A walk around various car-free day festivals in Vancouver, 2008 with unedited soundstream of drum circles, live bands of various sorts (including several numbers by a Grateful Dead inspired band, a free jazz combo, a protesting singer-songwriter, and a Latin-esque outfit…), plus skateboards, slam poets, and a bassoon quartet playing “hockey night theme” among other tunes.
Exactly how hard is it to cross the U.S. without getting in a car or on a plane? For those traveling to and from bigger cities, it’s fairly easy to find transit options, like Amtrak or bus routes. But that’s not really true for the entire country, as this map from Michael Buiting shows.
Buiting put together the map when he realized nothing else like it existed. “I just love data, and I love transportation, and I care about reaching deeply rural America that is not currently connected,” he says. “It was stunning to me how much of the country still is not.”
Take the little town of Tonopah, Nevada. “You either drive there, or fly there, or if you want to go any other way you’re going to have to go 100 miles to the nearest bus or train station,” he explains. “These rural communities have sizable enough populations, but they’re severely isolated.”
A few years ago, Buiting started making a detailed inventory of all the major routes in the country. He had noticed that it was hard to find information about routes online—sites like Greyhound don’t list routes from other carriers, and just buying a ticket can be such an arduous process that Buiting believes it’s hurting ridership.
He launched a website to share his growing database. Though it’s called the American Intercity Bus Riders Association, Buiting freely admits that he’s the only member. “I’m not a marketing guy,” he says. “I just wanted to get the information out there.”
The site has been popular with transportation planners, but Buiting thinks there’s still a need for an interface that makes it simple for the general public to get where they want to go without driving. Because of his own obsession with the routes, he can rattle off where bus lines cross each other. But for the average person, he says, the information is so difficult to find it’s a deterrent. “Let’s say you want to go from McCook, Nebraska, to Nashville, Tennessee,” he says. “The only thing serving McCook is Amtrak, the only thing serving Nashville is Greyhound. Right now, there’s no simple way to find your route and get a ticket. There should be a single stop where you can type in ZIP codes and get a trip plan. We have the technology, so there’s no reason that isn’t there.”
Despite the challenges, in a few areas bus service is starting to grow. And Buiting thinks it’s starting to lose the stigma it once had. “It’s less and less being viewed as the filthy, dirty domain of homeless people and convicts,” he says. “It’s fun. You will never ride an intercity bus and not have a story about your journey.”
“Have you ever ridden an intercity bus?” he asks. “You’ve got to try it.”