Yesterday morning, I was headed to downtown Berkeley for, somewhat ironically, a transit meeting before going to work. I looked at NextBus and saw that I was just about to miss a 1 and a 1R down Telegraph and the next bus (a 1R) wouldn’t arrive for another 20 minutes.
Sometimes NextBus is wrong (I don’t think all the GPS devices on the buses work), but when I wandered down to the stop on Alcatraz and Telegraph 15 minutes later, it became apparent that there had been a 20 minute gap. There were about 15 people waiting for the bus! Even for the morning commute, that is a lot, considering a bus should arrive at least every 12 minutes.
We all boarded the bus (which took quite some time), and it was packed – I mean 51 bus packed or for those who don’t ride the bus, BART morning commute packed. Once I got on the bus, it was a fairly quick ride to downtown Berkeley – probably about 12 minutes. So I had no problem making it to my meeting on time, but I’m sure some of my fellow bus riders ended up being late because they hadn’t prepared to wait for the bus for 20 minutes.
This brings me to the real problem with the current 1 lines. The problem is not speed – it’s reliability. Once you get on the 1R it’s always fast, but you’re going to have to wait an unknown amount of time to catch it. You might wait 30 seconds or you might wait 20 minutes so your 15 minute bus ride can end up taking you anywhere from 15 minutes to 35 minutes, which is unacceptable for most people.
The main cause of this unreliable schedule is traffic, which effects buses in several ways:
- Buses get stuck in traffic, just like cars do.
- After pulling over to a bus stop, buses often have to wait several seconds to safely merge back into traffic.
- Once a bus gets behind schedule because of traffic, the effect snowballs – it is late to pick up the next set of passengers so there are more passengers to pick up which takes more time. So as it travels down its route it gets further and further behind schedule.
All of this leads to one of the most annoying realities of bus riding – bunching of buses! After the 20 minute delay yesterday, another 1R pulled up 2 minutes later and a 1 pulled up a minute after that. So while the bus I was riding was packed, I’m guessing the buses behind us were close to empty, which certainly isn’t a good use of resources.
Luckily, there’s a solution to these problems, and it’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). With dedicated lanes, buses won’t have to compete with traffic and will avoid delays associated with pulling over. And bunching will hopefully be a thing of the past, which means fewer overcrowded buses and fewer nearly empty buses. Unfortunately, we still have a few years to wait before BRT becomes a reality, and a ballot initiative to defeat before that. Still, I can’t help but dream about how different my transit life will be once there are lanes dedicated to buses.
(I wrote this post before leaving my office and on the way home, I had almost the same experience. A long time in between buses, hopped on a 1, a 1R passed a few minutes later, and then another 1R, and by the time we reached my house all of the buses were within a couple blocks of eachother.)