Given the choice between buses and rail, without regards to price, I would rather have rail. Trains tell you when they will be there or if they are running late, they don’t stop every block, they have faster boarding and debarking times, and they are not bothered by road traffic. A lot of these benefits do not need to be for rail only; they could, and can, be applied to buses.
Metro Transit recently introduced “NexTrip” which they hope will improve rider satisfaction by telling them exactly when the next bus is coming. This type of innovation is overdue, but in its current incarnation it is extremely limited. The Chicago Transit authority has taken this technology to the next level by including the real time tracking to bus stops, eliminating the uncertainty of waiting for a bus; riders will know exactly when it’s coming.
One of the most annoying aspects of riding a bus is the constant starting and stopping, almost every city block it seems. Not only is it fuel inefficient, but every stop requires riders to debark and new riders to board and pay their fare, adding to the total stop time. A better solution has been around for a while in Curitiba, Brazil, where riders enter a mini-terminal, pay their fares, and queue for efficient boarding in a protected in a full shelter. Not only would the rider transfer take less time, but less stops would be required, if combined with bus tracking, riders could wait for a bus they know is coming in a nice shelter.
Finally, being subjected to road congestion is a limiting factor in bus speed. Minneapolis has begun on an ambitious plan to increase bus reliability and speed. They are creating two dedicated bus lanes on both Marquette and 2nd Avenues that will allow buses to pass other buses that are at a stop. Improvements like this will be necessary to reduce the time it takes to travel Minneapolis by bus, which can be prohibitive.