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Why do we prefer trains over buses?

A recent study conducted by transport scholars David Hensher and Corinne Mulley of the University of Sydney Business School confirms what most of us already knew, that commuters have a strong bias toward buses.
For the study, Hensher and Mulley gave survey respondents the two images above, plus two others whose only difference was older-looking vehicle styles (one bus and one train), and asked them to rank the four images in terms of “which one you would like to travel in most.” They found that 55 percent chose the modern light rail image, and another 18 percent chose the older light rail. Only about 17 percent chose the modern BRT. Just 10 percent chose the classic old bus.

This bias can partly account for why so many Melbournians would like to spend billions building a new airport train network as an alternative to Melbourne’s ‘SkyBus’ which runs an express bus service between the airport and the city centre every 10 minutes.

Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, argues that “in nearly every case buses can move people just as comfortably (if not more so), just as fast (if not faster), and at a far lower cost. The National Transit Database(America) website, shows that is costs almost twice as much on average to move one light rail vehicle per hour versus on bus ($233 per hour for one light rail vehicle versus $122 per hour for one bus). If this is true then why is there such a high demand in Melbourne for more to be spent on our rail network including more trains and tracks? Hensher explains this phenomen when paraphrasing a conversation he had with a former mayor of Los Angeles, “there’s an overwhelming perception that buses are boring and trains are sexy.” That mindset complicates the discussion of mass transit plans in growing metros: though advanced bus systems can perform as well or better than streetcar or light rail systems for less money, people would simply rather have trains.

Rail advocates argue that visitors to Melbourne Airport are expected to double in the next three decades and hit 60 million a year by 2030. This increase in demand will create an unprecedented demand that our current infrastructure won’t be able to cope with. Whilst this is true the question is is an expensive rail link our only option for dealing with this? And would it justify all the other transport projects that will be delayed or cancelled at the expensive of building it. Especially when other cheaper and arguably just as effective measures exist such as having a dedicated CityLink lane for the SkyBus to avoid getting stuck in congestion.