The Poverty/Bus Nexus


Looks like Donna Edwards, the future of the MD-4 and hero of the internet, has sound views on the bus, telling The Washington Post that: "When I drive on the highway now, and I see women with their strollers out there and their young children waiting on the side of the highway, still waiting on the side of the highway, years later, without any shelter, I think, 'That was me.' I just think surely we must be able to make an investment in mass transportation that actually works for people."

Lately, I've mostly talked about transit as an urban planning and energy policy issue, because I think it's good to get away from the "transit is for poor people" stereotype. Still, bus networks are a critical -- but often deeply inadequate -- lifeline for many poor Americans and improved bus service is a critical equity and anti-poverty issue. Go back and read Kate Book's celebrated New Yorker piece "The Marriage Cure" and you'll see that one of several serious problems holding people in welfare dependency is that it's hard to hold down a low-skill job if you're not on time consistently and it's hard to be on time consistently if the bus doesn't arrive on a reliable schedule.

Better buses is hardly a cure-all for poverty. But unlike a lot of other proposed solutions, like the "marriage-promotion" initiatives Boo's article discusses, there's not some giant policy mystery surrounding the bus: If you buy more buses and hire, you can schedule buses more frequently and so on and so forth. This wouldn't end poverty or make being poor an awesome experience, but it would reduce poverty and improve poor people's lives enormously.

Photo by Flickr user NateOne used under a Creative Commons license