Fewer Stops and Faster Service

How could COTA save money and increase ridership at the same time?

1. Simplify the route structure to make fewer diversions from straight paths.

2. Increase the spacing between stops.

3. Invest in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) such as Smart Cards and Transit Signal Priority (TSP) to reduce dwell times and signal-related delay.

What would my plan mean for COTA?

Reduced costs, higher ridership, and increased revenue.

Reducing travel times by eliminating some stops and creating fewer diversions will make transit more time-competitive with cars and more people will ride. COTA saves money on the following three expenses:

  • Labor - Imagine a route with a running time of 60 minutes, end-to-end. If you want a bus to come every 10 minutes, you would need to assign at least 12 buses to that route, 6 for each direction. I have estimated that increasing stop spacing to approximately every half-mile could reduce travel times by approximately 10% on average. So this would reduce the running time of our imaginary route to approximately 55 minutes. Now you only need 11 buses to maintain the same service level. That may not sound like a huge savings, but imagine a 10% system-wide reduction in service-hours without cutting any service. COTA's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report shows $27.5 Million spent on labor in 2006. My plan could cut $2.75 Million from the budget, or 4% of COTA's $67.7 Million in expenses before depreciation, while improving service.
  • Fuel - COTA spent $9.2 Million in 2006 on "materials and supplies," mostly diesel fuel, and probably more money in 2007. Frequent acceleration after each bus stop contributes to excessive fuel use. Fewer stops = less fuel used.
  • Maintenance - I'm no mechanic, but I would bet that brakes and possibly other engine parts would need to be replaced less frequently if the bus stopped and accelerated less often.

What would my plan mean for the average customer?

  • More walking, but faster trips - An average stop spacing of approximately 0.50 miles puts all destinations on the major street within 0.25 miles (or a five-minute walk) of a stop. People are generally willing to walk at least a half-mile to high-quality transit service.
  • Less bus bunching - If the first bus stops less often, then the bus behind it never has a chance to catch up and they won't come two or three at a time. Improving the headway (time between buses) regularity would reduce the average wait time at a stop.