide demonstrates the effectiveness of bus networks that are fast, reliable, and frequent through case studies collected from cities throughout the US. Insights from public transit staff and advocacy groups highlight the incredible challenges faced in rallying voter support and securing funding for transit projects and operations. Great overview of a multiple of topics that may peak your interest A very pragmatic approach to improving public transit that is dynamic, equitable and efficient. Higashide demonstrates the effectiveness of bus networks that are fast, reliable, and frequent through case studies collected from cities throughout the US. Insights from public transit staff and advocacy groups highlight the incredible challenges faced in rallying voter support and securing funding for transit projects and operations. Great overview of a multiple of topics that may peak your interest in diving deeper on specific case studies, policies and public funding options.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Nelson

    "There isn't much that is sexy score improving the bus, just as there is little that is flashy about fixing streetlights or sewers. But better streetlamps lead to fewer people dying in traffic. Safe, lead free pipes help children to grow to realize their full potential" In a world obsessed with new shiny technology, sometimes it's the "boring" technology that is the most efficient, and gets the job done best. The benefits of fixing buses in our cities is immense. Many examples are America specific "There isn't much that is sexy score improving the bus, just as there is little that is flashy about fixing streetlights or sewers. But better streetlamps lead to fewer people dying in traffic. Safe, lead free pipes help children to grow to realize their full potential" In a world obsessed with new shiny technology, sometimes it's the "boring" technology that is the most efficient, and gets the job done best. The benefits of fixing buses in our cities is immense. Many examples are America specific, but the lessons apply to any city. I learned a lot!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    The humble bus is the backbone of transport systems in cities and yet it often is neglected and regarded as the transport method of last resort. This book provides strategies to make meaningful progress towards changing that. It provides tools, success stories, and methods for creating and advocating for better bus service. It uncovers the often hidden barriers to improving service and offers steps to overcome them. Short, yet powerful. Anyone who has ever wondered how they can have an impact on The humble bus is the backbone of transport systems in cities and yet it often is neglected and regarded as the transport method of last resort. This book provides strategies to make meaningful progress towards changing that. It provides tools, success stories, and methods for creating and advocating for better bus service. It uncovers the often hidden barriers to improving service and offers steps to overcome them. Short, yet powerful. Anyone who has ever wondered how they can have an impact on the way that people move through their city should read this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Espinoza

    Great, easy, and a quick read. If you find yourself thinking about how to improve the bus system - this book is for you! It offers suggestions on how to most effectively improve bus service and thereby create better outcomes for climate and equity goals. It also offers guidance on how to best advocate for better transportation funding. I was most unclear on how transit was funded from various levels of government and this was a great intro to how the federal government funds (underfunds) transit Great, easy, and a quick read. If you find yourself thinking about how to improve the bus system - this book is for you! It offers suggestions on how to most effectively improve bus service and thereby create better outcomes for climate and equity goals. It also offers guidance on how to best advocate for better transportation funding. I was most unclear on how transit was funded from various levels of government and this was a great intro to how the federal government funds (underfunds) transit.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Hamer

    Should be sent to every transportation manager across the country. A smart, tactical, well-researched look into why dramatically improving bus service should be a high priority for every US city, how to build support for it, and how to do it quickly and effectively. The success stories will surprise you, and the cautionary tales will keep your bus-turnaround efforts out of danger. I enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jared Ostyn

    Short and sweet. An overview of what makes the bus great for us and our cities, along with a dive into the ways the deck is stacked against it in our private automobile-loving corner of the world. Not as in-depth as Human Transit by Jarrett Walker, but as Better Buses is more recently published, it can address more relatable political struggles and newer tends like self-driving, demand-driven, and ride hailing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jean Sung

    Light rail is sexy but also expensive and the benefits are often years away. Bus improvements are the here and now of the city transit. This book describes the different components of how to help lobby for and plan for better transit, citing many case studies from cities of different sizes. Also, this book helped me visualize where I could use my existing skills in the industry and see new skills I would be excited to learn about. Almost started looking for new jobs lol.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Koralleen Stavish

    As a bus rider, I enjoyed learning some aspects of transit planning and the examples of effective methods used in various cities. I like the idea of promoting better bus service for social as well as environmental benefits, and the author does a good job of pointing out both aspects. It was a practical but optimistic overview with a few advocacy tips.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Camerin

    This book gets in to the direct relationship between race and design (even diving in to policing) and is a sobering reminder of the tools that policy makers have at their disposal to drastically improve the lives of their constituents through public transit. I enjoyed reading this and am looking forward to applying some of this knowledge to my profession.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell Armenta

    Really enjoyed this book. It is aimed at advocates and policy makers, but was insightful for a transit enthusiast like myself. I learned that bus drivers actually notice and account for fare dodgers, and the emphasis on reliability and frequency across the system just made so much sense. Really liked the practice of monthly fare caps for an equitable cost to ride.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I thought this would be a good way to learn more about directions that mass transit should take, which it was. Transit and urban cycling are nature allies, or so it seems to me, and this confirmed that. Much of the specific advice in the first chapters of the book on how to make bus use more attractive seemed accurate to me - most of these suggestions have been true for decades.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sascha

    Informative read. A little U.S. focused and mostly focused on examples of successful and unsuccessful transit projects, but some key information and perspective is given in each of the chapters. In an ideal world, I would have gotten some more data, and more international data or systems.

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