The Bus Bunching Mystery

'Metro Route 7' by Oran

Bus bunching is something that’s often mentioned as a problem spot for bus reliability and particularly frustrating when riders have to wait 20 minutes longer than expected only to find two buses rumbling along one after the other.  As it turns out, however, bunching isn’t some systematic anomaly that no one has the answer to.  While there are a lot of factors that end up fluctating actual headways (as opposed to scheduled headways), late buses only exacerbate tardiness, therefore resulting in bunching.

More after the jump.

Earlier last month, Daniel Holz had the break-down behind the rather common-sense reason:

Putting this all together: if a random fluctuation creates a slow bus, then it will get slower and slower, and the bus behind it will get faster and faster, until the two buses meet up. At this point, the buses stick together, and are essentially incapable of separating. Thus, in general, buses will bunch up. This will usually happen in pairs, though on occasion triples and even quads may occur.

The reason behind bunching isn’t a new one, but particularly intriguing for those of us who have never bothered to find out why long waits would always end up being accompanied by long strings of buses.  Across the country, this problem permeates most bus systems operating routes with frequent enough headways, but is a particularly nasty stigma for Seattle where our city core is saturated with buses, especially during peak hours.

The main issue about bunching from a ‘data’ standpoint is that multiple buses on a run will end up having pretty shoddy on-time performance and service frequency.  Not only do the buses fail to adhere to their time schedule, but the headway intervals are also thrown out of whack.  Martin’s post about bus reliability metrics last year brings some good points to light.  TFL in London measures reliability by targeting what it calls “excess waiting time,” as opposed to Metro and ST’s “on-time” arrival metric here.

For high-ridership inner-city routes like the 7, 36, 48, 49, etc., riders are generally less concerned about the schedule as they are frequent service, so addressing “excess waiting time” is a better metric for those routes.  Because traffic patterns are extraneously dynamic and dedicating transit-only lanes are more-or-less politically infeasible, GPS tracking and TSP (transit signal priority) are hugely important to address service frequency.  For the city which had the highest transit mode share of all rail-less major cities (until last July), we have focused too much on service frequency at the expense of service quality.  In retrospect, Metro and SDOT have some catching up to do.




Comments

  1. ah wikipedia already has an article on this..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_bunching

    And as a matter of course, only with non caring bus drivers does it stay this way. As the first bus, once filled, can skips all stops where only people want to get on. And the second bus picks them up taking up the slack. Usually by the 3rd bus, things settle down, unless there is an accident or other unexpected obstructions.

    • Cyclist Mike says:

      I’ve actually seen this done here on the 3/4 routes from time to time, though only if the front driver knows that there is another behind him.

    • This happened all the time in Bellingham, but the drivers would skip as you say and live it to their cohort. Wasn’t a problem though because as a regular rider, you knew there was a bus or two behind.

    • This is easier said than done in many cases. Frequently passengers want to get off at the stop you most need to skip and leave for your follower. We can pass but it can be tricky – then there is that “non caring bus driver” that rides my tail until I have picked up the bulk of his load and *then* passes me so he can blast ahead to a nice leisurely layover. (They are rare, but I’ve got a couple of fellow drivers I wouldn’t mind seeing tossed from the Union)

      Sadly, Metro doesn’t have much training on the subject but they do try to address bunching. When I was driving the 44 in the mornings I would frequently get calls from the coordinator telling me to blank my signs and get moving. It worked for that route since most people were trying to get to the UW. Other routes where folks want stops throughout the route will not be as easy to get “unbunched”.

    • Gary,

      Actualy Metro policy is for drivers to blank their signs and skip only every OTHER stop when they see their follower behind them – and then only after getting permission from the Coordinator (who may or may not be able to answer the radio within a half an hour during rush times).

      Passengers who may not see the trailing bus may also call in and complain that a bus passes them up, resulting in the mandatory meeting between driver and Base Chief, which some of us prefer to avoid.

  2. gwen c. says:

    Ah, the empty 4 behind the packed-to-the-gills 3. It’s like a tradition.

    • Jeff Doppmann says:

      During my bus driving days I always mentioned that there was another 7,150,194,101 (depending what I was driving) behind me when we got bunched up and there would be seats on it and more often than not everyone at the stop would still want to get on my packed to the gills bus. I often wondered if they thought I was lying (even though I could see the bus in my mirrors) or actually missed human contact so much that getting on a crowded bus unnecessarily was a comfort.

      I prefer having four doors per vehicle!

      • crk on bellevue ave says:

        I always consider those people suckers and enjoy waiting the extra 30 seconds to catch the empty bus.

      • The risk you take when you do that is sometimes the bus behind doesn’t bother stopping at the stop because it sees the bus in front of it already has. If that happens, you could be waiting even longer to get picked up.

      • gwen c. says:

        I just make eye contact with the driver and wave. In 25+ years of riding the bus, this has never failed me here in Washington.

    • When I’m getting slammed and I know there is a bus a few minutes behind me I always tell intending passengers that they’ll get a seat on the bus behind me. In virtually *every* case they pile on anyway.

      My mantra as a passenger is to *always* take the 2nd bus and it almost always works out. Worst case, I’m a couple of minutes later than I had expected, but at least I had a seat.

      Cool idea for One Bus Away feature: Flag buses that are likely the lead bus in a “bus bunch”. If you know there will be a bus right behind that packed bus, you’re more likely to take it. Just a thought.

    • Having a full 4 behind an empty 3 is a different story. When I’ve driven the 4 and its full, I got on the PA and told folks that unless they were going on to 23rd/Judkins that they should take the trailing bus. Usually nobody gets off. Since they’re actually different routes – not sure this is a fair example.

      • Yeah, it’s only the same route in my world because i get off before they split. And if i can see a nice empty bus behind it, duh, i’m gonna get on it, be it a 2, 3, or 4. Preferably a 2. :)

  3. W. K. Lis says:

    “Please Exit Using Center Or Rear Doors” except for me of course.

    A pet peeve of mine are people who use the entrance door to exit, especially the able-bodied people. That slows down service because the people who want to get on, have to wait until the people exit.

    • You have to use the front door to exit if you’re headed away from downtown on a “pay as you leave” schedule.

      • Or it’s after 7 PM no matter where you are, though enforcement of this varies greatly from driver to driver.

      • Chris Stefan says:

        A lot of drivers on a crowded bus will tell people to exit via the back door even when it is pay as you leave or after 7. Though I’ve been on a few packed to the gills buses where the driver insists on everyone using the front door.

      • Andreas says:

        There are also the far too numerous drivers who, when it’s pay-as-you-leave, refuse to open the rear doors for boarders for fear that others will skip out without paying.

      • Metro has been issuing bulletins telling us to *NOT* open the rear door except for *low volume* stops. A good example is Rainier Ave & I-90 where you may be driving a packed 550, 212, or 218 but have one or two people in the back that want to get off. In the case of Mercer Island P&R where there are always a lot of people getting off, Metro’s policy dictates that we only open the front door. I don’t recall the exact wording but that’s how I read it.

        While I generally try to follow the policy, if I’ve got a REALLY packed bus, I’ll go ahead and open the door. If it’s just sorta packed then I’ll only do the front door and people file off pretty quickly.

      • Andreas says:

        Oh for pete’s sake. They’re culling stops to speed up service, but telling drivers to force all entrances & exits through one set of doors at high-volume stops?! Do these people have any damn idea how to run a transit system?

      • Andreas,

        The front door is where the fare box and ORCA reader are.

      • Andreas says:

        I’m well aware. What I’m saying is when it’s pay as you enter, there should be a policy of enter at the front, exit at the rear. Then when it’s pay as you leave, you simply reverse the flow: people enter through the rear doors, and exit through the front. You could even have drivers telling people to move to the front, just as you (should) tell them to move to the rear when it’s pay as you enter. Hell, aside from the elderly or disabled, you could simply not let people board at the front when it’s pay-as-you-leave. People could board and deboard simultaneously. There would be some semblance of efficiency.

        Instead what happens is a line of people queue up in the aisle to get off the bus while a crowd of people waits outside to board. We wait for every last person to fumble for their change and get off the bus before we can even start letting new passengers on. The stop takes two or three times as long as it could.

        The problems you describe with SRO buses and having to let people off at the rear when it’s pay as you leave could in large part be avoided with a reverse-flow, since people will have been pushed towards the front as more passengers got on in the rear. As it is, the reason people can’t make it up to the front to pay is because they got on in the front and moved to the back, as did everyone else. By switching when passengers pay but not how they board & deboard, Metro is creating a problem where one need not exist.

      • Andreas,

        The Ride Free Area throws a monkey wrench in your concept which while in theory might sound good – in reality tends not to be what people want or expect. People want to be able to board and leave the bus through both doors downtown. Arguments against eliminating the RFA entirely often mention the “down side” of not being able to use both doors for boarding/disembarking simultaneously, claiming it will slow down the process.

        “Simple” solutions are seldom as simple as they sound, nor do they often solve the problem they target.

        Want a real helpful idea (that also won’t happen)? Eliminate paper transfers and cash, go to an all-ORCA system and have ORCA readers at both front and back doors. Use both doors for loading and unloading at all hours.

        That is the only thing that will speed loading and unloading. Your “flow” system is less intuitive for riders. I don’t believe that Metro is or has “created a problem” here, just the realities and of providing public transportation and the fickle complexities of diverse human nature.

      • Andreas says:

        I’d love to see readers at all doors and POP implemented. But, yeah, it won’t happen.

        I definitely think the RFA needs to be eliminated. Whenever I’m downtown, I see buses standing with all doors open, and no one getting on or off through the back doors. Instead, there’s a line of tourists (or purists, or just plain stupid people) queued up at the front door, waiting for folks to exit the front door before they pile on. If there’s any speeding up of boarding and deboarding in the RFA, I’ve never seen it. Moreover, as I say, every pay-as-you-leave stop where all entrances and exits take place at one set of doors further slows the bus.

        When (if ever) was the last study done looking at whether or not the RFA speeds up the system downtown, much less as a whole?

      • I doubt you’ll find many drivers who will argue against POP and/or elimination of the Ride Free Area.

        As for your comments about folks boarding inside the RFA your experience is different than mine. Being part-time, I see mostly regular commuters who know to use both doors inside the RFA. During off-peak hours, RFA boarding speed is less important and there tends to be more slack in the schedules. (Again, from my limited off-peak driving experiences)

        During rush hour, trust me – RFA *does* speed things up. But a well-designed POP system with off-bus payment at busy stops could be almost as effective.

      • Andreas,

        If drivers were afraid of people leaving without paying – we’d live in constant fear.

        Since the enhanced focus on ORCA use, we’ve received printed memos asking us to follow the front door at pay as you leave stops in order to make sure we’re getting good ORCA data.

        I will usually ignore this protocol, depending on the route and the mood of the crowd. Example: driving the #10 up Pine Street at rush hour I’ll usually tell folks that they can exit via any door “until things clear out a bit”. Most have been pretty good about coming up front to pay. The down side is that I don’t always see who gets off the back and when they get on front to pay I’ve reflexively tried to stop them as I’d stop any oncoming passenger, saying “pay as you leave, please.”

      • So YOU’RE “The other driver”

        Damn you man! :)

      • What can I say. I’m a maverick.

  4. Charles says:

    Bus bunching was quite a problem on the CTA but this past year they instituted some procedural changes and its not as common this year as a result.

    As someone described above, a bus behind is free to move ahead of a bus even if it puts it ahead of its schedule. It all balances out in the end.

    • Charles,

      a bus behind is free to move ahead of a bus even if it puts it ahead of its schedule

      Not true at Metro. Being ahead of schedule is a PR-1 (Personnel Report i.e. being “written up”) offense.

  5. Mark Dublin says:

    On really busy systems like SF Muni, supervisors turn back trolleybuses to maintain headway- necessitating turnback wire, of course. Or battery packs on trolleybuses. Route 44 doesn’t have a single turnback loop west of the U-District.

    Might help if drivers on a heavy route had their own radio channel, and could communicate with each other about blanking signs, or holding back.

    “Dedicated transit-only lanes are more-or-less politically infeasible?” When was the last time anybody took the idea to the ballot? Might be time.

    Seriously, if anybody is serious about headways, or anything else related to decent service, you’ve got to get regular traffic out of the way of the bus.

    Mark Dublin

  6. Stephen says:

    You think the solution would be fairly trivial. Since Metro tracks their buses (albeit without the accuracy of GPS) when two buses of the same route get within a certain distance it could trigger a “bus bunching” alert. Then they radio the driver of the first bus and let them know to switch into “dropoff only” mode, skipping any stop that isn’t requested by a passenger. Sure it would fail in the rare cases that every stop has a dropoff, but that’s not very common on most of the routes I’ve ridden.
    I really wish Metro would loosen it’s stop skipping policy; as I’ve read it’s only permissible with a direct order from dispatch. It’s really annoying to stand on a packed bus and have the driver stop at every stop to let people know they’re full and won’t be letting anyone on. Granted this just increases my appreciation for drivers with the balls to skip stops in these situations! (This is a HUGE problem on the 68 and 372 because in the morning they’re completely full by the time they reach 55th and can’t pick up the 20+ people at each of the pre-campus stops! Although in this case I think the solution is to have those buses completely SKIP those stops between 8-10am and run an short local route that just does loops through campus and those stops, since there’s 3 stops with at least 20 people waiting to go on camps and the result is usually a line of 68s and 372s stretching from campus to 55th, each picking up ~5 passengers before they’re full.)

    • Adam B. Parast says:

      This takes operation resources and lets face it this isn’t Metro’s strong point.

  7. Now that the 8 is going all the way to Rainier Beach, I’d add it to the “bus bunching” routes, particularly around the hour at the start or end of the school day. Ah, living in South Seattle. Ain’t it grand.

  8. This happened to me on Monday. I was waiting for the southbound 16 at Aurora and Galer. 15 minutes passed its scheduled arrival time without a single southbound bus going by. When it finally showed up it was bunched up with the 358, the 5, and another southbound 16. Nearly missed my transfer to the last southbound 595 because of it.

  9. Mike Skehan says:

    Lots of drivers know who there leader is, and drive accordingly – especially on trolley routes. Habitually ‘pokey’ leaders mean you leave your start point a few minutes late, then dog it till you catch a glimps. Hang back until you you can do some good nearing downtown, then pull in behind, smile and wave :)
    Screaming leaders require you to leave a minute early, and go hard all the way. Lagging behind, just makes things worse, as your headway increases, thereby increasing the number of boarders. What your looking for is the sweet spot.
    Of course, when your leader has a couple of lifts, then forget it. Your sunk!
    Bunch Away!

  10. What do John Niles and his crew think is the solution to this problem?

    • Given his other interests I would guess that John Niles thinks the solution is telecommuting. :-)

      • The bus bunching problem can be mitigated with information displays and operating policies, some of which are described in this thread. There is an extensive research literature on the problem. It’s a problem that has to be vigorously attacked, and the mathematics inexorably drive the problem. I remember being briefed on the mathematics of the problem for the first time in 1978 by MIT professor Dick Larsen.

        There is an online simulator of bunching that’s fun to play with at http://turing.iimas.unam.mx/~cgg/NetLogo/metro.html

        By the way, last time I visited Washington, DC, train bunching at some of the center city Metro Rail subway stations was quite evident.

        Telecommuting the solution to transportation — NO. You perhaps haven’t read my work on the topic, such as Beyond Telecommuting for Department of Energy in the 1990s. Telecommuting has been growing steadily since the 1980s, and physical transport, including transport, has been growing right along with it. The rise of the Internet has made travel more efficient, but has not reduced travel volumes, as long as travel is possible. At the same time, when a blizzard or earthquake or flu epidemic strikes, the beneficial substitution effect of telecommuting can be massive, short-term. In the long-term, face-to-face interaction has a multitude of differentiating characteristics that make it more attractive than remote interaction through the Internet.

      • Adam B. Parast says:

        … but rail or BRT systems with POP don’t experience this problem nearly to the same degree. This is simply because the dwell time is much less dependent on the number of boarding and aligning and more fixed and based on slowing down, opening doors, closing doors, and accelerating. Also rail systems in particular have much better interior circulation so they handle crush loads much better than buses.

        If you really want to reduce bus bunching for regular buses you need faster wheel chair locking systems, make the system POP and have TSP to help the bus catch up. I think we can both agree that this should be implemented on all trunk bus routes although I don’t see that happening for many many years.

  11. The immediate solution is simple, and has been already given by several posters here. The lead bus skips stops where nobody wants to exit the bus, allowing it to move faster than the bus behind it.

    The ultimate solution is three wide doors on each bus, off-board payment, onboard bicycle racks, and wheelchairs that don’t need to be strapped down, as on SWIFT buses. I have only ridden SWIFT one round trip, but dwell times were between 10 and 20 seconds at each stop, including a bicycle boarding and deboarding, which caused no delay whatsoever. I did not see any wheelchair board or deboard on that trip, but have heard from a driver that wheelchairs are virtually never strapped down on SWIFT (although wheelchair passengers can request that).

    • Chris Stefan says:

      None of this is a bad idea, and I’d really like to see it, especially on high-ridership routes. However keep in mind this will require a fair bit of capital and increased maintenance and operating costs. At the very least you’d have to run more buses on some routes as capacity will be reduced because of the additional doors and internal bike racks.

      • Jason Mitchell says:

        +1. Can’t wait for the day when our highest-ridership routes have many BRT features.

      • Doors do not reduce capacity. Internal bike racks, yes. But SWIFT buses supposedly have approximately the same capacity as Metro 60-foot buses. Fewer seats on SWIFT buses, but more room for standees, and standees take less space than seated passengers.

        SWIFT cost $29.5 million. Central Link cost $2.6 billion. The money spent on Central Link could have funded dozens of SWIFT-type bus route improvements.

      • Sound Transit has spent nearly a billion dollars on bus system improvements, its not like the only major investment has been light rail.

      • http://www.soundtransit.org/Documents/pdf/newsroom/Ridership_Q4_2009%20.pdf

        For the 4th quarter 2009 Average Weekday Boardings:

        ST Express Bus………………45,000

        Sounder Commuter Rail…………9,000

        Central Link light rail………15,000

        Which one has ST spent the most money on?

        Which one is more cost-effective?

      • So you’re doing an ROI calculation on a bus system that’s had 14 years to build ridership vs. an unfinished light rail line that’s been open for 9 months?

      • I am giving the statistics that are available today.

        Sounder trains have been operating a lot longer than 9 months.

        Even ST’s own projections say that Central Link will carry about 45,000 boardings per day by 2030. I would imagine ST Express will be carrying well over 45,000 boardings by 2030, wouldn’t you?

        Which cost more, ST Express bus service, or Central Link light rail?

        How much did ST spend on Sounder trains, compared to Express buses? Which carries more passengers per day?

        Which of the three is more cost-effective?

      • “I am giving the statistics that are available today.”

        And that’s your entire problem, you never think about tomorrow.

        In 2030 light rail will be far more cost effective to operate than buses, and the capital cost will be a distant memory.

      • Chris Stefan says:

        Even ST’s own projections say that Central Link will carry about 45,000 boardings per day by 2030. I would imagine ST Express will be carrying well over 45,000 boardings by 2030, wouldn’t you?

        First you are ignoring the entire network that will be in place by 2030. Most notably the Light Rail segment between Downtown and Lynnwood. By 2030 Seattle is quite likely to have one of the highest ridership light rail systems in the country. Likely exceeded only by Boston (they are way far ahead of everyone else) and LA (it is a huge city and there are a scad of lines due to be built in the next 20 years).

        Second those ST express buses are an important component of Sounder service today and will be an important component of Link in 2030 providing feeder service.

        Finally how do you keep your magic buses from getting stuck in traffic? If you want transit lanes where do you get the ROW from? Where do you get layover space? How do you deal with the rather serious overloading of bus zones in Downtown and elsewhere. Then there is the small matter of operating cost.

      • Adam B. Parast says:

        Norman this is off topic.

      • Jason Mitchell says:

        Thank you, Adam. This consistently off-topic (and consistently single-topic) stuff really makes the site less pleasant to visit. And well-intentioned folks never know whether to let it stand or to invest the time to respond, as moderation seems hit or miss lately.

  12. Speaking of bunching, today was a Horrible Day in Transit for me.

    First, I went into the University Street station. Now the problem with us Bus Tunnel Shuttlers is that the buses stop in three different places…so I have to decide where to stand to get on the bus to take me 2 stops. Meanwhile, the bus tunnel exiting U. St. gets jammed up — again! — and that delays me.

    But does it matter? No, because the 5:15 Sounder I rushed to get to was delayed by like 45 minutes at King Street because of a “blockage on the tracks”.

    See, even when you spend the money on “transit” there’s all kinds of traffic jams. I know…I grew up in New York. But no, go ahead, tell me how another 20 billion will “solve the problems”…

    • Mark Dublin says:

      Depends how it’s spent. 20 billion could buy a lot of right of way with no cars in the way of transit.

      Transit doesn’t keep people from getting into traffic jams. It just makes it possible for those of us who don’t feel like doing that to stay out of them.

      To me, the cost of a decent transit system is the best-spent part of my automobile maintenance budget. Over the last fifteen years I’ve torn up two good cars in suburban traffic, and want to keep the one I’ve got for the rest of my driving days.

      I’m for hugely-improved transit precisely because I do love my car.

      Mark Dublin

    • Reminds me of fall in London. A frequent announcement was “Delays due to leaves on the tracks” or something like that. They’ve been running trains in England for over 150 years and they haven’t figured out how to clean the leaves off of the tracks yet?

    • Adam B. Parast says:

      I like that buses entering the tunnel at the convention center have to stop at 4 stop signs and those gates before they are even in the tunnel. Talk about doing a good job of trying to slow down buses at much as humanly possible.

  13. I’ve seen a lot of bus bunching in Simutrans too, and it’s really annoying. Often I’ll have two buses on a route, and they’ll eventually end up bunching together because they have to wait for cross-traffic or traffic lights. It creates all sorts of capacity problems.

    I realize Simutrans is just a simulation game, but it really bugs me.

  14. Greenwood Rider says:

    There are lots of solutions, but they require the agency to make reliability a priority. In the normal case, only centralized dispatchers make service control decisions (not field supervisors), and they are swamped handling incidents and lost purses. Drivers are given risk-averse operating rules that don’t allow them to act on their own to improve reliability, and they are not given information they would need to do so. Agencies find it more acceptable to ask for more service hours than to devote money to service quality.

    Training is one solution — that is, training drivers to take action when they see there is a bunching problem. There should be a set of understood responses, like dropping off only or passing (only for diesels), so drivers know they are expected to act that way, and their leaders and followers know what they are supposed to do in response. Most important is to know that a driver is not risking his or her job by doing the right thing.

    Active service control is another. If service control is a priority, then dispatchers can do a lot to control spacing between buses. At minimum they can call a bus that’s too close to its leader and ask them to slow down. At maximum they can use decision rules to express a bus or turn it back prematurely and put its passengers on the following bus to get back on schedule.

    There is a huge potential for technology too. Once Metro gets its new on-board computers and GPS (one of these days), it would not be difficult to give drivers a graphic display showing how close they are to their leader and follower. If the driver sees his or her job as maintaining a headway, that sort of display would give the driver the tools to do his/her job. Or, if the goal of signal priority systems was to maintain headways, then signal priority systems could slow or speed buses as needed to maintain headway spacing.

    All of these rely on having a culture that’s focused on service quality, and a relationship with drivers that treats them as professionals charged with maintaining their schedule or headway and giving them the tools to do so. It may also require establishing a separate group of service control staff that focuses only on active schedule and headway maintenance rather than on responding to accidents, incidents, breakdowns and security issues that dominate the dispatchers’ job today.

    • Mark Dublin says:

      Please send a copy of this to Dow Constantine, along with a calculation: I’ve been told an operating hour for a bus costs $100. Divide that by sixty to get the cost of one minute of operating delay- about $1.67.

      Adds up. So a tight budget is an excellent financial reason to do everything you’re proposing.

      Mark Dublin

      • Mark,

        Divide that by sixty to get the cost of one minute of operating delay- about $1.67.

        The problem with your presumption here is that 1 minute delay winds up meaning that bus is in service for an additional minute. Thanks to “recovery time”, it usually doesn’t work out that way.

        As it is, the County is looking at reducing “recovery time” – the time that buses are scheduled to layover at given terminals before commencing their next trip – using newly purchased HASTUS modules. That this will inevitably cut down on driver rest time – including time to do something as simple as use the restroom – isn’t given much attention at all.

      • Adam B. Parast says:

        Jeff I’m sure those concerns will be addressed but I think it is stupid to waste money because drivers might need to use the restroom. There is a balancing point and I think it’s generally agreed that Metro has gone beyond that point.

      • Adam,

        You “think it’s stupid to waste money because drivers might need to use the restroom”?

        Are you KIDDING me? Using the restroom isn’t an OPTION, pal, it’s a necessity you folks in offices (and I when I did white collar work) take for granted. So is this elusive thing called “down time”. Most if not all jobs experience as much mor more “down time” than driving a Metro bus.

        And as far as “general agreement” regarding “balancing point” – I call B.S. Who do you claim to speak for?

      • Adam B. Parast says:

        I think you took my comment way too literally. I obviously think that drivers should have time to relieve themselves. I’m obviously not that stupid. What I’m saying is that I rather have a bus be 5 minutes late so a drive can use the restroom every once in a while, than have ~25% percent of operating time wasted in layovers.

        As for the balancing point that was one the most significant finding of the audit that Metro did last year. You can look it up if you want to.

      • 25% of operating time is not “wasted on layovers”. What a ridiculous statement.

        The audit was filled with errors, omissions and biases. If you’d care to cite a specific section, I’d be happy to address it. I’ve already take on a couple of points on my own blog, and will be dealing with this layover issue next.

        FYI, ATU 587 recently did a survey of its members regarding prioritizing issues for the upcoming contract. The #1 issue identified by all drivers, full or part time was the lack of rest periods and break times. While there are aberrations in the system where layovers can look long (depending on traffic conditions), the vast majority of terminal layovers are quite short to nonexistent, and basic facilities for drivers (such as restrooms within walking distance to the terminal) sorely lacking.

        This mewling about “wasted time” at layovers is a major red herring promoted by bean-counters kowtowing to management wanting to pimp a new software purchase (the HASTUS module) and know-nothing mainstream consumers who bristle when they see a bus driver opening a newspaper at a layover and start crying about their tax dollars paying some lowly blue collar worker to take a break.

  15. So does this explain the consistently late #27s eastbound in the afternoon? I often wonder why Metro doesn’t just adjust the schedule.

    • Well the 27′s start as a 17, so the delay can come from preety much anything along the 17 route, or somewhere in downtown. And the 17 has to deal with the Ballard bridge, and whle it doesn’t cross the Fremont Bridge, if it opens, it can still be affected by the traffic on the south side of it. Getting through the intersections on 9 Ave N at Broad and Mercer can be bad. And turning from Westlake onto Stewart in the PM rush can be a problem too. There are many factors of why buses can be late, especially if it is linked to another route.

      • And yes Metro could adjust the schedules, but somedays when everything is good, the bus could run really early, so you can’t add too much time to schedules. I drive many routes that I believe have way too much time built in for rush hour. Some days you need it, and you will still run late, but other days when traffic is good, you have to drive painfully slow and wait at timepoints so you won’t be early.

      • Andreas says:

        Does Metro have any policy re announcing waiting at timepoints? A simple PA announcement from the driver that “We’re running ahead of schedule, so we’ll be waiting here for a couple minutes” would be nice, but in 15 years of relatively frequent Metro ridership I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like that (though I think very few buses in those 15 years were ever actually running ahead of sked).

      • David Seater says:

        This happens to me fairly often on the 545 Westbound at Redmond Transit Center. In the early evening/late afternoon it gets there a minute or two early. Some drivers wait, others don’t. I think I’ve heard an announcement about the wait only once.

  16. alexjonlin says:

    Why is there frequently bunching of outbound buses in the tunnel? The other day I saw three NB 41s in a row at Westlake. The first two were incredibly packed and had to turn away passengers, and the third left with about a third of the seats full. Sometimes, I’ve even seen two 70 series buses (not including 76/77) in a row coming straight out of the layover spot south of IDS. Do they not have enough buffer time to layover?

    • alexjonlin,

      The tunnel is a good example of a place where buses can’t merely blank their signs and skip stops.

    • If you see 2 70 series coaches leaving together, it’s because one was running late and is late leaving. Driver’s can take a 5 minute break on each end even if the we are late. We have to use the bathrooms too! So yes you see it happen, but they not scheduled to leave so close together. Plus 70 series tunnel routes have short layovers at IDS so you can easily be leaving late.

    • Another reason is that a 7-8 minute headway can get pretty screwed up by Link operations. An example: a train activates the signals in IDS right when a 7X is supposed to start, then the line of 550s, 21Xs and 10Xs take priority until the next train comes along. 5, maybe 6 minutes right there. (Yet still, people always take the first 7X that comes by.)

  17. There are some bad bus stops that contribute to bunching. One I have to deal with frequently is the VA Medical Center. I recently was in the third of three 60s lined up to get to the curb stop at the building-entrance end of their poorly-managed valet parking lot. This stop costs taxpayers a lot of money in extra time for each bus to make a specialty stop, as well as the time it takes Access vans to get to the same pickup/dropoff point, waiting single file in line with private cars much of the way leading to their choked entrance.

    If the VA can’t come up with a better way to allow buses to pull in, I think Metro should eliminate this stop, and make it the responsibility of patients riding the fixed routes to get from a streetside bus stop to the front door (and vice versa).

  18. Consider also what Metro does to CT’s SWIFT. SWIFT runs (or use to run) every 10 minutes. The 358 arrives at Aurora Village every half hour. So for those commuting cross-county along Aurora going north, there is likely an effect of one filled bus and two buses that start almost empty every half hour.

    Metro could cooperate with SWIFT by moving the RapidRide Line E to the front of the line for implementation. I suspect that SWIFT won’t survive too well waiting three more years for the Aurora Village connection to happen.

    I see it coming, sadly: SWIFT was here yesterday and E … is coming … tomorrow.

    • Mike Orr says:

      Nobody rides Swift from Edmonds to Edmonds CC, or from Lynnwood to Everett? The 358 is often full but people trickle off all along the line. Only a handful of people per bus transfer at Aurora Village, usually six or less from what I’ve seen. Many of those who used to come from downtown now take ST Express.

      In any case, 30-minute headways are only in the evening. Midday it’s every 15 minutes, and Sundays every 20 minutes.

      I’m sure Swift will last no matter what happens to the 358. The local bus took a long time to get from 244th Street to 200th Street. In one swoop Snohomish County improved its transit service dramatically, because Swift is the only frequent, non-slow route. The 99 corridor is long and populous, and those who ride transit regularly (not just for work) have moved as close to it as they can.

  19. Guy on Beacon Hill says:

    Accidents, wheelchairs and congestion may cause sporadic bus bunches, but Metro has plenty of instances where bunching is so predictable and consistent that there needs to be a look at rewritting schedules. I’ve seen the 5/54/55 buses bunched for 10+ years, but the schedule doesn’t seem to change. The 36 used to run with an 8/12/8/12 headway pattern during midday. The result was 2 buses arriving every 20 minutes and the first bus to arrive was an SRO standard size trolley followed by a sparsely occupied articulated diesel. Metro finally changed that schedule just before the Link opening, but what were the schedule writers thinking?

    When diesels get bunched the second bus can overtake the first bus, but with a trolley bus it’s a little more complicated. The lead trolley could announce that it’s going to run without stops to a certain point farther down the line, but with the variety of languages spoken on most trolley routes, it might be a difficult concept to communicate.

    • There is no need to announce “no stops except for dropoffs” as the only riders affected are those waiting at the stops to be picked up and they can’t hear the announcement!

      Clearly GPS tracking with a display for the driver is what is needed, and let them decide whether to go into no pickup mode or not.

      • Any solution that involved buses not stopping to pick people up had better also include setting the sign to “Not in service”. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting for a 20-minutes-late 48 and seeing the first 48 that comes cruise past without picking you up after you’ve been waiting for 20 minutes.

      • Steve,

        The last time I skipped stops (driving the #10) and put “Out of Service” on my signage, I got a call on the radio from a District Supervisor *while I was driving the bus* tell me I’d damn well better put my signs back to route or I’d get written up as I wasn’t scheduled to go out of service.

      • Adam B. Parast says:

        What is the solution? Issues like this are why most people view Metro as a unresponsive and inefficient bureaucracy.

      • Gary,

        [b]There is no need to announce “no stops except for dropoffs”[/b]

        Yes, there is. People on your bus may not bother to pull the cord for their stop if they thing you’ll be stopping anyway – such as when approaching a bus stop full of waiting passengers. The other reason is to explain to the folks on-board why all of those passengers waiting at the stop that you just passed up are waving, shouting obscenities, and showing you their middle-finger as you drive by them without stopping.

      • Mike Skehan says:

        Plus, if you announce it, then some of the bus riders can communicate back to the people at the stop – you know, middle finger talk.

  20. No “mystery” here. Ask any driver. The issue is seen most often on routes that run most often, as even a minor delay of one bus can lead to the ‘phenomenon’. I’ve actually had 3 #12′s in a row catch up to one another at Interlaken Park on game day during the Summer due to problems on 1st Avenue with traffic.

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