The Globe’s report from Buenos Aires shows why we need a better bus system

We need more of these. Photo (cc) 2008 by the Mass. Office of Tourism.

The Boston Globe’s coverage of our public transportation crisis, already indispensable, rises to another level today with a report from Buenos Aires. Reporter Taylor Dolven finds that a  system nearly as old as Greater Boston’s is far more reliable than ours, despite Argentina’s daunting economic problems. The reason: They take safety and maintenance seriously. The story as a whole is a revelation, but this jumped out:

The trains may run on time in Buenos Aires, but most public transit riders take the bus.

Buses on 92 routes that were stuck in car traffic a decade ago now cruise past the gridlock in bus-only lanes on eight main avenues, stretching some 38 miles in total. Bus stops on these corridors, called Metrobus, have roofs, lighting, seating, and sometimes countdown clocks, and the bus lanes are separated from car traffic with barriers.

The bus trip between two popular train terminals in the city used to take as long as an hour. Now it takes 30 minutes tops.

The MBTA could do much more with buses, by far the cheapest option for moving large numbers of people. Unlike rail, you don’t have to install tracks. Unlike rail, you can modify and add routes in response to changes in where people live and work. The key is to set aside bus-only lanes in many more places so that they can zip through as efficiently as subways and trolley cars. We’ve only begun to do that.

Yes, of course we need commuter rail, subways and trolleys. More than anything, though, we need to stop treating buses as an afterthought.