Is Dwell Time The Hidden Enemy of Rapid Transit?

Charlie Ticket

Ever wait in line behind a family of these?

Transit riders love to complain about how long certain trips take. Why can’t trains, trolleys, and buses go faster?

A lesser known factor making trips longer is dwell time — how long you spend at stops and stations waiting for people to board.

New York City has instituted a “Select Bus Service” strategy on several key routes, instituting a couple of tactics to reduce trip time by reducing dwell time. (Its also worth noting that this type of bus-rapid-transit-like service is incredibly low cost to implement relative to almost any other transit expansion or enhancement).

Most importantly, this service lowers dwell time by taking fare payment off the bus. Each station on the route has fare collection stations and inspectors regularly check for compliance (and the fine is $100, not our paltry $15 for the first offense).

Take the Silver Line from Dudley Square some morning at rush hour and tell me on-board fare collection (and the ensuing dwell time) isn’t a problem. In particular, the reluctance of many MBTA bus patrons to adopt the CharlieCard exacerbates the problem, as the CharlieTicket takes a long time to be read by the AFC machines.

Next, the SBS doesn’t stop at every stop on the route. However, the MTA continues to run a local bus on the route that makes more frequent stops — this alleviates opposition to the SBS from those patrons who value proximity of service stops over speed. (Wonder if that would have saved the 28X?)

The SBS also has a dedicated lane (enforced by cameras in many places) and traffic signal prioritization. However the primary gain in speed is due to reduced dwell time, with travel speed secondary but still important.

Lastly, the MTA is introducing articulated buses with three doors. The MBTA’s articulated buses already have this feature, but remember, with the exception of the enclosed stations on the airport leg of the Silver Line, fares are only collected at the front of the bus, rendering two doors useless for boarding at most stops.

New York has had good success with SBS service, attracting new riders and delivering enhanced service. The MBTA would be well-served to start implementing this low-cost, high-return enhancement to service on key bus routes.


Crossposted at Pioneer Institute’s blog.