National Academies Press: OpenBook

Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds (2014)

Chapter: Chapter Four - Agency Assessment of Actions to Improve Bus Speeds

« Previous: Chapter Three - Survey Results
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Agency Assessment of Actions to Improve Bus Speeds ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22421.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Agency Assessment of Actions to Improve Bus Speeds ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22421.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Agency Assessment of Actions to Improve Bus Speeds ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22421.
×
Page 29
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Agency Assessment of Actions to Improve Bus Speeds ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22421.
×
Page 30
Page 31
Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Agency Assessment of Actions to Improve Bus Speeds ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22421.
×
Page 31
Page 32
Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Agency Assessment of Actions to Improve Bus Speeds ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2014. Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/22421.
×
Page 32

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28 is seen in overcrowding (a result of less seating capacity in low-floor buses) and transfer-related issues (greater need to transfer as a result of route truncations or rerouting or more frequent missed connections because of changes in hold- time policy). Several agencies noted that improvements to bus speeds are being overwhelmed by continuing increases in traffic con- gestion and transit ridership. This phenomenon affects agency credibility and contributes to customer resentment. Cost and funding availability are also issues, primarily on the capital side but operationally in terms of continued local service on limited-stop and BRT corridors. Two agencies noted that the actions taken were not comprehensive, resulting in minor improvements perceived as “good enough.” Fifteen percent of all respondents reported no drawbacks. Other issues mentioned by fewer than 5% of respondents are grouped in the “other” category in Table 26. These included community complaints, stakeholder education, complaints regarding unsafe driving by operators, the tension between improving on-time performance and improving bus speeds, the unpopularity of headway-based schedules among opera- tions supervisors, and capacity constraints of park-and-ride lots as a limiting factor in rerouting routes by means of HOV freeway lanes. Table 27 reports the most successful (as defined by the respondents) actions taken. There is no consensus regarding the most effective single action to improve speeds. Consoli- dating stops was most frequently mentioned, but only 20% of responding agencies cited this action. Respondents gave multiple responses despite the phrasing of the question; some indicated that it was difficult to separate the impacts of actions taken together. Although not definitive, Table 27 suggests an ordering of actions by effectiveness. The most effective among non– BRT-related actions include stop consolidation, route restruc- ture, fare policy or fare payment (off-board fare collection usually is associated with BRT, but there are other actions in this category), vehicle size or configuration, and limited-stop service. One agency reported that eliminating paper transfers was the biggest single factor in improving bus speeds. TSP and reserved bus lanes or guideways were called out as effec- tive components of BRT service, although these actions have also been implemented for non-BRT service. INTRODUCTION The previous chapter addressed survey results related to trends in local bus speeds, types of actions taken to improve bus speeds, and the effects of these actions. This chapter’s focus is on agencies’ evaluations of their program of actions. Spe- cific topics include agency assessment of the success of actions taken, benefits and drawbacks, potential improvements, and lessons learned. RATINGS OF ACTIONS TAKEN TO IMPROVE BUS SPEEDS Table 24 shows transit agencies’ ratings of actions taken to improve bus speeds. Most respondents (54%) rated their actions as somewhat successful. One-third reported a neutral outcome. Only 8% of respondents reported an unsuccess- ful rating. All “very successful” ratings were for actions to improve schedule adherence only. Table 25 presents the primary benefits of these actions. These are responses to an open-ended question. The most frequently cited benefit was improved on-time performance and reliability, with almost half of all respondents citing this outcome. Next was the ability to mitigate factors slowing bus speeds (such as increased congestion, increased rider- ship, increased mobility-impaired ridership, and new opera- tor learning curves), followed by an improved customer experience, and increased bus speeds. Two of the eight agencies reporting improved bus speeds noted only modest increases, and two others stated that the speed improvement applied only to new BRT service. “Other” benefits included a renewed sense of cooperation with the city; reduced schedule variability; reduced reports of operators speeding; faster loading times and less confu- sion among customers; improved transfer connections; and a more rational transit network. Table 26 summarizes drawbacks of actions taken to improve bus speeds, based on responses to an open-ended question. The most frequently cited problems involve cus- tomer complaints over stop relocations and reduced level or quality of service. Reduced level of service arises from lon- ger headways (a result of changes to running times), route truncations or changes to one-way loops at ends of routes, and limited service in low-density areas. Quality of service chapter four AGENCY ASSESSMENT OF ACTIONS TO IMPROVE BUS SPEEDS

29 Among agencies focused on schedule adherence, revising schedules and monitoring running time at the route segment level were important. The response that reduced bus speeds were the most effective action was from an agency whose primary goal was to improve on-time performance. One agency cited headway-based schedules in the peak periods as yielding the greatest time savings and noted that “testing” a route with headway-based schedules can uncover running time savings. Respondents were asked, “If you could change ONE aspect in the process of designing and implementing actions to improve bus speeds, what would you change?” Table 28 summarizes the results. Traffic engineering measures, particularly signal priority for buses and dedicated bus lanes on arterials, would receive more attention from almost one-quarter of agencies responding. Tak- ing a more systematic, data-driven approach was suggested by 20% of respondents. Outreach, explaining the importance of improved bus speeds to cities and the general public, ranked third. Multiple agencies also mentioned stop consolidation, raising the internal priority of improving bus speeds, and the need for additional funding. One interesting suggestion was to incorporate the transit priority guidelines in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Drawback No. Agencies Responding % Agencies Responding Passenger complaints about stop relocation 12 29.3 Reduced level of service or reduced comfort/reliability 12 29.3 None 6 14.6 Benefits overwhelmed by continuing traffic and ridership increases 5 12.2 Increased cost/limited funding 5 12.2 Improvements are not comprehensive enough 2 4.9 Reduced credibility/customer resentment 2 4.9 Other 6 14.6 Total responding agencies 41 100 Source: Survey results. Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%. TABLE 26 DRAWBACKS OF ACTIONS TO IMPROVE BUS SPEEDS Benefit No. Agencies Responding % Agencies Responding Improved on-time performance/reliability 20 47.6 Able to mitigate factors slowing bus speeds 10 23.8 Improved customer experience 9 21.4 Increased bus speeds 8 19.0 Increased ridership 6 14.3 Reduced/constant operating costs 5 11.9 Improved efficiency 3 7.1 Improved operator satisfaction 2 4.8 Reduced accidents 2 4.8 Other 6 14.3 Total responding agencies 42 100 Source: Survey results. Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%. TABLE 25 PRIMARY BENEFITS OF ACTIONS TAKEN TO IMPROVE BUS SPEEDS Rating No. Agencies Responding % Agencies Responding Very successful 3 5.8 Somewhat successful 28 53.8 Neutral 17 32.7 Somewhat unsuccessful 4 7.7 Very unsuccessful 0 0.0 Total responding agencies 52 100 Source: Survey results. TABLE 24 AGENCY RATING OF ACTIONS TAKEN TO IMPROVE BUS SPEEDS

30 LESSONS LEARNED Survey respondents shared lessons learned that would benefit other agencies considering implementation of similar actions to improve bus speeds. The lessons learned were grouped into nine broad categories, as shown in Table 29. Lessons regarding outreach to external stakeholders led the list of topic areas, fol- lowed by process/analysis, internal consensus, and persistence. Responses are presented by category here. All comments are reported verbatim as expressed by agency respondents. Outreach to External Stakeholders • Selling decision makers on “hours saved” that can be reinvested back in the service. Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) (46). The respondent noted that local jurisdictions are hesitant to implement extraordinary measures that are not “endorsed” by inclusion in the MUTCD. An ongoing TCRP study (A-39, Improving Transportation Network Efficiency Through Imple- mentation of Transit-Supportive Roadway Strategies) includes potential changes to MUTCD among its objectives and may address this concern. Those citing internal processes and priorities stressed the need for all departments within the transit agency to understand the benefits accruing from improved bus speeds. “Other” responses included all-door boarding at heavy stops, off-board fare collection, a stream- lined public process, greater decision-making power for scheduling and operations staff, and not requiring a traffic model run for every change. Action No. Agencies Responding % Agencies Responding Consolidating stops 8 19.5 Restructuring/streamlining routes 6 14.6 Transit signal priority 6 14.6 Fare policy/fare payment 5 12.2 BRT 5 12.2 Vehicle-related (low-floor buses, smaller buses) 4 9.8 Limited-stop service 4 9.8 Reserved bus lanes/guideways 4 9.8 Schedule-related (adjusting running times/ increasing recovery time/headway-based schedules) 4 9.8 Monitoring on-time performance on all route segments 3 7.3 Improving signal timing 2 4.9 Express service on freeways 2 4.9 Reduced bus speeds 1 2.4 Total responding agencies 41 100 Source: Survey results. Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%. TABLE 27 MOST SUCCESSFUL ACTIONS TAKEN Action No. Agencies Responding % Agencies Responding Add traffic engineering measures (TSP, dedicated lanes, bus bulbs) 9 22.5 Take a more systematic, data-driven approach 8 20.0 Educate cities/general public about benefits of improved bus speeds 6 15.0 No change/not sure 6 15.0 Emphasize stop consolidation 5 12.5 Achieve a higher internal priority for speed improvements 4 10.0 Increase funding 3 7.5 Other 5 12.5 Total responding agencies 40 100 Source: Survey results. TABLE 28 ONE CHANGE TO DESIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING ACTIONS TO IMPROVE BUS SPEEDS Lessons Learned Category No. Agencies Responding % Agencies Responding Outreach to external stakeholders 10 30.3 Process/Analysis 9 27.3 Internal consensus 6 18.2 Persistence 6 18.2 Fare payment 3 9.1 Transit speed versus traffic speed 3 9.1 Schedules/on-time performance 3 9.1 Vehicles 2 6.1 Limits of technology 2 6.1 Total responding agencies 33 100 Source: Survey results. Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%. TABLE 29 LESSONS LEARNED

31 at major stops—coordinated local bus connections, sidewalks/bike trails to multi-family areas, in addition to park-and-ride. • The other item to be wary of is the actual physical removal of the bus stops. If there is not proper com- munication and follow through, stops that should be removed are still standing, or maybe the transit agency bus stop has been removed but the city regulatory signs are still standing. Not having the proper com- munication and follow through on this front causes much confusion for both operators and passengers. So make sure it’s clearly communicated to the folks doing the work which stops are to be removed—both the transit agency staff, and the respec tive municipal- ity staff, and then have someone double check their work. Internal Consensus • Keep communication of goals and plan open to all (union and management) and invite input. • Decreases in travel speeds need to be recognized as not simply an inevitable consequence of increased traffic and passenger loads, but as something that the agency has the power to affect through their own actions (or inaction). It is critical for staff at all levels of manage- ment to understand this concept. • It’s important to consider bus operator feedback. • Extremely important to have high level support within the transit agency. • Fully engage and involve all components of your orga- nization in design of BRT system. • Training operators to operate safely at higher speeds. Persistence • It takes on-going analysis and attention to detail. A cri- sis can create similar actions but making changes to routes tends to be incremental. You have to have a clear objective in mind and work toward that goal. • Bus operators who initially oppose stop consolidation may become your biggest champions. Riders, too, will begin to push for stop consolidation as they see the ben- efits to their own commutes. Don’t be thrown off by media attention or the initial complaints. • On the bus stop spacing issue, you need to adopt a pol- icy, and then work hard to adhere to it. It takes time to review passenger activity at all bus stops and then make recommendations. • Make sure you have the resources to implement and operate the actions/systems you put in place. • Just keep at it. • Be prepared to receive complaints about queue-jumps from less-observant car drivers. • Extremely important to have high level support at the local municipality for actions related to external poli- cies (e.g., TSP and physical transit priority measures). • Listen to the public. • More outreach at earlier stages of project development is better but doesn’t guarantee success. • It’s important to keep the public involved and consider both public and bus operator feedback. Then taking their points into consideration, revise the changes to bus stops, but only where it makes sense. Often this is not a popular stance with passengers using a par- ticular stop, but overall in the long run it makes for a better ride. • Know your community and adhere to their desired expec- tations of the service they wish to have. This will provide a level of support for any improvements, changes, and enhancements planned. • Good working relationship and partnership with local jurisdiction. • Start with educating the stakeholders. • Bus stop consolidation is not easy from a public relations stand-point. • Ensure that you are kept in the loop on any construction projects rather than finding out the hard way or when it occurs. Process/Analysis • Start with the biggest bang (Phase I of stop consolida- tion included all routes with 15-minute frequencies). • Having solid data and making a compelling case for why the changes are needed and how they provide broad ben- efits to customers and the overall mobility for the area are critical. • Don’t get so focused on trying to improve the on-time performance metrics that you lose track of trends in bus system speeds. • Have the resources to measure and evaluate the impact on continuous basis. • Attention needs to be paid to passenger origin and destination. • Don’t be afraid to make recommendations that did not originate from the public. Often the public will look at just adjusting the existing model rather than thinking “outside the box” for new and innovative ways to deliver service. • Pay attention to left turns, eliminate them when you can, the queuing at intersections takes valuable minutes out of your schedule. Stay out of campuses (shopping cen- ters, corporate campuses, college campuses), they really slow you down and expose you to accidents (which really slow you down). • Plan routes to operate as directly as possible to major destinations. Limit stops—customers will walk farther to access good service. Provide a range of access options

32 times present problems. Check out these issues prior to purchasing. • Smaller vehicles are quicker than a larger vehicle. Limits of Technology • If you are thinking about Transit Signal Priority, it’s much harder to design something that works than you think. You can’t just install it, turn it on and tinker with the programming. It can help at individual intersections that are problematic, but before spending money on a whole corridor, hire yourself an expert traffic engineer to do computer modeling of the entire corridor first. • Signal priority is more likely to affect travel time vari- ability than to reduce wholesale travel time; that is, it may be unrealistic to expect to save enough travel time to reduce the number of buses deployed on a route with signal priority. SUMMARY This chapter has described agency assessments of actions taken to improve bus speeds. Findings include: • Results regarding the success of actions taken are neu- tral to positive. Only 6% of survey respondents rated the actions as very successful. More than half rated their actions as somewhat successful, and one-third reported a neutral outcome. • The primary benefit of these actions is improved on- time performance and reliability, cited by almost half of all respondents. Other benefits include the ability to mitigate negative trends in bus speeds, an improved customer experience and increased bus speeds, particu- larly on BRT or limited-stop service. • The major drawbacks of these actions are customer com- plaints about stop relocations and reduced level or quality of service. Quality of service issues involve overcrowd- ing (shifting to use of low-floor buses with fewer seats reduces capacity) and tradeoffs between improving bus speed and improving on-time performance. Sev- eral agencies noted that improvements to bus speeds are being overwhelmed by continuing increases in traffic congestion and transit ridership. Two agencies noted that the actions taken were not comprehensive, resulting in minor improvements perceived as “good enough.” Fifteen percent of survey respondents reported no drawbacks. • Consolidating stops was most frequently mentioned as the most successful action, but only 20% of responding agencies cited this action. Respondents indicated that it was difficult to separate the impacts of actions taken together. There is no consensus regarding the most effec- tive single action to take to improve speeds. Responses suggest that stop consolidation, route restructuring, fare Fare Payment • Have customers purchase fares before boarding the vehicle and or limit fare types. • Off-board fare collection in tandem with all-door board- ing is highly successful. • The single factor that improved and smoothed operations the most is one I do not recall seeing asked/discussed in this survey: the elimination of paper transfers. Trans- fers are still permitted, but only through smart cards. That has increased the use of smart cards, both speed- ing the passenger’s transaction time as well as driver time spent on such transactions. Cumulatively, this is our single biggest factor. Transit Speed Versus Traffic Speed • Our experiment to reduce bus stops along a route in a dense residential area with stops every block was unsuc- cessful because of the number of four-way stop signs at each intersection. Not only did we save little time, but because the bus stopped at every other block without picking up or dropping off passengers we were criticized by the riding public. • Consider transit speed in relation to traffic speeds to determine if transit is a competitive mode of travel in the corridor. • Design express bus service to be competitive with driving alone and attract choice riders who are not transit-dependent. Develop HOV or bus-only lanes to increase speed and improve dependability and on-time performance. Schedules/On-time Performance • Lessons learned that incremental time point and dwell time adjustments are not long-term fixes to the problem of schedule adherence. • Schedule development with proper layover is impor- tant. Squeezing cycle time to reduce costs can impact the quality of your service. You have to be careful about it. • Design your own report from the AVL system to rep- resent how you schedule vehicles and that match your traffic patterns. Also, increase your speed from the 1st to the 2nd time point to allow for faster operators or light traffic days. This prevents operators from hanging back at the beginning of the trip or having to wait at the 2nd time point to avoid leaving early. Vehicles • Some issues with ramps and slope, particularly in rural areas. With larger and heavier wheelchairs, ramps some-

33 policy/fare payment, vehicle size/configuration, TSP, and limited-stop service are the most effective non-BRT actions. • Traffic engineering measures, particularly signal prior- ity for buses and dedicated bus lanes on arterials, led all responses to the question: “If you could change ONE aspect in the process of designing and implementing actions to improve bus speeds, what would you change?” Respondents also mentioned a more systematic, data- driven approach and added outreach to cities and the general public explaining why these actions are impor- tant among desired improvements. • Survey respondents shared lessons learned that would benefit other agencies considering implementation of similar actions to improve bus speeds. Lessons learned were grouped into nine broad categories. Lessons regard- ing outreach to external stakeholders led the list of topic areas, followed by process/analysis, internal consensus, and persistence. A total of 44 responses are provided within these nine categories.

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TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 110: Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds explores approaches transit agencies have taken to realize gains in average bus speeds.

The report also identifies metrics pertaining to measures such as changes in travel speed and its components, operating cost, and ridership. It shows the results of each or a combination of approaches implemented.

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