An Experiment Worth Watching

Hampton Roads Transit has invested $8 million in equipping its buses with Global Positioning System locators, upgrading bus communications and installing signs at some bus stops to tell passengers when the next bus is due. Reports the Virginian-Pilot: “Through GPS, Hampton Roads Transit will know the location of all 250 buses at all times. HRT says it will allow the agency to reduce delays and tell customers at stops just how long they have to wait.”

People hating waiting for late buses, not knowing when they’ll arrive, not knowing if they’ll be late to their destination. In theory, predictability is key to inducing people to rely upon mass transit for transportation. It will be interesting to track what effect these investments have on ridership.

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12 responses to “An Experiment Worth Watching”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Now this is an idea that could work.

    Also, I understand that some places put their drivers on an incentive plan such that they get paid extra for picking up more passengers. Not sure how it works, but it probably helps prevent the frustration of rushing for a bus only to have it drive away.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    I can envision a system where you can text message your bus. From your cell ohone it could automatically tell where you are and text back the predicted arrival time.

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I know one of the managers for HRT.

    Yet, in 17 years here, I’ve never ridden an HRT bus. I have no idea where they go. I can’t think of a circumstance, other than I have no car and can’t get one, that would prompt me to ride a bus. I’d have to walk a long way – several miles to get to a bus stop.

    The innovation will improve the service for those riding. I can’t see how it will increase ridership.

    When I was a kid in Arlington, I would ride the bus down Washington Blvd from Westover to Clarendon every now and then.

    When I was in Grad School near Boston I rode the T every day.

    Different worlds. I don’t know the HRT riding world. The buses look nearly empty to me when I see them go by.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    We spend a lot of money carrying empty seats around, both in transit and in autos. I’m convinced that more and smaller buses provide better service, but the labor makes them hard to justify.

    Occasionally you see cost estimates that make whacky comparisons. Like, for what Metro cost you could have bought every family in the city their very own Metro bus. For what the Hiawatha line cost you could have bought every rider a brand new Lexus, etc.

    Most systems now have some means of checking the web or calling in for info about how to get from here to there. Some work a lot better than others.

    Even when I could have caught the express bus downtown, I never did it. The reason was that if you did not leave the office on time to catch the rush hour buses, you could be stuck for quite a while as the frequncy dropped dramatically.

    One thing is that transit jobs are a great pork and patronage barrel for local politicians. Transit offers at least some mobility to those that otherwise have none, so there is another aspect to consider. We need to understand exactly what transit provides and doesn’t provide in order to accurately assess its value.

    If we just demand more transit and sink more money in it blindly, we are likely to get blindsided on the results.

  5. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    They should go all the way and provide a real-time map showing where the buses are. That way people would know that they need to leave the office in a few minutes to catch their bus.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Nice idea, but too impersonal. A lot of riders have a daily relationship with their driver. How about a hands free phone for the driver, and you can just call and ask him where he’s at.

  7. Waldo Jaquith Avatar
    Waldo Jaquith

    The last thing our public transit needs is drivers too busy talking on the phone. 🙂

    I didn’t own a car until a few years ago, since I lived in downtown Charlottesville. I took the bus to and from school, and had a motorcycle for trips farther afield. The bus stop was about a five minute walk from my apartment. At least a half dozen times the bus came early or I came late. It would have been great to be able to pull up the bus’ location on my desktop computer or, today, on my phone.

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Well, yes. But those guys are always talking to the dispatchers anyway.

  9. Snarky HR Reader Avatar
    Snarky HR Reader

    Now, if they could just find a way to get from Va. Beach Town Center to ODU in less than 2 hours they’d REALLY be doin’ somethin’!

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Liberals Cause Global Warming

    “Ten years ago, Portland predicted that its traffic-calming plan would triple local congestion, and concluded that ‘congestion signals positive urban development.’ “

  11. Charles Avatar

    Maybe they could use this for an on-demand system, where out-of-the-way stops have a button to select, and if nobody requests it the bus can go to an alternate, or skip the route part.

    Maybe just too confusing, but for more residential service, you could serve a lot more communities if the bus route had the ability to alternate to different neighborhoods based on requests, with the computer doing a best-route analysis using the GPS and providing navigation to the driver.

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Now you are really talking, and while you are at it shift to 30 passenger buses instead of 40, maybe even 20 passenger buses.

    In order to get all the required additional labor, you could use aliens, that way you could kill two birds with one stone because you could use the GPS to keep track of them all.

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