Needless to say, the cost to the taxpaying public is minimal. City streets and interstate highways already exist, and maintenance gets financing from gas taxes. And the system has enormous flexibility. If fewer passengers want to line up in Chinatown and more on the Upper West Side, the bus can change stops.
Private bus operators have effectively taken a 100-year-old technology, the bus, and adapted it seamlessly to the 21st century.
Compare high-speed rail. It is tethered to enormous stations that must be built or refurbished and limited to particular routes that, once the rails are laid down, cannot be changed except at prohibitive expense.
And it is enormously costly. In just two years, the estimated cost of the Obama administration's pet project, California high-speed rail, in the "flatter than Kansas" Central Valley has risen from $7.1 billion to $13.9 billion. Oxford economist Bent Flyvbjerg has found that high-speed rail projects always end up costing more, usually far more, than estimates.
In addition, operating costs almost always end up higher than fares. And fares always turn out to be expensive, comparable to airfare if you book a popular flight the day before your trip.
So high-speed rail is a form of transportation on which government subsidizes business travelers. You don't see backpackers anymore on the Acela or Amtrak trains from Washington to New York. They're taking the Chinatown bus or one of its competitors.
Finally, most of the high-speed rail lines the Obama administration is touting are a whole lot slower than France's TGV or Japan's bullet train. You can beat the proposed Minneapolis-Duluth line by going just slightly over the speed limit on I-35. The proposed line from the college town of Iowa City to Chicago would take longer than the currently operating bus service.
So the private sector provides cheap intercity transportation while government struggles to waste $53 billion. Please remind me which is the wave of the future.