Why do people hate buses?!

25 Sep

I’ve discussed this a bit before, but it’s starting to get me really frustrated. Please, someone tell me, why do people hate buses?

Over the past few days, it seems like all I hear are complaints about AC Transit and excuses why people don’t ride buses. Some of this is pretty absurd:

  • One of my co-workers bought a new pair of heels and by the time she got to the office, she had blisters all over her feet. She convinced herself that she could never wear heels again to work because she walks 20 minutes to BART every day and it hurts too much. I asked her (as I have many times before), why she doesn’t just take the bus, as it stops about a block from her apartment. She argued that it would take too long. Granted, it’s the 18 bus, which is not known for its speed, but she does walk 20 minutes to BART, waits on average 5 minutes, and then the ride is 15 minutes long. So her total transit time is 40 minutes! I think the 18 would usually get her to work in about a half hour, and even on a bad day, in 45 minutes. Plus, she could continue to wear her fabulous but not so comfortable heels. I’m still working on her, but I don’t think I’ve convinced her yet.
  • A friend’s mom lives in Elmwood and works in downtown Oakland. The 51 bus stops right near her house and would drop her off exactly where BART drops her off. Yet instead of taking the bus, she DRIVES to Rockridge BART every day and then BARTs to work. She uses the same excuse – the bus takes too long.
  • Last night, I was at a meeting in downtown Oakland and a couple of UC Berkeley students were there. I was going to take the 1 home so I told them they should come with me, since it’s free for them and much more direct then BART. One of them asked, “Does our bus pass work in Oakland?” I was a bit floored – he’s been at Berkeley for 2 years and didn’t know that his buss pass was good on all AC Transit buses, even the transbay ones. So I thought I had them convinced and we started walking towards the bus stop, but then they decided to take BART instead because they thought the bus would take too long. It was so absurd – they were turning down a FREE, direct bus ride, in order to take BART which they’d then have to walk for 15 minutes from to get home. It made me crazy!
  • So all morning I was thinking about this, and then I was listening to The Coup on my bus ride to work, and even Boots Riley hates AC Transit! Really, in their song “Cars and Shoes”, which is about how driving his run down car is still better than walking, he says, “Catchin’ buses be gettin’ me to work late” and then later says that his unreliable car “beats the AC transit blues.” And I started thinking – there are tons of hip hop songs that glorify cars, but I couldn’t think of even one that had a positive message about public transit. In fact, I couldn’t think of a song from any genre that had something good to say about buses!

OK, rant over. But really, I guess I understand why people hate buses – they think they’re unreliable, slow, dangerous, dirty, etc. The really question I have is what can we do about this? I’m going to continue my personal mission of convincing everyone I know to at least try the bus, but that’s not really a long term solution. Especially as BART reaches its capacity, it’s so important for people who want to get out of their cars to know that AC Transit is a great option. So please, help me figure out what we can do to stop all the hatin’.

23 Responses to “Why do people hate buses?!”

  1. The Overhead Wire September 25, 2008 at 7:21 pm #

    The 51 isn’t bad since it comes every 10 minutes. I take it to Kaiser from downtown when I have appointments. I still think BART should have gone under broadway instead of in the center of the freeway but that’s another discussion.

    I think the perception of speed is important. With BART, you get on in Berkeley and you get off in Oakland in a few minutes. You know a train is coming soon and the signs tell you when it does come, which makes you think you’re waiting shorter than you would think at a similar wait at a bus station when you have no idea that it was coming. Next bus would fix some of this but not all.

    Then there is the perception of the bus as slow. It’s a bit true. The bus has to stop at every stop and every light. It can make one feel like they are not getting anywhere. I take the bus all over SF and parts of Oakland and I hate that it takes me 40 minutes in San Francisco to go like 4 miles. Given it would take the same amount to drive and then find a place to park usually but there should be a better way!

    Personally, I would take a route that is 10 minutes longer if I got to ride the rails instead. The comfort level is worth it to me. I hate the pothole bouncing and having to hold on so tight to the poles so I don’t fall over from the bus drivers lack of ease on the pedals.

    Anyway, I agree more people should take the bus as we do, but even I have my biases, probably not surprising though.

  2. Eric Fischer September 25, 2008 at 11:48 pm #

    Given the choice, I’ll always choose rail over bus, but electric trolleybuses are a big improvement over diesels because at least you are spared the exhaust fumes and noise.

    In another city I did actually frequently choose to take the bus instead of the (commuter) train to get downtown, and it was because the train was infrequent and stopped running early and my station was unmanned and felt dangerous. So maybe the secret is to get BART to emulate those characteristics.

  3. Michael Prentice September 26, 2008 at 12:00 am #

    And you call this blog Oakland Living…

    PoleBoyz – “AC Transit”:

  4. Matt September 26, 2008 at 1:46 am #

    I don’t like the bus because some of the drivers are rude. Today the driver was running late so she decided to honk as she approached the stops, and scolded the people boarding for not moving more quickly. She went off on some exchange student who was confused about the fare.

    A few weeks ago a driver got totally confrontational with someone who was standing in the aisle (behind the line), looking out the front window. He was saying things like “You got a problem?!” The kid said no, and said he was trying to look at the upcoming street signs. The driver wouldn’t drop it and the kid just got off before he reached his stop.

    On one of the lines I ride, the buses fill up and the drivers skip stops that have people waiting to board. That’s fine with buses that run every 10 minutes, it’s not acceptable for lines that run every half hour.

    On BART, you have to deal with homeless people trying to sleep. But on the bus I see more wild teenagers, more confrontations and harassment, more physical violence. Why? I don’t know, maybe because on BART there is a chance you will be caught if you commit a crime, where as on the bus generally the driver does not do anything, and if they do intervene or summon police — the perpetrators can easily leave the scene.

  5. dto510 September 26, 2008 at 1:50 am #

    You’re in luck, bus riders! Bus Rapid Transit is the solution to all of these issues (well, not rude drivers). With dedicated lanes, running late, being too crowded, or too-long headways simply won’t be problems anymore. Potholes are of course Oakland’s fault, not the bus’s. The Van Hools have made ingress and egress much faster and crowded conditions more bearable, and I honestly don’t mind the driver having an eye on the clock. I can’t think of any bad experiences with drivers here (I don’t take the bus every day), though I remember a few from Portland.

    People don’t think of the bus very fondly because it serves a very utilitarian purpose (transportation) in the most flexible, cost-effective way. It doesn’t have the cosmopolitan sheen of rail or retro appeal of a streetcar, but AC Transit gets the job done for a smaller public subsidy than other systems. The bus might be the butt of jokes and raps, at least it’s clear that folks are actually taking the bus, so it shouldn’t be that hard for more people to take it too.

    Double Dutch Bus by Frankie Smith is a fun song about a bus and pedestrian commute.

  6. Alan September 26, 2008 at 8:23 am #

    I like the bus but there are a couple of reasons why I can see BART being more popular.
    – More status information. I even found nextbus wasn’t perfect, and for those who don’t have web enabled phones they’re standing out on the corner…
    – Standing out on the corner. BART stations are secure and lighted. It’s somewhat about weather, but more about hanging out alone on the street corner.
    – Payment. This is more for the infrequent traveler, but BART is convenient with the payment cards. If I only have a 20 I’m not taking the bus, if I have to put too much on a BART card, at least I can use it later.

    BRT addresses the first two points, and as for the third, infrequent bus users probably shouldn’t be the focus.

    Now if only I could get a job in Oakland…

  7. V Smoothe September 26, 2008 at 9:25 am #

    Obviously I’m some kind of freak. I live like 20 feet from a BART station, and even when I’m going somewhere that’s also right next to a BART station, I almost always take the bus instead. I find it a much more pleasant experience overall.

  8. Becks September 26, 2008 at 12:20 pm #

    Well, V, at least you’re not alone in your freakishness because I’m the same way (though I’ve strangely rode BART three times this week!).

    BRT will address a lot of the current deterrents to riding the bus, which I think is great, but we won’t have BRT implemented for several years so I want to try to figure out what we can do in the meantime to get people to try the bus. My experience is that once people try the bus and get a bit used to it, they usually like it. But it’s like pulling teeth to get them to try it!

    I don’t know if the answer is an ad campaign, better NextBus signs, or more rapid bus lines. But I know we need to do something.

  9. The Overhead Wire September 26, 2008 at 2:56 pm #

    More next bus and more service please! I think 15 or 10 minutes on every route would help too….but we know that won’t happen.

  10. Georgia September 26, 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    The perception and *reality* of unreliable service both in terms of schedule and personnel needs to be seriously addressed.

  11. Becks September 26, 2008 at 3:11 pm #

    I get the service complaints, but I’m a bit surprised by the complaints about bus drivers. Of course, once in a while, there’s a bus driver that gets pushed to his/her limits and is a bit rude, but in my experience that is such a rare occurrence. I take the bus 10+ times per week and usually every bus driver is really, really nice to me. Maybe that’s because I go out of my way to say hello and thank you, but I don’t see bus drivers being rude to other people often either.

    Bus drivers have very stressful jobs and I think we need to give them some slack. And if there’s an unreasonably rude bus driver, you should go ahead and report that to AC Transit.

  12. Mike September 27, 2008 at 12:08 am #

    I honestly would love to take the bus, I even have a Translink pass. The problem is, I would have to wake up an entire hour earlier just to get to Emeryville on time. While if I drove, it only takes me 10 minutes zipping down the 880. Using Google Transit, it calculated three of the routes I could take their results all being an hour to an hour and a half.

    As for why other younger people may not take the bus, is that a majority of them have grown up with a vision of buses being the most scummy of places possible. “Ew! Public transportation,” being a common meme. Not to mention, the conventions of USING public transportation aren’t being passed down or taught. Some people just plain don’t know HOW to use a bus. As someone mentioned earlier, an exchange student was treated poorly by a bus driver by her obviously being confused on how to ride a bus. Obviously tarnishing an already less than positive atmosphere for riding the bus. In reality, I can really see the confusion for people who have never rode a bus before; how much do I pay, where do I put my money, how do I let the driver know I’m getting off at a stop.

  13. Becks September 27, 2008 at 8:52 am #

    Mike – Yeah, it is frustrating how time consuming it is to get to certain places on AC Transit, particularly Emeryville. I’ve passed up going to the Emeryville train station several times because it would have been too inconvenient to get there by bus.

    You also make some really good points about the lack of education on how to ride the bus. I was lucky in that when I first moved to the East Bay I had a UC Berkeley student pass so I just flashed my ID at the bus driver – a lot simpler than dealing with paying the fare. I think you’ve inspired me to write a post (or maybe a series) about how to ride AC Transit buses. It’s something I’ve not thought much about before, but I get questions all the time at bus stops and on the bus about which buses go where, how often do they run, how to pay for a transfer, etc. So thanks for the inspiration – look for the post sometime within the next couple weeks.

  14. Jame October 1, 2008 at 10:25 pm #

    I think sometimes the bus is really confusing, if you haven’t planned your route out ahead of time. And schedules are always missing in action on AC transit.

    I have a car, it is impossible for me to get to my job in a reasonable amount of time via the bus. I work in Hayward: by car 30-40 minutes. By BART + AC transit (i live in Oakland) 2 hours. Abtake transit out 50 of those minutes are from the Hayward BART to my office. 😦

    I take transit when I head to SF. If it is a weekday I tend to take the transbay. I don’t really like going transbay at night. Something about the ominousness of walking by the transbay at night is pretty scary!

    But I’ll admit, the 51 is my fave. It goes pretty much anywhere I ever wanted. Too bad it wasn’t a little closer to my place….or go to macarthur bart. 😀

  15. Scott Law October 2, 2008 at 7:36 pm #

    There is one way to increase bus usage. Increase gasoline
    prices. People will solve the rest of the issues on their own once it becomes too expensive to drive.

  16. PoleBoyZ October 2, 2008 at 10:03 pm #


  17. Marc October 4, 2008 at 12:00 pm #

    I can think of two big reasons causing infrequent riders to choose BART over the bus:

    1) Exact change requirement. As someone mentioned above, if they only have a 20, BART is far easier to use. Someday, perhaps within this century, Translink will be fully implemented and then everyone will carry a single card that can be used on every system. But we were supposed to have Translink years ago, so I’m not terribly optimistic. (of course, you can pay with a 20 or a few bills, but that’s not much fun)

    2) Where does this bus go? I know exactly where BART goes and where their stations sit. But I might not know where bus #X goes, and that could be enough.

  18. Hayden December 6, 2008 at 12:18 pm #

    Here’s why I’m not a big fan of the bus:

    1. Bus bunching. The 51 bus should come as frequently as every 8 minutes. But it’s not unusual to have to wait as long as 45 minutes for it to arrive. Once in December, I waited 2 hours for a San Pablo Ave. bus that was supposed to come every 20 minutes. Ironically, I’d actually stepped off the 51 bus thinking that transferring would be faster.

    2. “optional” stops. I’m waiting at a bus stop served by multiple lines. The bus driver for the line I want sees another bus stop, but I don’t get on that one. The driver decides to bypass the stop, despite my shouting and my arms waving over my head to flag down the bus. I wait another 20 minutes.

    3. Mystery bus routes (i.e., need for pre-bus-ride time investment). At most bus stops, it can be hard to figure out where a particular bus goes. I just missed the XY–will the XZ go where I want? I could ask the driver, but that’s dicey if they’re unpleasant or if I don’t know the cross streets where I’m going.

    4. Motion-sickness inducing driving habits. Some drivers will accelerate away from a stop *towards a red light*. When the bus arrives at the still-red light, time to hit the brakes! Some lower-key driving would help.

    5. Seven Eleven. Yes, the driver is in the middle of his/her route, but he/she needs a break. Time to park the bus full of passengers at the stop and hit the 7-11!

    That said, there are moments of transcendance on the bus that make it worth riding.

  19. dorne March 24, 2009 at 7:01 am #

    @Hayden: the pitstop applies to one of my buses up north (Canada), specifically yrt’s 003b. Bus driver goes to get coffee at timmies.

  20. kelly March 7, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    omg i hate the bus! Mine is so squishy all the time due to rush hour, theres always traffic, the bus either comes too early or late, theres old people whining that you should get up and lend them your seat, little children screaming their heads off when you have a killer headache it like SHUTUP. i have to take this everyday to get home, i hate it with all my heart 😦

  21. Kayla Sonergoran July 8, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    The fact that everyone is telling you it takes too long should be a hint about the problem. Its not just a perception but for many a reality. Yes, for some its a moot point but for many its a real problem. You have to also consider that you may have a higher threshold than other people. Whats long to you may not be the same for others. This is why I often do not like it when environmentalists drive transit policy because they typically have lower standards for what the rest of us want. I knew someone who had a 2 hour journey with transit going one way alone. For most people myself included, that is inexcusable but she was okay with it. Someone like her settles and does not try and improve the service which is what has to be done if you want to get people to fill those seats.

  22. patalyor September 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    I absolutely despise our city buses in Arizona. They stop at EVERY. SINGLE. STOP. They cost FOUR freaking dollars which IS a lot of money to me, even if it isn’t for other people, they take FOREVER and they don’t even have Wifi. I was considering giving the light rail a try, but now I’m not so sure because THE STINKING TRAINS DON’T EVEN HAVE WIFI EITHER.

  23. Clay Shentrup December 14, 2014 at 7:56 am #

    Even the best buses just aren’t as nice (and don’t provide as smooth a ride) as light rail. When I lived in SF (now in Berkeley), I would literally walk 4-6 blocks out of my way to take a train instead of a bus if I could.

    This is why I think it’s kind of myopic for planners to criticize light rail because “it hasn’t been shown to increase ridership” and “it’s more expensive”. Well, I’d pay 20-40% more to ride light rail, and I don’t think I’m alone on this.

    BRT sounds like a great idea that at least makes the bus experience as pleasant as it can be.

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