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Is it possible for buses to run on time?

Alan Wanwierd
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Joined: Jun 30, 2004
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I've been frustrated with our bus services here in Brisbane for many years now and have a number of theories about why they are far more annoying than they should be.

The crux of the matter is that buses have 2 fundamental and ulitmately unresolvable problems:

1) They dont go from where I am to where I want to be.
2) They dont go when I need them to go.

#1 is hideous - obviously you cant have buses running from within 50m of everyones house to within 50m of where everyone works - so we have to learn to walk further.. It sucks - particularly when hot or raining, but we have to deal with it. Some pain can be reduced with hub+spoke routing arrangements and good transfers so that you can get to and from most places in a city without too much pain - but theres alwas gonna be an element of walking...

#2 is I think the main gripe of anyone who catches buses. Not only does the bus not go immediately when I get to the bus stop, forcing me to have a frustrating wait at the stop - but timetables are (almost universaly on a worldwide basis it seems) at best a "suggestion" - and in peak hours buses run to "Heisenberg" time (there is a probabilty that any given bus may be at any given stop at any given time - but its impossible to say exactly when and where it may be and the only time you *know* where a bus is is when you're actually observing it) ....(Is that Heisenberg, or Schroedinger?)

The essential reason for timetable failures is that bus scheduling is plagued by 2 nasty positive feedback loops.

A] - If a bus runs ahead of schedule there are fewer people waiting for it (since some people time their arrival at bus stops to coincide with published timetables) - this lack of passengers means theres fewer delays with letting people on or off and the bus gets further and further ahead of schedule...

B] - If a bus is late, there are MORE people waiting at the bus stop than if it were on time, so the ensuing delays with loading the extra passengers cause the bus to be further delayed accentuating the problem still further.

Since phenomenon A] causes people to miss their bus and therefore need to catch a later one, A] quite often causes B], and is B] is pronounced enough a late bus can start picking up passengers that woudl otherwise catch the next bus - so B] is often followed by A]....

Of course buses running early *could* be regulated by having them stationary at the stop until their designated departure time - but peak hour urban traffic patterns mean in many cities that would mean grinding the entire city to a halt since buses would be deliberately stopped and holding up other road users...

Is there a solution? or are buses simply inherently incapable of running to a timetable in a busy modern metropolitan environment?
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Originally posted by Alan Wanwierd:
Is there a solution? or are buses simply inherently incapable of running to a timetable in a busy modern metropolitan environment?

This is an interesting solution. I've taken buses in many cities. San Diego strikes me as the best system. They pad the schedules so that there is extra time for unforeseen or rare events. This includes missing every light, people getting on off with walkers/wheelchairs, moderate traffic, etc. At certain stops (the published times on the timetable), the bus sits there and takes a break until the published time. As a result, the bus almost always leaves those stops on time and can't get too far ahead of schedule. It is a little frustrating sitting on the bug just waiting, but that's the price you pay for things being on time. There are rare occasions (traffic accidents) where the bus is late. And bus bunching definitely occurs then. My experiences with the buses in San Diego have shown me it is definitely possible to stick to a schedule.

I definitely agree with the feedback loops problem. We have a big "bus bunching" problem in New York where nothing comes for 40 minutes and they you get three buses.


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Alan Wanwierd
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Joined: Jun 30, 2004
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Does San Deigo have bus stops that are set asside from the main roadway then?

If busses in Brisbane WAITED at stops in the manner you describe - they'd cause gridlock! Despite being a *very* modern city it seems the planners have failed (and CONTINUE to fail in new projects) to allow bus-stops in lay-bys. I can understand this in the heart of the CBD where space is super-expensive - but even suburbs 15kms out where space is reaonably plentiful have bus stops on major trunk routes that just stop dead in 1 lane reducing (albeit briefly) the flow of the road in that direction to 50% its capacity! fools.... :roll:
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Alan,
Yes. The bus stop is in the parking lane. (many cities including NYC does this too.) There are certain places you can't park - fire hydrants, driveways and bus stops. The bus pulls into the bus stop. Traffic passes. The only thing that gets blocked is another bus. For the routes that have multiple buses at the same stop, they have a bigger bus stop at the timing points. The main road is not affected at all by this system.
Jim Yingst
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Yeah, having the bus stop in a separate lane from the main road is pretty common in the US. Alternately in some locations it might not be separate, but if the road has multiple lanes anyway, it's less of a problem. And the bus is easy to spot ahead of you, so drivers have some time to get in a different lane.

Additionally, the importance of keeping a strict schedule depends on how frequently buses come along a given route. If it's a major route in a big city and buses come by every 5-15 minutes, it's not such a big deal if they're not on schedule. If it's a lesser route or in an area with less population density, buses might be every hour - and in that case it's much more important that they be on time, or at least, that they don't depart early. So for low-volume routes, they're more likely to set an artificially slow schedule, to reduce the chance of lateness.


"I'm not back." - Bill Harding, Twister
Alan Wanwierd
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... buses come by every 5-15 minutes, it's not such a big deal if they're not on schedule.


Hmmmm - this is where I tend to disagree - One of the buses I catch regularly is timetabled to run every 15 minutes. If I miss it by a few seconds because the bus is running early I am *livid* and it really puts a downer on my day.

Of course the reason for my frustration may well be the uncertainly of when another night show up - I've lost count the number of occasions I've waited more than 45 minutes for a bus that's timetabled to run every 15 minutes!

Perhaps I'm just not cut out for public transport and should just fork out the money for another car!?
Jim Yingst
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It's all relative I suppose. I'd care a lot less about the timeliness of an every-15-minutes bus than the timeliness of an hourly bus. Especially if the former doesn't spend as much time waiting around, so it has reduced trip time. Of course if it isn't really even close to every 15 minutes as it's supposed to be, that's a bigger problem. And traffic accidents screw things up for everyone.
Cameron Wallace McKenzie
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    1

Run on time?

They usually run on gas, silly.

-Cameron McKenzie
Sri Anand
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Joined: Mar 06, 2005
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thats what i thought .. have you found alternative energy world is looking for, you can run things on time !!! you have saved the world from green house gases and global warming
Jim Yingst
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Time is pretty valuable though. I'd hate to deplete the world's natural time resources.
[ February 29, 2008: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
Paul Clapham
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    8

Originally posted by Alan Wanwierd:
Perhaps I'm just not cut out for public transport and should just fork out the money for another car!?
But you live in a place where you don't get much snow on the ground, so why not use a bicycle?
Jim Yingst
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I've found that snow on the ground is not that big a problem for bikes - it can be fun. It's slush that's to be avoided. Heavy rain, too. Wheelguards help, but there are limits to what they can do for you.

But year, bicycling is an option that I think a lot of people can benefit from, though not all. Some commutes are just too long, and some areas are too unsafe for cycling. (I'm thinking in terms of traffic, mostly.) And if your company/jobs expects somewhat formal attire, showing up all sweaty can be awkward. But where possible, it's a great way to get some excercise and reduce gas usage. It can also be used in combinations, perhaps just for part of the trip, e.g. from home to a distant bus stop.
[ February 29, 2008: Message edited by: Jim Yingst ]
Paul Clapham
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Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
I've found that snow on the ground is not that big a problem for bikes - it can be fun. It's slush that's to be avoided. Heavy rain, too.
Where I live, snow always turns to slush on the ground as soon as it falls. However that generally happens during the period I don't cycle to work (November to January) because I don't like riding in the dark. I haven't found heavy rain to be a problem as long as I remember to grease the chain afterwards.
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
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Joined: May 26, 2003
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232

Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
If it's a major route in a big city and buses come by every 5-15 minutes

Where I used to live, the bus supposedly came every 20 minutes in the morning. Going to work, I lived the third stop on the bus (and sometimes I walked to the first stop.) This is the one place on the route where it should be on time. It routinely left 4 minutes early from the first stop in an attempt to get to a mid-route checkpoint on time. (This was the one thing they were evaluated on and you get what you measure.) This was a bit annoying until I figured out there was a schedule; just not the published one. Going home, the bus supposedly came every 10 minutes. I waited anywhere from 1-35 minutes for this bus on a regular basis. Not fun in the winter.

The bus I live near now runs "as often as possible" during rush hour. I don't think there is a schedule, but it's never more than a 5 minute wait so it is a moot point.

The lack of schedule is actually more frustrating on weekends or non-rush hour. You need to allow a ton of extra time to get anywhere because you don't know when the bus is coming. If a bus that runs every 15 minutes is a 30 minute wait, I miss the train connection. Which means potentially an hour wait. Why have a schedule if nobody is keeping to it. Why not say we run the bus "when it comes." Interestingly the train runs like clockwork. The subway on the other hand as a schedule that works similar to the way bus schedules run.

I do agree that the schedule is more important on a bus that runs once an hour. I also find I appreciate visiting cities that know what a schedule is.
Jim Yingst
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[Paul C]: Where I live, snow always turns to slush on the ground as soon as it falls. However that generally happens during the period I don't cycle to work (November to January) because I don't like riding in the dark. I haven't found heavy rain to be a problem as long as I remember to grease the chain afterwards.

Where I live, there's usually at least a day after the initial rainfall, where snow is still snow and not slush. And if more snow falls later, it can often override the effects of underlying slush (usually by turning it to ice). At least that's true on sidewalks and such. On a street, automobile tires generally pound the snow into slush very promptly. So perhaps the relevant concern here is whether or not your route to work has ample sidewalks as alternatives to the street. A bike lane on the side may also be an option, but usually in my experience that's where the snow plows have left the surplus snow, making it unusable for bikes. Gee, thanks. :roll:

I'm more intrigued by your statement that you haven't found heavy rain to be a problem. Apparently either you and I have different definitions of "heavy rain", or I need better rain gear. Do you have a wheel guard that prevents the legs from getting soaked (even when turning in water)? Or do you have waterproof protection for the legs (because I can't imagine any sort of coat or parka keeping the legs protected while riding)? I've seen leggings and the like in stores, but generally they don't look very reliable. E.g. they're water-resistant rather than waterproof.

Aside from the legs, what if I want to carry a laptop in my backpack? In that case, it's not really enought to have protection that usually prevents me from getting wet. I need to be pretty darn sure that my laptop will remain dry. And generally, I can't be that sure.

This may be more of a problem in summer, when it can rain and still be warm. A good waterproof parka can be uncomfortably hot on a long ride. While a water-resistant jacket is more comfortable, but not so reliable.

As an aside, one of the more enjoyable biking experiences I've had was when I was caught in a summer flash flood, without anything on me that I needed to keep dry. Once you're soaked with water and it's not a problem, that's very liberating. I remember passing all sorts of cars that were (justifiably) afraid to enter a flooded intersection, lest they flood the engine. But on a bike you can just plow right on through. It's very liberating to no longer have to worry about getting wet. It's only really possible in warm weather, of course. Being cold and wet is far worse than either being cold or being wet, individually.
Paul Clapham
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    8

Originally posted by Jim Yingst:
I'm more intrigued by your statement that you haven't found heavy rain to be a problem. Apparently either you and I have different definitions of "heavy rain", or I need better rain gear. Do you have a wheel guard that prevents the legs from getting soaked (even when turning in water)? Or do you have waterproof protection for the legs (because I can't imagine any sort of coat or parka keeping the legs protected while riding)?
I have wheel guards to prevent the wheels from spraying groundwater on me, but the front one isn't all that practical. I always wear shorts when I'm cycling (it never gets much colder than freezing when I ride) so waterproof isn't a problem for the legs. I take dry socks in my backpack and stuff newspapers into my shoes at work. Basically my strategy is to not mind getting wet. But really, although Vancouver is notorious for rain, it doesn't seem to rain that much when I ride.
Aside from the legs, what if I want to carry a laptop in my backpack?
My pack has a rain cover so it would keep the laptop dry. But I don't carry a laptop in my backpack because I'm concerned about its safety. Not that I crash that much, it's more that I'm concerned about the shaking from the patchy streets I ride on.
Alan Wanwierd
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...you don't get much snow on the ground, so why not use a bicycle?


Heat....

In summer, by 7am it can be over 30C (85F+), and by 4pm can frequently be in the high 30's (100F). Cycling in this kind of heat is not practical. Nobody wants to work next to someone who arrives every morning DRENCHED in sweat!.. add to that I live in a quite hilly area which makes cycling hard work, and that heavy traffic and lack of cycle lanes makes it quite hazardous and cycling doesnt seem like a very attractive option (there are people who do it though)
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Originally posted by Paul Clapham:
My pack has a rain cover so it would keep the laptop dry.

Congratulations, you inspired a purchase. I didn't see a rain cover (at the one store I looked in) so I went with the giant XXL ziplock bags. I'm traveling next week and do want to protect my laptop since it is likely to snow.
Arvind Mahendra
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I live in India. We are lucky if our busses run period. Heck we are lucky if they refuse to run which means some pedestrian's life would likely be spared. Busses running late oh what a LUXURY that must be!


I want to be like marc
Oggi Olli
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Where I live we have the same issues with the buses, they're not reliable. At the same time, we've got worse problems with the train. It is delayed 2 min or more 95% of the time.

The tube around here is actually on time, but I suppose it is because it doesn't compete with any other transport-wagons on its designated tracks.
Chetan Parekh
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Originally posted by Arvind Birla:
I live in India. We are lucky if our busses run period. Heck we are lucky if they refuse to run which means some pedestrian's life would likely be spared. Busses running late oh what a LUXURY that must be!


Are you from Delhi??? Blue Line Buses Of New Delhi Or Blood Line?


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