Decarbonizing Mobility

Since leaving my job in July, I’ve been free to focus my professional energy on whatever I feel most passionately about. It’s an incredible luxury afforded by Harvard’s Loeb Fellowship.

I’ve set myself to a question that’s been eating at me for years: how would my work be different if I was fully dedicated to addressing climate change? I’ve been working in transportation for the last decade and a half, always with a personal goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But that mission has always been at best just one (sometimes small) piece of whatever problem I was working on. 

Over that same fifteen year period, transportation has become the single largest source of emissions in most wealthy countries. It’s still growing, even while other sectors (like electric power) have reduced their impact. Simply put, transportation is not (even close to) doing its part. 

As I’ve done my own research, I’ve been surprised by the lack of what I was hoping to find: plans, anchored at the city or regional level, that describe how a given location will deliver the deep decarbonization of passenger transport that will be required in the coming decades (50% cuts by 2030, zero emission by 2040, say). To my knowledge, no such plan exists in North America today.1

That lack of grounding of increasingly ambitious national climate proposals in real urban locations produces bizarre outcomes, where stated objectives are divorced from reality. Climate mayors end up pledging to expand highway infrastructure. Advocates for electric vehicles ignore the need to incorporate other paths to decarbonization, like transit and walking. Transit advocates protest any attention paid to electric vehicles, on the grounds that all cars are bad. The largest transport conference in the world lives in climate denial

It’s my contention that without any grounding in data, we’ll continue talking past each other. As David MacKay, author of the very-much-worth-reading ‘Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air’, once wrote: ‘we need numbers, not adjectives’. But data and tools that allow you to combine and propose strategies to, say, increase adoption of electric vehicles and boost transit ridership and increase housing density in a specific market are very hard to come by.

I decided to take small steps to address that problem. I created a very – very – simple ‘model’ (I hesitate to even use the term) to provide some very – very – rough estimates of what it might take to get a metropolitan area – in this case, Boston – to a 75% cut in urban transport emissions by 2040. That deadline and target were chosen arbitrarily, but they are a decent stand in for the kinds of very aggressive cuts consistent with a path to keeping the world to a 2C rise in temperatures.  I invited students to show up on a cold night in late November to use the spreadsheet model to propose their own solutions.2


I was bowled over by the response. Thirty five students trekked through the cold, packed into a classroom, and threw themselves into the problem. They debated different paths to the same goal, using numbers that were at least roughly grounded in reality. And they proposed scenarios that would deliver the kinds of cuts that are needed. 

One workshop, obviously, is just a very small step. But we can’t expect political leaders to take bold action if we’re not effectively advocating for what is needed. Most cities have not outlined what it will take to deliver deep cuts in transport emissions. To have any hope of delivering them, that’s where they need to start. 

Protest_Banner.pngOriginal photo credit Louise Gravel, poor photo editing mine

The political pressure for bold action on climate is building. Based on past history, the momentum to adopt a 2030 or 2040 or 2050 zero emission mobility plan will likely originate outside of government. How will the community of transportation advocates and professionals build plans that can deliver the radical targets now being talked about?

If any of this sounds interesting, I’m teaching a class at MIT at the end of January on these topics and plan to continue the conversation, in whatever way makes the most sense, beyond this year. Please reach out if you’re interested. 

1 I’d love to be proved wrong – please reach out and send me places that do have such plans – whether in North America or further afield.
2 if you’re interested in seeing the spreadsheet, let me know.

Reading List, 2018

So we’re more than halfway through 2019 and I realized I never published what I read in 2018. I know the world has been waiting with bated breath (ha!), so here goes.

On the positive side, I read novels (something I failed to do in 2017), of which Shipping News was the standout. I highly recommend it, although part of my love for it probably has something to do with the fact that I have a burning desire to go to Newfoundland.

Other books follow last year’s themes – books about cities, books about transportation, books about shipping, etc.

I think the standout nonfiction books for the year were Peter Norton’s Fighting Traffic and Tom Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis. If someone asked me for 2 books that describe why US cities look the way they do, I might recommend that one-two punch. If you’re reading this and you haven’t already read one or both, do so.

On the negative side, I read less books overall. I think that’s because I started getting The Economist and the New Yorker at home. I also started commuting (mostly) by bike rather than by bus, which ate through my most reliable morning reading time.


Books about shipping, boats, rivers, and harbors.

Transportation General


Books about the Catskills

Books about Writing

Books about Personal Finance

The High Line, 1929

In only 10 years, The High Line has become such a fixture of Manhattan’s urban landscape that it can be hard to remember how radical it seemed before it opened. 

As an urban planning grad student during its construction, I remember how heavily the High Line’s proponents leaned on a single precedent to demonstrate the project’s viability: the Promenade Plantee, an abandoned railway structure converted to a pedestrian parkway in Paris in 1993. The idea of an elevated park making use of an abandoned rail corridor felt new, and I had always assumed the Promenade Plantee was the first to do it. 

That’s why I was surprised, on a brief stopover in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, to stumble on a vastly older precedent – the Bridge of Flowers


The Bridge of Flowers – Photo Credit

The Bridge of Flowers is the High Line on a small scale. An abandoned railway bridge over the Deerfield River was turned into a linear park. Much like its New York City peer, it’s become a prominent local tourist draw. 

The only difference? The park was opened in 1929. That’s a shocking 90 years before the High Line opened as a park, and, amazingly, it’s 4 years before the elevated rail structure that became the High Line was opened for its original freight rail purpose. It’s fair to assume that 1925 is before most people think of rail infrastructure being abandoned at all. 

That’s the other reason I found the The Bridge of Flowers so interesting – it’s a vivid example of the short lived ‘interurbans’, light electric railways that connected smaller American towns and cities. Wikipedia has a decent summary here, but if you really want to go deep, this full length study published in the 1960s is a good read. 

The interurbans had an amazingly rapid rise and fall. They were mercilessly vulnerable to competition as car ownership picked up steam in the 1920s. The Shelburne Falls and Colrain’s focus on freight made it somewhat unique, but the same road competition (in this case, from the rise of trucks) did it in.

Much like New York’s investment in the West Side Elevated Line likely didn’t make financial sense in hindsight, the short lived line in Shelburne Falls probably didn’t work out for investors, but it yielded a lasting benefit for the region. Next time I hear someone rave about the High Line, I’ll ask them to drive a couple hours north and visit the original. Until, that is, someone finds me an earlier example.

2017 Reading List

What I Read Last Year

As 2017 ended, I enjoyed seeing a few people put out lists of what they read over the year. See here and here for some examples. There’s something interesting and weirdly personal about seeing what other people are reading.

At the same time, I realized that, despite reading a decent amount, I’ve never catalogued my reading or looked back over a year at what I actually read. So, without further ado, and probably more for me than anyone else, see below for a list of what I read.

Notable highlights:

  • I didn’t read a single novel. That seems bad. I usually read at least 1 or 2. Will try and change that in 2018.
  • I pick up a lot of old books in various places that I find interesting as primary documents of their time. The best example last year was an 1898 guidebook the US that I love.
  • I read a lot about transportation and cities, but (I think) I keep a pretty loose definition of what that means. Loose enough that, for me, that topic area includes everything from books about lighthouses to books about Hong Kong, because they both, on some level, relate to ways we get around (by boat) and how that impacts cities, particularly those based around major ports (like Hong Kong).

The List (arranged, loosely, by topic area)

Books about California (where I moved at the end of 2016)
The Mountains of California by John Muir
Gold Rush Port: The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco’s Waterfront
Assembling California
Imperial San Francisco
San Francisco : A Pageant (1939) – both this and book below were picked up in used bookstores at random. Both paint a nostalgic, romantic picture of pre-tech San Francisco.
San Francisco : City on Golden Hills (1967)

Books about shipping, boats, and harbors.
Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse
The Great Port – Great Jan Morris tour of the Port of New York. First published 1957.
Hong Kong – pre-1997-handover description of the great city, also by Jan Morris
Bottom of the Harbor – Great New Yorker pieces from ~50s on New York Harbor
The Ocean Railway – great (long) read on early ocean steam navigation.
Bobs’ Folly: Livingston, Fulton, and the Steamboat
The Hudson: A History

Books About Ground Transportation
Road Transport Before the Railways: Russell’s London Flying Waggons – amazingly detailed description of road travel by wagon in early 19th century England.
The Old Pike: An Illustrated Narrative of the National Road
The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century
American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century – great read on the transformation of American railroads

Books by Guys Who Built Their Own House and Wrote About It
A Place of My Own – early Michael Pollan, and the better of the 2 books in this category.
The Most Beautiful House in the World

Books About Cities
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How the Government Segregated America
How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built
Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs – which I wrote about here.
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
Greater than Ever : New York’s Big Comeback
With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighborhood – interesting read about the Pointe, a unique neighborhood in Montreal where my dad lived (and I spent a lot of time in) when I was growing up.

Books about US History
Beadeker’s United States (1898) – amazing little primary document on turn of the century America. You can see the full thing, for free, here.
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 An incredibly depressing book, but vital to understanding American history. Should be much more widely read.
The Fire Next Time Inspired by seeing James Baldwin in I am Not Your Negro.

Books About Writing
The Sense of Style – The first book on writing I’ve ever really enjoyed.

Books About Personal Finance
Your Money or Your Life – The book that inspired the new wave of financial independence bloggers

Jane Jacobs on Transportation


I recently finished reading the new(ish) compilation of Jane Jacobs’ shorter writings, Vital Little Plans.

Jacobs’ writing is the closest things modern American planners have to holy scripture. Sadly, for those of us who spend our time thinking about transportation, there hasn’t been an enormous amount of her work to chew on. Reading Vital Little Plans was a chance to glean more of what Jacobs had to say about the way we move through our cities.

There is one transportation issue where Jacobs’ position is fairly well known: her much-publicized opposition to urban expressways. And, indeed, you’ll find many passages in the book denouncing highway investment that sound strikingly contemporary:

“Los Angeles, where at rush hour the cars on the great freeways crawl at 10 miles an hour, the same speed the horse and buggies used to achieve, where the poor have no practicable way to reach jobs, where the exhausts have turned the air into a crisis, where expressways, interchanges and parking lots occupy some two-thirds of the drained and vacuous downtown.”

A City Getting Hooked on the Expressway Drug, 1969

This is well known Jacobs territory. It’s not surprising that the patron saint of walkable neighborhoods opposed new automobile infrastructure in cities. But some of her other positions are startling.  Readers might be surprised to learn, for example, that Jacobs was at least as ferocious a critic of public transportation management as she was of highway investment.

In her 1969 piece, Strategies for Helping Cities, she describes a transportation “status quo that is predicated on inconvenient, deteriorating, obsolete public transit” and highlights the “unwillingness of local government to permit competition to its services […] in public transportation.”

This was not a one-off critique of public transport planning. In The Real Problem of Cities, a speech given on the inaugural 1970 Earth Day celebration, she excoriated the entire idea of centralized government control of transportation systems:

“The surest way to arrange that the status quo is not going to be disturbed, that development is not going to occur, that a problem with us now is going to be with us indefinitely, is to centralize responsibility for defining it and for administering funds directed to its solutions. The very strategy itself is fatally at odds with a goal of problem-solving.”

Perhaps her most scathing critique of public transportation systems was written almost 25 years later, after Jacobs had relocated to Toronto. There, in 1994, she helped co-found a still-active group called the Consumer Policy Institute, and penned a letter focused on the problems of public transit in Toronto. It’s worth reading in full:

“Affordable, convenient public transit is vital, yet Canadian cities are plagued with costly, inadequate systems. Time and again, transit managements and politicians with public funds at their disposal embrace foolish, extravagant policies while ignoring common-sense alternatives and neglecting innovative thinking. Those decisions are paid for in higher fares, lost customers, rotten service, tax subsidies and lost opportunities.

It used to be reasoned that public service monopolies would benefit from lack of ‘wasteful’ competition and economies of scale. They don’t. The post office is a notorious example. Only when that monopoly began to break down did many badly needed innovations from independent businesses become available. Or consider long-distance passenger rail services: they are a disgrace, forever deteriorating yet becoming more costly.

Good service delivery must be responsive to customers’ ever-changing needs, not protected from customers by limiting their choices or evading failure by winning government favors. Hopping the gravy train is no way to run a railroad or any other successful commercial service.”

First Letter to the Consumer Policy Institute, 1994

The use of “gravy train” to describe public investment will resonate with those readers familiar with Toronto’s disgraced former mayor Rob Ford. Indeed, the general tone of Jacob’s piece – questioning the wisdom of public management of transportation – is more reminiscent of writing from the political right than the political left. As demonstrated frequently throughout Vital Little Plans, one of the most satisfying elements of Jacobs’ writing is her ability to scramble simplistic assumptions about political alignment and urban policy.

So if not the traditional right/left political divide, what motivated Jacobs’ pointed and repeated criticism of public transport management? Reading through the various selections in Vital Little Plans, it becomes clear that the common enemy she is attacking is top-down, centralized control of complex systems.

For followers of Jacobs, this should not come as a surprise. The founding ethos of her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is that city success flows from the bottom up. There, she casts the villain as government planners who have a utopian vision of what cities should look like; they destroy functioning urban fabric because they are too far removed from its use to even notice that it is succeeding.

Here, in various selections from Vital Little Plans, Jacobs’ argument against public monopoly control of transportation is similar: a single government agency is liable to miss opportunities for innovation, be biased to the status quo, and ignore changing consumer demands.

Given her love of bottom-up organization and distributed decision making, I suspect that Jacobs would have been a supporter of ‘informal transit’ systems like collectivos, matatus, dollar vans, or jeepneys, although there’s no writing about them in this volume. Those systems tend to be composed of thousands of independent actors, each with a financial incentive to meet consumer demand, and without centralized control of routes or individual driver behavior. While that has often made them the enemy of public authorities, I imagine it would have made Jacobs a fan.

Her thirst for new ideas, did, it’s worth noting, lead her to support some transportation ideas of dubious viability. Most notably, she expressed enthusiasm for a system that sounded like the cultish Personal Rapid Transit. She also waxes poetic at various points about cable-cars and high speed ferries.

The key takeaway for me is not so much that she thought any of these schemes would necessarily be successful. Her broader point was that restricting the ability for new ideas to be attempted always leads to stagnation, in urban transportation as in society at large. In one passage of The Real Problem of Cities, immediately after excoriating the New York City Transit Authority for ignoring potential new technologies, she underscored the paramount importance of the search for creative new solutions:

“To maintain the status quo is impossible, in this or in most other things. In most activities, and certainly taking society as a whole, we must be creative or else resigned to decay. This is not simply an imperative of modern economies. It is an imperative of the human condition itself.”

The Real Problem of Cities, 1970

Jacobs died in 2006, so she didn’t get the chance to see most of the recent wave of new technologies in urban transportation – carsharing, bikesharing, ridesharing, or autonomous vehicles. While I suspect she wouldn’t not have gone in for techno-utopian claims that any one solution would save the city, I imagine she’d be cheered by the fact multiple different solutions were both proliferating and competing.

Her writing in Vital Little Plans makes clear that she took supreme pleasure in challenges to the status quo. Whatever she might make of the individual players, I suspect she’d be heartened that there’s more being challenged in urban transportation today than there has been in a very long time.

In San Francisco, a Glimpse of the Future of Transit

What if transit agencies were as nimble in providing service as riders are in using it?

I recently moved to San Francisco, and I was lucky enough to find an apartment that’s only a few short miles from work. As a lifelong public transport commuter, I made a point of checking out the transit options.

It didn’t look great; they all involved bus-to-bus transfers.  All the literature suggests that people really hate transfers, especially for services like buses that tend to have longer and less reliable headways.

So I turned to apps. The real time information powering Citymapper, Transit App, and Moovit is not new, but I didn’t have much use for it when I lived in New York. My daily commute was so obvious I didn’t need additional information – I walked to the A train.

In San Francisco, things changed. There are dozens of different combinations that might prove to be my fastest route on any given day (see below). Which one is faster depends on a long list of variables – traffic congestion, the different wait times for express or local service – and, critically, the chances that my dropoff time from one route is convenient to my pickup on another. This last point is critical, because knowing it in advance directly eliminates one of the issues with bus transfers: not knowing how long you’ll wait for the second bus.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 6.36.32 PM.png

That’s important, because I have 3 or 4 different options for the first bus I board in the morning (for those in San Francisco – the 1, 1BX, 38, 38R, 2, and 33). With real time information in hand, I can hop on whatever first bus leg will get me to work quicker, including knowledge about the future location of the second bus. After experiencing it for the first time, it’s clear that real time information and predictive software is already helping to make transit more attractive, even in places where things like bus-to-bus transfers are required.

But at a more profound level, it’s highlighting changes to transit operations that may be on the horizon. In San Francisco, I no longer really care about routes in any conventional sense. I don’t care about a schedule, I don’t really care about ‘stops’, and I don’t really care where one bus drops me off or another picks me up. As long as those things can be reliably conveyed to me when and where I need them, they don’t need to be fixed in time or space.

In one important sense, bus routes are a way to communicate information about service to riders: “Stand here, get this bus, go there”. That makes sense when you don’t have a more dynamic way to communicate, which we didn’t when we invented bus routes 200 years ago. It’s obviously also a logical structure in places where you have or need dedicated infrastructure, as streetcars once did and as my old subway commute in New York City still does.

Clearly, though, routes have had a lot of staying power even beyond those places. Despite enormous urban development changes, most of the bus routes in major cities still look a lot like the streetcar routes that they replaced almost 100 years ago.

Now, sophisticated riders are able to hop between routes, knitting together new kinds of service with real time information. But that’s only a one-way flow – riders are getting smarter.

But what if transit agencies were as nimble in adapting service? Could buses decide to skip stops or turn local into express based on how many riders were already in the vehicle and where they were going? How about dynamically rerouting buses to avoid traffic congestion? What about deciding on the number vehicles in service based on real time demand?

Before you can even start thinking about that kind of dynamic service, agencies need to overcome one obvious hangup: a lack of fine grained data on their own riders. Riders are getting a lot of information from agencies via new APIs and apps, but not much is flowing back the other way.

That’s one reason I was excited to read about a new MBTA partnership with Transit App, which seems to be bridging this gap and providing user information back to the agency. That’s an exciting first step. If agencies are going to get more nimble and more able compete with the private car (let alone the private autonomous car), much more of that will be required. Without fine grained information on how its own riders are using their service, I can’t see how public transit agencies are able to thrive in a future marketplace of on-demand options.

Just to point out an obvious constraint to changing service patterns – you can’t start skipping stops and dispensing with the idea of routes until everyone is using a device that can convey information in real time (a smartphone, or something like it). Today, I suspect the number of daily bus riders using an app on a regular basis is still quite low.

And another disclaimer – in places where buses are already fast, frequent, and full, dynamic service changes probably won’t produce all that much benefit. But that’s a small slice of today’s transportation picture. Only about 2% of travel in the US is completed on public transportation. I think there are a lot more places that would benefit from nimbler bus service, and that’s a good thing for the potential growth of shared rides in the future.

All of these concepts are not wholly new – the International Transport Forum has modeled the most efficient possible public transport structure for Lisbon. While it kept the metro in place, it eliminated traditional fixed route bus service and replaced it with on-demand minibuses and shared taxis. A recent report by ITDP and UC Davis argued that transit will have to evolve and use smaller, on-demand vehicles where they make sense, in order to meet our long term climate objectives.

But what’s changed for me since I moved to San Francisco is that my commute is starting to give me just a hint of what that future might look. It’s exciting to see up close.

Montreal to NYC by Bus and Rail

The trip from Montreal to New York is surprisingly inconvenient. I had time to ponder potential improvements during a recent 12 hour train ride home. Here’s what I came up with.

I’m from Montreal but live in New York City, so I frequently make the trip between the two. For those who haven’t had the privilege, there are currently two ways to make the trip for those who can’t afford a flight or don’t want to drive: the bus, and the train. Both could use an upgrade.

First, the train. The train’s scheduled run time is about 11 hours, although my anecdotal experience suggests that an additional hour is not an uncommon delay. That means the trip is frequently as long as 12 hours, almost double the length of the driving alternative. The other struggle is frequency – there’s only 1 train per day, leaving in the morning and arriving in the evening.

Why is the train so unimaginably slow? There are two basic reasons. One is that the track north of Albany is slow and single tracked. New York to Albany is nearly half the mileage of the whole trip but takes only 2 hours and 20 minutes at its fastest. The stretch from Albany to Montreal takes 8 to 9 hours, despite covering roughly the same distance.

The bus is quicker, and completes the whole trip in a scheduled time of about 8 hours at its fastest. There are two reasons the bus is slower than a car – it makes a mysteriously long (30-45 minutes) service stop in Albany, and it takes longer to cross the border than a passenger car typically does. As with anything that travels on roads, it can also suffer from significant delays getting into and out of the congested core of Manhattan.

Is there a way to improve the two options to make them more competitive with the car? Although some have proposed a multi-billion dollar HSR program, there’s a much quicker approach that would yield enormous benefits for both riders and transport operators at minimal cost.  See the table below for a summary of the current situation.

Road Distance Train Travel Time Bus Travel Time
New York – Albany 150 miles 2h 20m 3h+ 
Albany – Montreal  220 miles 8h 30m 4h 30m+

The train is quickest south of Albany. It also provides the additional benefit of a reliable and congestion-free approach to Manhattan’s urban core. As an added bonus, it also has spectacular views of the Hudson for its entire length. The bus wins by an enormous time margin north of Albany. Why not combine the two to get the best of both?


The proposal is simple – passengers at Albany would transfer to a bus to complete the trip to Montreal (or vice versa) and shave about 4-5 hours off of of today’s train journey. Transfers between modes can be a pain, but they don’t have to be. The Albany train station could be configured to make the bus transfer quick and easy, cross ticketing (ie a single ticket for bus and rail) would make it seamless, and the buses could be timed to depart immediately after train arrivals. The best case scenario could get the total travel time below 7 hours and get travel time roughly to parity with the private car, with the added benefit of a congestion free approach to Manhattan’s Penn Station.

Aside from the clear passenger travel time benefits, there would be lots of operational gains for both bus and rail services to this change. As of right now, one of the train’s sources of delay is that it swaps out an electric locomotive for a diesel locomotive at Albany to complete the trip north to Montreal. This typically takes as long as 30 minutes. If the train ran only between Albany and New York, it could stay exclusively on electric power and gain back a large number of wasted man hours.

Even more beneficial, the two train sets currently providing 1 daily round trip on the 12-hour Montreal to New York segment could run 4 round trips on the the 3 hour trip from Albany to New York. Just by turning the trains back at Albany, you’d get 4 times more service over the Albany to NYC line using the same train equipment and crew. That’s a significant increase to the 13 daily round trips currently being offered on that line. 

Much like turning back trains at Albany improves Amtrak’s efficiency, preventing buses from entering New York City would makes buses more efficient. The traffic around New York City is severely detrimental for the operating efficiency of buses. Aside from making bus travel slower on average (which reduces the number of passenger miles a bus can serve in a given hour), congestion is unpredictable. That unpredictability requires bus operators to build additional slack into the bus schedule for buses heading into New York City. Keeping buses on the relatively uncongested Albany-Montreal branch would allow operators to tighten up schedules and run more frequent service at the same cost.

I used the word ‘operators’ deliberately – there’s no reason that multiple bus operators shouldn’t be encouraged to run the new Montreal-Albany route. Given that the goal here would be to attract choice riders, bus operators could compete to offer the best service – luxury buses, large seats with more legroom, etc. 

Even for those who believe that enhanced rail infrastructure is the ultimate solution, this intermediate and flexible step could help build ridership for mass ground transportation (ie, alternatives to air and private car travel) over time, helping make the justification for further investment more obvious.

Another advantage of creating the bus/rail combination is that service levels could be dramatically improved and tailored to demand.  Amtrak currently offers 1 train per day – it’s sometimes sold out at holidays, but it’s likely not terribly well utilized at most other times of year.  With the new model, there would now be 17 trains per day running between Albany and New York, and each could be combined with a bus leg to Montreal. This list of 17 departures would create a whole new realm of options. As just one example, a bus operator could launch a service from Montreal at 1AM to catch the 5:05AM train from Albany to NYC that arrives in NYC at 7:30AM.

There’s one other improvement that would make any option dramatically better: a dedicated border crossing at the Montreal bus station. There’s precedent for this – airline passengers already clear customs at the Montreal airport, even when departing for the United States. Clearing customs at the bus station (rather than the border crossing) would allow for much more certainty in bus travel times (by avoiding an unpredictable border), allowing for further tightening and cost efficiency for bus operators and better experience for riders. I’m sure there are 100s of obstacles to getting that done, but it’s a no brainer from a transport operator and rider experience perspective.

So what would all this cost? I don’t know, but infinitely less than a rail upgrade would cost to get anywhere near the travel time benefit described above. There are definitely obstacles to getting this done, but I think there’s something to the idea of a combination bus-rail alternative between NYC and Montreal.