This is part six of my series looking into how we can make big improvements to bus journeys through relatively small changes.
- In part one I looked at Khyber Pass and the need for us to be more flexible in providing better bus lanes.
- In part two I looked at how better bus priority measures can help improve the quality of our town centres.
- In part three I looked at Great South Road between Newmarket and Ellerslie
- In part four I looked at some of the changes we need to make to Link Bus services
- In part five I looked at some issues with the process for setting bus and transit lanes
For part six of these series we are going to look at how to improve dwell times as well as discuss whether we are managing buses right.
Improving Dwell Times
Some of the ways we can make Auckland bus services better is by reducing dwells at stations either by speeding up boarding or alighting.
Dwell times have already improved a lot in recent years, thanks to the very high use of the HOP card. With no need for slow driver interaction, this has reduced dwells immensely. It’s hard to imagine the mess we would have with today’s ridership numbers with everyone queuing up to have the driver individually press a series of buttons to issue a ticket.
Still, more can be done and we should continue to learn from what works well overseas, such as in Melbourne – which I wrote about last year. In Melbourne it is so much easier to buy a Myki compared to buying a HOP card (I know Myki has immense flaws such as cost amongst other issues, but the accessibility of getting a card isn’t one of them). The easier it is for a tourists, first time & occasional users to acquire a card, the closer we will get to 100% usage of HOP, and may even mean we can look at cashless in some locations (especially the city centre) in the future.
Another way we can improve dwell times is through all door boarding which is in use for the Northern Express – but weirdly for no other bus routes. AT should really consider this at busy major stops.
The Webster Ave Trial in New York City led to impressive improvements, according to NACTO:
Comparing service from a year before installation to a year after, bus travel times through the corridor dropped 19% to 23% for rapid buses. A Bx41 SBS trip during the PM peak fell to 40 minutes, compared to 52 minutes on the previously operated Bx41 Limited. The local bus also saw benefits, with trip times reduced by 11 to 17%
Similar results were seen in San Francisco
San Francisco shows the specific benefit of all-door boarding. At busy stops, a 38% reduction in entry/exit time was found for buses: 1.5 seconds per customer, in a system with 100 boardings per bus in the peak hour. Transit travel speeds increased 2% on average after implementation. Coupled with improved enforcement, fare evasion dropped from 9.5% to 7.9%, reducing estimated fare loss nearly $2 million.
Another way is to make sure all new buses definitely consider dwell times as part of the design for example around doors. More education around double deckers could help too. Don’t be that person who gets on at Akoranga, goes to the top deck and gets off Fanshawe. Don’t be that person, just don’t.
Smarter Use of Buses
One of the most frustrating things I see on the network is uneven loadings, for example, seeing an empty bus leave straight after a full one on a busy route. You will often see this in the evening peak with the Dominion Rd buses where a late bus pull in, fill up to standing room only then straight after another bus will pull up. Of course, with everyone waiting having packed onto the first bus and the second bus timetabled to go it leaves at the same time or very shortly after with hardly any people on it. When you get over a certain buses per hour, keeping rigidly to the timetable becomes rather silly and actually counter productive.
It seems on busy bus corridors AT has just kept adding more buses, rather than more actively managing the dispatch of services to encourage more even loading of buses. Adding extra peak time services is really expensive (you need a new vehicle and driver), so there are some huge operational efficiencies to be found through getting smarter about bus operations instead of just throwing peak capacity at the problem all the time.
I often also used to see this on Mt Eden Rd in the mornings citybound, where you will see a single decker bus nearly full with an empty double-decker bus bunching straight behind.
I’m sure there are plenty of ways that this is managed overseas, please comment below if you have any ideas on how to better manage these buses or know about any ideas used overseas on busy bus corridors.
Some of the technology identified in the Advanced Bus Solution, which we rightly ridiculed as a poorly developed alternative to Dominion Road LRT, might actually be useful for squeezing more out of some of our other busy busy corridors. These slides are taken from the publicly released reports I read at the time.
- buses can be linked to the traffic light system to reduce the time they spend waiting at red lights
- less focus on strict timetables but ensuring buses are always coming a few minutes apart
- a high degree of monitoring of routes, which can be done with either data from the previous weeks operations, or even live from a control centre.
Where AT are doing a good job (and hopefully we will see more of this) is the move to higher capacity buses, whether this is double deckers or newer triple axle single decker buses replacing those really inefficient small double axle buses.
I hope AT do study into how future fleet procurement can result in even higher capacity buses, for example I would be interested to know if higher capacity metro-style buses for inner isthmus bus routes with less seating and more standing room could work, like Matt has proposed we could do for our trains.
Another possibility is looking into the potential for articulated buses that common in Europe and proposed in Advanced Bus Study for routes which are unlikely to need Light Rail in the foreseeable future, or earlier procurement of electric buses than the agreement Phil Goff has signed for procurement of only zero-emission buses from 2025.
Finally, a key issue that drives down the efficiency of our bus system are “padded timetables”, which is when the timetable is based on a “worst case scenario” for a route’s running time – meaning the bus or train needs to travel much slower than it should. There’s no doubt Auckland Transport uses massively padded timetables to help improve service punctuality performance, especially on the rail network that continues to run slower than when we ran clapped-out old diesel trains. For buses, padded timetables are a bit more necessary because routes without bus lanes are subject to the highly variable impacts of congestion. Nevertheless, padded timetables are terrible as not only do they create slower journeys, they also mean we are wasting lots of OPEX running more buses per hour on a route than we need to. The other day I saw a route 18 bus laying over behind the next 18, this means that bus with its driver would have been laying over for more than 15 minutes waiting which is a complete waste of money.
Implementing all-door boarding and managing our buses better could for a very low cost, pay huge dividends in both cost savings and travel time improvements.