Advocates of "bus rapid transit" say the country is wasting billions of dollars to build glitzy urban rail systems when people can travel more cheaply and with less environmental impact by bus.
Bus rapid transit, or BRT, should not be confused with traditional urban bus systems, its most fervent advocates point out.
New showcase systems in Los Angeles; Adelaide, Australia; Bogota, Colombia and other cities have been received enthusiastically by commuters.
So why the disconnect between cost and federal funding?
"To be quite blunt about it, there's a lot more money to be made building rail systems than there is building BRT systems," he said. "So you have major engineering and construction firms lobbying cities to build rail so they can make more money."
In addition to the local preference for rail systems, the federal transit agency is hamstrung by congressional earmarks in its budget.
...rail-based plans were often viewed as the mark of "a world-class city" and an image-enhancer that could attract developers.