Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I thought this comment by Engineer Scotty over at Portland Transport was quite adroit.
Imagine if a transit agency acted like (and had the political and financial resources to do so) ODOT or WDOT. There would be "bus levels of service", ranging from A to F or so, allocated as follows:

Level A: Everyone can sit where they want.
Level B: Passengers have to occasionally say "excuse me" as they walk past other (seated) passengers while boarding or disembarking.
Level C: Someone has to sit next to a stranger, without an intervening empty seat.
Level D: Passengers have to look real hard to find the few empty seats that are remaining; the aisle may occasionally be blocked.
Level E: The bus is SRO.
Level F: The bus is crushloaded.

Any level of service below C would be considered an unacceptable level of service, and would cause planners to add additional buses to the route. But since this is the DOT thinking, they would be adding buses ALL THROUGHOUT THE DAY, not just during the AM and PM rush.

It says a lot, I think, that transit agencies are frequently encouraged to increase usage of existing services (i.e. add congestion), but DOTs are permitted to try and build their way out of it.

Similarly, Jarrett made a comment about how if all your favorite restaurants were empty, you'd likely not have a restaurant to eat at anymore. The ensuing comments are likely to be of interest.


Anonymous said...

The comment isn't that clever. His LOS "ideas" come directly from the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual—2nd Edition

Anonymous said...

Though here an F is a success & business is good.

Just with highways you want lots of bumper to bumper traffic, because your revenue comes through burning gas.

Alon Levy said...

Actually, LOS exists on transit systems - New York uses it to figure out where its worst capacity issues are, and doesn't scruple to build a $1.7 billion/km subway as a way out of service level F. And no, SRO isn't level E - it's more like level B.

Bob Davis said...

San Francisco Muni just cut two bus lines (which started out as cable car lines in the 1880's) because they weren't crowded enough. It sounded like they were going back to the old "It's the straphangers who pay the dividends" school of thought. Unfortunately for transit boosters, crowded buses and trains are likely to send "riders by choice" right back to their automobiles and SUV's. Let's face it, if given the option just about everyone would prefer a chauffeur-driven limousine to get around town.

Alon Levy said...

No, Bob, they're back to the "Buses should not run empty" theory, which is how buses and trains run in pretty much every other country.

And no, you don't need to run empty vehicles to attract the upper class choice riders. Give them good service and they'll stand. The people standing on Metro-North trains from Stamford to New York aren't poor.

EngineerScotty said...

For what its worth, I haven't read the Transit Capacity and QoS manual, but I'm not surprised that it exists in official form.

My intent was not so suggest that bus QoS is a revolutionary or new idea--it's not. My intent was to point out how the vastly different levels of funding for road and transit produces different viewpoints of capacity utilization. In both cases, there is a point at which a particular capacity causes the service to degrade--whether its passengers having to stand on a bus, which slows boarding times and takes away the "able to read or do work" benefit of not driving; or traffic jams on the freeway (which waste gas and cause the trip to be longer). But the economics of transit are such that transit agencies TRY to maximize utilization, whereas road agencies often try to maximize level of service by adding capacity to decrease utilization.

Imagine a world where transit agencies had gazillion-dollar budgets and could ensure nobody had to wait more than ten minutes to get a seat--and would get one when they boarded--but auto commuters were all crammed onto the same two-lane road with stoplights. Kind of like the old bumpersticker about the Air Force needing to hold bake sales to buy bombers, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Bob, good that you mention Muni... There also ought to be some more levels below F...

Level G... some folks get left behind at the stop because the bus is already crush loaded and there's no room to get on.

Level H... driver doesn't even bother to stop.