Bold lines: Guaranteed high-frequency bus routes
I’ve written before about the complexities and uncertainties of bus systems. Here I outline one simple way to make transit networks more accessible to riders and would-be riders: guaranteed high-frequency routes. Creating such routes and marking them in bold on maps makes clear what portion of a system is accessible without a schedule, making possible spontaneous trips and more natural transit use.
Lines should be marked in bold on route maps if they run (for example):
- At least every 10 minutes Monday through Saturday from 6 am to 10 pm and Sundays and holidays from 8 am to 8 pm;
- At least every 30 minutes the rest of the time.
Express routes should be clearly delineated from other routes on the same corridor. Branching is okay, but only sections of a line meeting the frequency criteria may be marked in bold. Streetcar lines, if any, should meet bold line standards, perhaps being drawn in a separate color for clarity. Maps should list the service frequency for bold lines, and bus stops along bold routes should clearly indicate their status as such.
Currently there is not a single Grand River Transit route that qualifies. Route 7 mainline is pretty close to bold between King & Ottawa and King & University, but lacks night service. On University between Westmount and Weber, routes 8 and 12 could together be close as well.
Bus routes necessitating a schedule are only accessible to committed bus riders, and are unfriendly to casual users. A guaranteed high frequency on selected routes makes those lines easier and more pleasant to use for the choice rider as well as for the regular transit user. Minimum nightly service assures users that they will not be stranded, which encourages use during all hours.
Transit systems without bold lines should try implementing a small network of them. And systems that already have lines that qualify should be making a big deal of it. Simplified pocket-size maps ought to be freely available to show the transit-novice and the transit-averse which routes are easy to use.
It is difficult for low frequency service to spur enough ridership to “justify” high frequency service; it’s an uphill battle of incremental service increases in tandem with small ridership increases (and sporadic service cuts for good measure). Bold lines allow a transit network to pull itself up by the bootstraps through strategic allocation of resources into a network structure that is qualitatively different and more accessible to riders.
Regional transit developments
The Region of Waterloo has finally produced its recommended proposal for Rapid Transit in the region. And that recommendation is to run a light rail (LRT) line between Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener, and the Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge. However, they propose the first stage to use LRT only between Conestoga Mall and Fairview Park Mall, with the second portion to be at first an adapted Bus Rapid Transit system due to the high cost and low initial utility of that segment. The report for this “Phase 2, Step 3b” of the Environmental Assessment can be found at the newly-redesigned website for the Region of Waterloo Rapid Transit. That website also houses various other information, including information on upcoming Public Consulation Centres within the next two weeks as well as a discussion forum, on which I have made a few comments. I encourage anyone living in the Region to investigate the direction of this project and to voice concerns and especially support (if that applies).
My feeling is that the recommended plan is fairly good, however I will leave specific concerns and details for subsequent posts.
Additionally, in advance of GO Transit’s anticipated successful Environmental Assessment and consequent rail upgrades for a service extension from Georgetown to Kitchener, GO will be starting bus service to Kitchener in the fall. This is good news, particularly as it indicates that GO is serious about getting rail service to Kitchener.
What’s wrong with buses
I’ve now had two posts about bus systems and their issues. This time I want to talk about buses themselves. It is rare, at least in my experience, for there to be frank discussion about why people do not use them. But it is worth discussing why buses have such a negative connotation for most people, and what can perhaps be done about the causes.
Buses stink. With the notable exception of trolleybuses, this has up to now always been true. The exhaust fumes of diesel buses are quite bad. It’s particularly bad when these fumes make their way inside the bus. Newer buses are generally not as bad, but the older ones are still large parts of most systems. Regardless, it is an issue that remains relevant for rider experience and health.
Buses are loud. They’re loud outside, they’re ridiculously loud inside. The newer NovaBuses here are less loud, but that’s only by comparison.
Transit agencies view buses as billboards. This may be okay to an extent, but it is not okay when the ads block most of the view out the window. Not only does that make the ride even less pleasant, but it’s also difficult to see whether the bus is near your stop.
The ride is nauseating and headache-inducing, due to jumpiness of the bus and the sudden stops and starts. Here there is a partial fault of roads, and of the nature of buses. But what I find interesting is the huge difference that the bus driver can make. In my experience, some deliberately make gradual starts and stops, while others will make them very quickly, to the extent that riders get thrown about. A bad bus ride can easily ruin my day. Judging by the huge variance I’ve experienced in Grand River Transit buses, drivers have gone through either little or no training with regards to quality of ride for passengers. I can’t imagine this kind of training cost to be comparable to the money that gets spent on buses themselves. If GRT spent the effort on training, I’m sure it could market it so people took notice.