When is a bus not a bus? When it’s a trackless train.
Busses are a great solution to traffic congestion, so much so that bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are growing the world over. The problem with getting more money into BRTs and expanding them is the baggage of the word bus. It turns out that many people have negative associations with the idea of taking the bus, however if the same vehicle is called something else then it gets support.
How projects are described and packaged can affect the way people feel about them, which is why a slick video with CGI-rendered trackless trains might be so alluring to city leaders desperate for new narratives. But if transit is going to succeed, the rail-bias cycle needs to break. And it actually can, studies have found, when buses are as good as trains. The Orange Line, a BRT that runs along a closed corridor through L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, has spacious cars, frequent service, dedicated lanes, and smooth connections to bus and rail; it’s tripled its original ridership estimates. In a 2009 report by the U.S. DOT, some Orange Line passengers said they didn’t even see it as a bus at all, but something closer to a train. Part of that is due to how the system was marketed and branded—the Orange Line was always portrayed as an extension of L.A.’s Metro rail system, rather than as a regular part of the bus network. But it’s also because this bus is objectively superior to most others.