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Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds (2014)

Chapter: Chapter Six - Conclusions

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Six - Conclusions ." 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 Six - Conclusions ." 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 Six - Conclusions ." 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 Six - Conclusions ." 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 Six - Conclusions ." 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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49 and the literature review suggest that this can be very effective. Increased stop spacing is also a key element of bus rapid transit (BRT) applications. • Route adjustments increase bus speeds by keeping the bus on a major corridor, thereby reducing the number of deviations and turns, or by introducing new services that stop less often. Limited-stop and BRT services are examples of the latter approach and clearly improve bus speeds. Streamlining bus routes improves bus speeds to a lesser extent. • Vehicle-related actions increase bus speeds through a reduction in dwell times or through improved accel- eration. Low-floor buses with ramps instead of lifts for wheelchair access, different-size vehicles, and vehicles with better performance are typical actions. • Internal policy changes increase bus speeds by reducing dwell time by means of faster boardings or other means or by changing hold policies at transit centers. Pricing that encourages use of prepaid media is one common action. One agency reported that eliminating paper transfers was its single most effective action. One case example reported experience with all-door boarding. Off-vehicle fare collection is a component of many BRT projects. Combinations of these policies appear to result in the greatest magnitude of change. • Schedule-related actions can increase bus speeds by reducing the need for a bus to hold at stops if it is ahead of schedule or by balancing service time and recovery time more appropriately. Improving bus speeds is some- times a collateral benefit of certain schedule-related actions, but the primary purpose of these actions is to improve schedule adherence and reliability. Typically, scheduled bus speeds decrease when running times are adjusted. One agency reported that experimenting with headway-based schedules has revealed previously undetected opportunities to reduce running times. • Individual changes are difficult to isolate when imple- mentation involves a package of improvements. Among metrics reported to measure the overall impacts, those of greatest concern for this study (change in average bus speed and analysis of components of travel time) were cited by 35% and 33%, respectively, of respon- dents. A common concern, reflected in the case exam- ples, was the inability to analyze impacts at the desired level of detail. Continued widespread adoption of auto- mated vehicle location (AVL) and automatic passenger counter (APC) technologies will mitigate this concern. INTRODUCTION This chapter summarizes key findings, presents conclusions from this synthesis project, and offers areas for future study. Findings from the literature review, survey responses, and particularly the case examples identify and assess the factors contributing to the success of actions to increase bus speeds. The chapter is organized in five sections: • Approaches to Improving Bus Speeds • Agency Assessments • Lessons Learned—Survey Respondents • Lessons Learned—Case Examples • Conclusions and Suggestions for Future Study The further research needs offered here would address a greater detail of analysis regarding impacts of actions, cus- tomer response, traffic engineering concerns, effects of bus operators on success, and transferability of results. APPROACHES TO IMPROVING BUS SPEEDS • The need for actions to improve bus speeds is reflected in current trends. More than 75% of respondents reported that bus speeds have decreased across the board or in certain areas or for certain types of service. Nine respon- dents supplied detailed data on bus speed changes, show- ing an average annual rate of change of -0.45%. One agency observed that the economic downturn combined with increases in gas prices reduced traffic congestion and resulted in improved on-time performance. • There are many valid ways to tinker with speeds and get some improvement. The greatest benefit typically can come from working with city traffic engineers to find ways to expedite the flow of transit vehicles. The most common external policy action was to implement signal priority or queue jump lanes, followed by changes to signal timing, bus-only lanes on arterial streets, and yield-to-bus laws. The magnitude of the effect of these actions varies with the specific policy and the location where it is applied and can be affected by other factors such as enforcement. • Stop-related actions increase bus speeds by reducing the number of stops, making it easier to get into and out of bus stops, or by reducing dwell time at stops. Increased bus stop spacing and optimized stop place- ment are common actions. Two of the case examples reported successful stop spacing programs. Findings chapter six CONCLUSIONS

50 overwhelmed at several agencies by continuing increases in traffic congestion and transit ridership. There is also a desire for more comprehensive programs of action that can result in notable improvements. Fifteen percent of survey respondents reported no drawbacks. • A variety of responses were given with regard to the most successful action. This reflects the differing actions taken by the 59 agencies. Although there is no consen- sus regarding the single most effective action to take to improve speeds, stop consolidation ranks highest among 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?” A more systematic, data-driven approach and added out- reach to cities and the general public explaining why these actions are important also ranked highly among desired improvements. LESSONS LEARNED—SURVEY RESPONDENTS Survey respondents shared lessons learned from implemen- tation of actions to improve bus speeds. Lessons regard- ing outreach to external stakeholders led the list of topic areas, followed by process/analysis, internal consensus, and persistence. • Outreach to external stakeholders involves education as well as feedback. It is a mistake to assume that the ben- efits of improving bus speeds are obvious, particularly if customer or community reaction is negative. Positive impacts, such as reliability and savings, that can be real- located back into improved service need to be empha- sized. Good working relationships and partnerships with local jurisdictions are essential, especially for external actions, such as signal priority and dedicated lanes. Encouraging input, making changes to proposals where they make sense, and clearly communicating the reasons other changes are not being included are all vital steps. • Making a compelling case based on solid data for why changes are needed and how they provide broad ben- efits to customers and for overall mobility is critical. Public response is often limited by an inability to envi- sion new (for your city) concepts or to believe that they will actually work. Internally, a focus on a single met- ric, such as on-time performance, can result in losing track of trends in bus speeds. Keep an eye on the big picture of what you are trying to achieve but also pay close attention to the details. Agencies that have over- come opposition cite the importance of flexibility and a rational and defensible process based on data and open to public input as key to achieving implementa- tion. Devote resources to measuring and evaluating the impacts, even if the technology to analyze detailed • Regarding technology, it is interesting to note that sev- eral successful strategies were implemented without the ability to analyze results in detail. Agencies taking this course of action recognized that overall improvements, particularly from combinations of strategies, would be too valuable to wait until new technologies were in place. In other words, many agencies did not wait for all desired technologies to be in place before implement- ing successful strategies. • Only six agencies (of 20 that reported impacts on bus speeds) experienced increases in bus speeds. Four others stated that the actions taken mitigated decreases in bus speeds owing to other factors; one commented that changes enabled the agency to maintain the aver- age speed on local bus routes through a period of major growth in ridership. This highlights the difficulty of achieving increases in bus speeds in the face of external factors that can slow speeds. A few agencies also noted that bus speeds were negatively affected by actions taken for other purposes, such as adding running time to improve schedule adherence. • The survey asked about actions that were considered but not implemented and constraining factors that affected the ability to take action. More than half of respondents indicated that certain actions were considered but never taken. Primary reasons for not taking actions included an inability to identify a funding source, the only ele- ment characterized as a major constraint by a majority of respondents. Lack of cooperation from outside agencies, competing priorities, and safety concerns were identi- fied as major constraints by at least 30% of respondents. Broader survey findings suggest that many success- ful actions rely on building relationships with external agencies, particularly city traffic engineers. AGENCY ASSESSMENT OF ACTIONS TO IMPROVE BUS SPEEDS • 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. • The ability to mitigate negative trends in bus speeds is another key benefit, along with an improved customer experience and increased bus speeds, particularly on BRT or limited-stop service. • The major drawbacks of these actions are customer com- plaints over stop relocations and reduced level or quality of service. Quality of service issues involve overcrowd- ing (low-floor buses have fewer seats) and tradeoffs between improving bus speed and improving on-time performance. Improvements to bus speeds are being

51 applies the new spacing guideline to new or extended routes and has removed or consolidated 67 stops. Local match is a challenge in obtaining funding for enhancing nearby stops. Public reaction was generally supportive because only stops with very low ridership activity were affected. Stop consolidation improved bus speeds, reduced stop maintenance costs, and allowed remaining stops to be maintained to a higher quality. RTS empha- sizes the importance of communicating with riders and stakeholders, including city and county staff responsible for right-of-way issues. • Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Nashville intro- duced limited-stop (“BRT lite”) routes on two major cor- ridors with traffic signal priority. The average spacing for the limited stops is approximately 0.75 mi (1.2 km). Signal priority is provided at all signalized intersections outside of downtown. A bus will be given an additional 8 to 10 s of green time if it is at least 1 min behind sched- ule. The first new BRT lite service increased ridership in the corridor by 15% and also improved on-time per- formance. The support of the mayor, who made the new service one of his top priorities and promised to obtain funding for it, was invaluable in making implementa- tion possible. MTA’s advice to another agency trying to replicate its program is begin with a detailed examina- tion of the busiest corridors; build and maintain a strong relationship with the city; understand that other depart- ments and agencies have different priorities and will not immediately understand the importance of what you propose to do; and keep attention focused on the benefits of improved bus speeds. • Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)–New York City Transit (NYCT) centered many of its actions to improve bus speeds on the introduction of BRT service (known locally as Select Bus Service or SBS). Four SBS routes have been implemented since 2008. All feature bus lanes, low-floor buses, and wide stop spacing. Three routes use articulated buses, three have off-board fare collection, two routes have traffic signal priority, and bus bulbs are being built on two of the corridors in operation and on one of the corridors scheduled for 2013 implemen- tation. SBS has increased speeds when compared with previous limited-stop routes in the same corridors. Speed increases from 9 to 12 mph (14 to 19 kph) occurred in the Bronx, from 6.75 to 8 mph (10.86 to 13 kph) in Man- hattan, and from 10 (for the local route) to 13 mph (16 to 21 kph) in Staten Island. NYCT addresses competing goals (speed versus convenience, traffic calming versus bus speeds) by consistently stressing the benefits to be gained. NYCT uses phased implementation, partnerships with the city, particularly New York City Department of Transportation, and reliance on data to support the actions. NYCT emphasized the need for persistence, and noted that it is very easy to be influenced by the concerns of specific groups. A transit system cannot be designed or redesigned around the concerns of any single group. levels of data is not yet available, and communicate these impacts to stakeholders. • Agencies that implemented successful stop consolida- tion programs differed in their approach, as noted in the case examples. One began with the busiest routes, and the other began with less busy routes. Both approaches led to successful implementation, suggesting that the phasing of stop consolidation can be determined by local priorities. • High-level support within the transit agency is extremely important. Fully involving all departments of the agency pays dividends, as does bringing bus operators and union representatives into the discussion. Open communication of goals and openness to input are also cited as factors contributing to success. As one agency stated, decreases in travel speeds need to be recognized as not simply an inevitable consequence of increased traffic and passen- ger loads, but as something that the agency has the power to affect through its own actions (or inaction). • The long haul will look different from the short haul. Be prepared for complaints; stakeholders who initially oppose certain actions may become your biggest allies. Have a clear objective in mind, communicate it consis- tently, and work toward that goal. Make sure you have the resources to implement and operate the actions and systems you put in place. LESSONS LEARNED—CASE EXAMPLES • COTA, in Columbus, Ohio, implemented a multiyear Bus Stop Service Improvement Project (BSSIP) to review bus stop spacing on all routes. The stop spacing standard was adopted in 2010 and supported by stake- holders after they were invited on a trip along a major bus route to see the problem firsthand. The policy called for varied stop spacing, based on land use and density. The chief executive officer (CEO) was the driving force behind the policy and its implementation, and his sup- port was vital in overcoming obstacles, especially in the early stages of the project. COTA began implementa- tion with express routes, followed by crosstown routes, smaller local routes, and finally major local routes. Scheduled speed for local service decreased by less than 2% while local ridership increased by 17%. COTA credits the bus stop spacing standard and the BSSIP with allowing speeds to be maintained during a period of major ridership growth. COTA’s advice to other agen- cies is to adopt a policy, then work hard to adhere to it. Keep the public and bus operators involved. Be flex- ible, but only where it makes sense. Follow through on stop removal to ensure that everything is done correctly. • Gainesville Regional Transit System (RTS) set a guideline for bus stop spacing as part of its Bus Service Improve- ment Program (BSIP) in urban, suburban, and rural set- tings. This guideline served to guide stops and amenities toward arterials on the premise that removing stops is more acceptable if nearby stops are upgraded. RTS

52 decreases in bus speeds resulting from increased con- gestion or increased ridership. Working with city traffic engineers to find ways to expe- dite the flow of transit vehicles is very effective. The most common external policy action was to implement signal pri- ority or queue jump lanes, followed by changes to signal tim- ing, bus-only lanes on arterial streets, and yield-to-bus laws. The San Francisco case example found that signal priority had the biggest impact of any actions, resulting in an increase of between five percent and 10% in bus speeds. The New York City case example reported that off-board fare collec- tion and increased stop spacing, in combination with TSP, bus-only lanes, and all-door boarding, resulted in notable improvements in bus speeds for its Select Bus Service routes. • Stop consolidation programs are very effective if cus- tomer resistance can be overcome. Changes to stop spac- ing engender greater resistance than do other actions. Tension between speed on the system and access to the system is accentuated when increased stop spacing is pro- posed. Several survey respondents lamented the inabil- ity to overcome opposition to stop spacing schemes, but the case examples in Columbus and Spokane indicate that stop consolidation programs can be implemented successfully. Open engagement with stakeholders, par- ticularly those skeptical of the idea, support from upper management, and cooperation of municipal staff are char- acteristics associated with successful programs. Persis- tence is also useful. As noted in one of the case examples, bus speed is never an emergency, and actions to improve speeds can slide down the list of agency priorities with- out constant reminders of the benefits. • Other actions can also improve bus speeds. Bus stop consolidation and traffic engineering strategies received the greatest attention among survey respondents, but changes in fare policy, vehicles, and schedules have also been successful and can be done independently by the transit agency. Elimination of paper transfers, introduction of smaller or newer vehicles with better acceleration, and experimentation with headway-based schedules to reveal segments where running times can be reduced were among the less common but still successful actions. Changing stop location to the far side at signalized intersections and the near side at intersections with stop signs is another example of a commonsense approach to improving bus speeds. • Successful agencies emphasized good ideas above tech- nology. TSP and other traffic engineering actions topped the “wish list” of responding agencies, but most of the successful actions could be implemented without new or added technology. A notable finding is that several agen- cies proceeded to implementation despite lacking the technology that would yield data for detailed analysis of results. These agencies did measure and report overall impacts, a critical step in establishing the success of the actions taken. • San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) took a variety of actions to improve bus speeds. Transit signal priority (TSP) has been expanded to 200 intersections affecting 20% of all SFMTA routes. TSP is reported to have had the biggest impact, with bus speed increases of between 5% and 10%. All-door boarding, the major internal policy change, has reduced dwell times at stops with 10 or more boardings by 3 to 4 s per stop. SFMTA set bus stop spacing guidelines for each type of service and has removed some stops, but passenger complaints have delayed the bus stop consolidation program. Bus bulbs have been installed at key stops. The city and SFMTA are focusing on expanding transit-only lanes. Signal timing and turn restrictions have also helped. Passenger response to limited-stop service is positive, and SFMTA is seeking ways to expand limited service. SFMTA’s advice to other agencies is to know your com- munity, work with stakeholders to get buy-in at an early stage, and be prepared for a lot of planning work on the back end to ensure that the actions work as planned. • Spokane Transit Authority (STA) designed a phased Stop Consolidation Plan (SCP). The SCP was the means to implement a new stop standard approved by the STA Board as part of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan. The stan- dard calls for a targeted average stop spacing of 1,200 ft (366 m). STA included its most frequent routes in Phase 1 because changes to these routes yielded the greatest improvements. Phase 2 occurred in 2011, in conjunc- tion with a major service reduction and system restruc- turing. Phase 3 included higher-ridership routes with 30-min headways, and the current Phase 4 includes all other routes. To date, there are 24% fewer stops system- wide than in 2009. This percentage will increase to 35% with the completion of Phase 4. Ridership has increased even in the face of service cuts. Anecdotal data indicate that on-time performance has increased slightly. STA’s advice to other agencies is to begin with the end in mind, start with routes that will yield the biggest improvements, and do not be discouraged by media attention or initial complaints from riders and operators. In STA’s case, both operators and riders have become supporters of the pro- gram as they see the benefits to their own situations. CONCLUSIONS AND AREAS OF FUTURE STUDY • Improving bus speeds is possible. The survey results and case examples reinforce that there are many valid ways to tinker with speeds and get some improvement. Suc- cess stories feature strong positive relationships with municipal agencies and stakeholders and an internal agency commitment to the program, especially on the part of upper management. • Mitigating decreases in bus speeds as a result of other factors is an important goal. The literature review and survey responses note external factors that contribute to declining bus speeds over time. Success for many agencies lies in the ability to take actions that mitigate

53 paper resulting from this agreement, cited in chapter two (Koonce, “Transit Priority Treatments White Paper”), noted a serious need for additional research and dissem- ination of findings in this area. Emerging technologies also would be addressed in this area. • Specific traffic engineering concerns. One agency reported that local jurisdictions are hesitant to implement extra- ordinary measures that are not “endorsed” by inclu- sion in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This suggests that a review of MUTCD with regard to inclusion of actions that can improve bus speeds could be productive. If, as can reasonably be expected, some of the more successful actions are adopted by smaller agencies with less expertise available among limited staff, reliance on a source such as MUTCD could be instrumental in the ability to implement actions. An ongoing TCRP study (A-39, Improving Transporta- tion Network Efficiency Through Implementation of Transit-Supportive Roadway Strategies) includes poten- tial changes to MUTCD among its objectives and may address this concern. • An updated synthesis study on service standards. TCRP Synthesis Report 10 is the most recent review of service standards and guidelines in the transit industry, and it is almost 20 years old. Revisiting this topic with par- ticular attention to stop spacing, recovery times, and on-time performance guidelines and standards would broaden the findings of this study. • A synthesis study addressing bus speeds. The end of chap- ter one of this report includes quantitative data on bus speeds gathered from a select group of respondents able to provide hard numbers. However, this was a follow-up effort to the main survey, and the definition of average bus speed was not consistent across all cities. Research evalu- ating the implementation of BRT service has produced relatively current data on bus speeds before and after, but survey results produced less hard data than antici- pated. A study focused on bus speeds would provide a current baseline, expand on trend information reported in chapter one, and explore reasons for differences across and within cities. • Effect of bus operators on success. Several agencies mentioned the disparity in the ability of operators to drive a route. This is a familiar concept in operations, but the effects are unclear, and there is little information in the literature. Do schedulers “schedule down” to the least common denominator or simply assume that some operators will be unable to keep to schedule? Are there training modules developed to address this issue, and how successful are they? Does this phenomenon affect the success of actions to improve bus speeds? • Transferability. Can the experience in one city or agency be applied with confidence elsewhere? Are there spe- cific mitigating circumstances that affect the success of specific actions? How do these circumstances apply? • Obstacles can be overcome with the support of upper man- agement inside and outside the agency. The list of con- straints can appear daunting: funding; lack of cooperation from outside agencies; competing goals and priorities; safety concerns; and opposition from customers, property owners, or businesses. With the support of upper manage- ment, particularly within the agency, successful actions can be implemented. The most salient factors appear to be defensible programs based on data; open, transparent, and consistent communication regarding benefits; flexibility in the face of legitimate and serious issues; and commit- ment to ongoing analysis and communication. Findings from this synthesis suggest eight areas of future study: • Analysis of the effectiveness of individual components of actions to improve bus speeds at the stop and route seg- ment level. Several agencies reported the need for bet- ter, more accurate, and more timely data to measure the impacts at the micro as well as the macro level. Future actions were prominently mentioned in the survey, sug- gesting that the overall impacts of actions to improve bus speeds are apparent. The need to understand more clearly what works in certain circumstances and not in others and the reasons why is clear. Stop spacing and signal tim- ing optimization appear to be very effective in increasing bus speeds, but additional research is needed to confirm these findings. There will be increasing opportunities for cross-comparisons among agencies and for more detailed analysis within agencies. • Customer response. Little quantitative data exist on cus- tomer ratings of the various actions taken. Many agencies measured customer response in terms of ridership, but no agency could say definitively how customers responded to individual actions. Case examples indicated that suc- cessful stop consolidation programs have changed ini- tial opposition into support, but many agencies have not been able to get to that point. How do transit cus- tomers rate actions to improve bus speeds, and do their ratings change as they become more familiar with any given concept as it is implemented? Do opinions really change, or is the observation that “Some people resent you for a long time” more accurate? Answers to these questions could provide tools for overcoming opposi- tion mentioned by so many agencies as a constraining factor. • Ways to encourage closer liaison or better working relationships between transit agencies and traffic engi- neers. As noted by one agency, city traffic signal engi- neers are not experts in bus transit, and transit analysts are not experts in traffic signal timing. The Institute of Transportation Engineers has entered into a cooperative agreement with FTA to improve the integration of tran- sit priority treatments on urban street networks. A white

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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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