Bus Tracker info puts drivers at forefront of war on bus bunching

In this second report from my chat with CTA President Richard Rodriguez, he emphasizes the key role bus drivers play in reducing bus bunching

"Bus Tracker is a great tool for us," Rodriguez said. "Managers are using the information from Tracker to monitor and manage bunching.

"And now we're looking at drivers differently -- they are the boss."

Then Rodriguez recounts an occasion when he was riding a bus and the light ahead was green, but the driver slowed down.

"The driver slows as the light changes, and he points to a gadget above his head (a mobile data terminal). It told him to stay instead of going through the light to maintain the proper gap. So it's not just the executive staff -- the drivers themselves are managing the gaps.

"And if that doesn't do it, I don't know what will."


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  • Slowing down at green lights hardly seems like the best solution to the bus bunching problem. I think The CTA needs to work on eliminating the root causes of the bus bunching. I believe this to be an excessive number of stops and too much dwell time at each stop. They need fewer stops, off-board fare payment at busy stops or a proof of purchase fare system for busy routes, and level boarding at the busiest stops.

  • Congrats to Rodriguez for riding the bus. I think the bus bunching/gaps has gotten much better in the last year or so with the rollout of Bus Tracker. I rarely notice it being a problem anymore.

    I 2nd the call for less bus stops. Some of these need to be reexamined and eliminated. Also, urging people to exit out the back more often would help too.

  • At least one chicagobus.org member does not concur with bus bunching becoming better, and has personal observation and recorded BusTracker screens to demonstrate that. Start reading about here.

    I concur with JW on this one. The problem isn't holding up the trailer, but the two late buses in front of it.

    But since Rodriguez says he doesn't know what more he can do (which probably talks more to his lack of transit experience rather than there isn't anything that can be done) and far being it from me to give him operating advice, which I said I would not do ...

    Also, why is it usually 3 in a bunch?

  • In reply to jack:

    "At least one chicagobus.org member does not concur with bus bunching becoming better, and has personal observation and recorded BusTracker screens to demonstrate that. Start reading about here."

    There will always be at least 1 dissenter. Nobody said it was perfect, but to say it has not improved runs contrary to my experience.

  • In reply to chris:

    Peoples' individual experiences are their experiences, but if BusTracker or supervisors were doing their job, screens like the ones this guy posted should not be around, in the sense that they should have set off some alarm at the control center before a member of the public happened to come across them.

    However, it is up to Rodriguez and his underlings to determine how frequent observations like these are, and what to do about them, instead of saying "And if that doesn't do it, I don't know what will."

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, I gotta say, I think you're being a little unfair to Rodriguez in harping on his comment: "And if that doesn't do it, I don't know what will." He was really being rhetorical in a sense in saying it's great the drivers are taking responsibility to ease the bunching problem.

    I never heard him say "he doesn't know what more he can do" -- you inferred it. He knows there's plenty more to be done. And I think he also knows that we'll never fully solve the bunching problem as long as humans are involved.

    But for your sake, I will get a question to him about what more can be done, ok?

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    O.K. And you may ask him what his reaction is to the type of readings that were posted on chicagobus.org (and I have seen similar).

    On the other hand, with regard to this and the "binder" comment, either we are dealing with someone who is loose with his words, or really doesn't know what is going on.

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    Jack seems to pretty unfair in most of his assessments of the CTA. He's constantly negative and extremely critical. It's a theme with him.

  • In reply to chris:

    He's constantly negative and extremely critical. It's a theme with him.

    I suppose though, that the CTA is beyond criticism. If Frank Kruesi hadn't said that it is the suburbs' obligation to fund it, despite his demonstrated incompetence, I suppose I would have gone on another track.

    However, so long as the CTA board does not perform its statutory duty to "appoint an Executive Director who shall be a person of recognized ability and experience in the operation of transportation systems to hold office during the pleasure of the Board" (70 ILCS 3605/27), I will continue to characterize one who the Board President says is still learning. You may characterize me as you wish, as I have characterized you previously.

  • In reply to chris:

    Also, I suppose you should read the commentary in Crain's today, while I don't agree with everything said there. But I suppose they don't have a right to be critical, either.

  • In reply to jack:

    The comments I read there seemed fair for the most part, but I don't agree with it all. You however always come off like an angry person. You are the habitual complainer. I never understood your type. You act as though there is nothing good about the CTA, yet you continue to ride it. Perhaps you are a masochist...

  • In reply to chris:

    You assume way too much Chris.

    BTW, I don't see you refuting my characterization of you.

  • In reply to jack:

    I didn't assume anything. I made my opinions based only what you put on this page.

    As for your characterization of me, I don't care enough to go back to some previous thread to figure out what it was.

    Sargas hit it right on the head with his comment as well.

  • In reply to jack:

    I am registered here also. I don't logon here as much as I do over at forum.chicagobus.org.
    I like Bus Tracker. I find it mesmerizing to watch on the Internet. But I do constantly use it when I am getting ready to get out of the domicile here.
    Towards that, seeing the gaps on #65 Grand, or the astounding bunching on #54 Cicero graphically illustrates that a CTA supervisor needs to take rapid action that moment to alleviate the situation.
    What can be done? CTA needs more short-run terminii, or permission to use side streets in order to turn around a bus going the other way. I know #54 Cicero used to have a short turn "Y" at Cicero and Waveland [3700 N.] (with a trolley bus, no less). Southbound; because the garage was there at North Ave.; it could reverse a bus in either direction there.
    Bus Tracker does a valuable service in displaying where the snags are appearing. CTA needs to follow through and make the necessary resultant move(s) to eradicate the snags.

  • In reply to jack:

    JMan, buses stop routinely to solve a gap in front of the bus. It was discussed on the original Tattler site long ago. I see it so frequently that I don't think twice about it. Often it's because they're early, but often it's because they can see the next bus in front of them and stop at a traffic light for a cycle or two.

  • In reply to jack:

    I know one thing, I get pretty pissed when I'm on a bus that is basically idling or slowing at green lights. It's ridiculous. I'm on that bus to get somewhere in a timely manner.

  • In reply to jack:

    Here is the pertinent linage from "Chicago Surface Lines

  • In reply to chris:

    jack, he just means you are very hostile. It isn't a comment on your argument per se, just your approach. Ad Hominem doesn't address your argument, but your slippery slope and red herrings also degrade the conversation.

    Btw, that Crain article feels very iffy. "yuppie types who work downtown" ? Nevermind that the CTA is not designed for zone-based fares and that the CTA depends on rush hour commuters too much to make changes so heavily against them. Rest of that article is just stop the circle line, failed projects are a waste, and the cta should do all the things they need to do but don't have the money.

    About the cta bus tracker, does anyone know what the "Click on a bus above to push it to the back - Click on a bus number below to bring it forward" mean? Both pressing the bus and the number does nothing for me on the bustracker website

  • In reply to sargas:

    About the cta bus tracker, does anyone know what the "Click on a bus above to push it to the back - Click on a bus number below to bring it forward" mean? Both pressing the bus and the number does nothing for me on the bustracker website.

    If you click the bus number on the bottom of a "Route Progress" screen that has the buses on the ruler, in a case where buses are overlapping so you can't see the bottom one, the bottom one comes to the top and you can see its vehicle number.

  • In reply to sargas:

    By far the best way to fight bus bunching would be to implement a true bus rapid transit system. I hope we'll hear what Rodriguez has to say about that sooner or later.

  • In reply to sargas:

    It would seem to me that it's very doubtful that CTA has a system that tells the actual bus driver that there's a gap and that bus drivers are "managing" it themselves. From what I've seen by looking over their head when I'm crunched in the front, is it tells them if they are early or late--to their schedule, regardless what the bus in front or behind them is doing. That'd be quite a sophisticated piece of technology that would be cool; I just don't believe RRod has it right.

    So it's been my understanding that bus drivers are slowing down if they are early and that managers are cracking-down on those that run early.

    From what the CTA (Huberman) said last Fall, they've also been using the GPS data to rewrite the schedule to reflect better the traffic conditions. I point you to Page 13 of December's Board meeting.

    I guess the point is the same: CTA is using the BusTracker data stream to improve reliability; it just sounds like RRod still has some catching-up to do on how the whole thing works.

  • In reply to sargas:

    I'm all for promoting even spacing between busses, but I think the key is the driver communicating to the passengers that the bus will be stopped momentarily (sort of like the announcements on the train, but not canned). On the same page... I was on a #11 bus last week that stopped at Foster for what seemed like five minutes, and then a passenger in the back asked "why aren't we moving??" and the bus driver snapped back "The other driver is coming, take it easy! ok!" I thought it was a reasonable question and the driver should have better communicated the delay.

  • In reply to sargas:

    You're right JustinS, that situation calls for better communication. I actually think that what you saw was a late driver relief (Foster is the relief point for the garage out there on Foster and Kedzie), so it's not the same as them waiting to not get ahead of schedule.

    Which, by the way, is a good thing if that driver is keeping a gap from happening behind his bus. I don't think MK has to worry that they'd actually stop a bus to solve a gap in front of the bus. At least I hope not.

    BY the way, JustinS, what you experienced needs better communication, but I do believe in my experience is that it is happening less these days. It used to be a common occurance on Clark--not as much so anymore.

  • In reply to sargas:

    MK, I have to pick a bone with you on this Chicago Card issue. Per the charts that were in the paper today (not available on the online Trib, unfortunately) it shows that when added together, the Chicago Card and the Chicago Card Plus increased their rides, which not only disproves what you predicited but in fact most likely proves Huberman correct, when he said last year "Our Chicago Card customers are more elastic [sic] in their ability to absorb fare increases." [he must have meant inelastic, but I think we know what he meant by saying "absorb fare increases."]

    If I remember right that statement set off a fire-storm on this blog and elsewhere. But the data are clearly showing that the ridership went up on that fare media. Now, the individual Chicago Card has been decreasing, but, according to the December Board meeting Page 11, Chicago Cards were already decreasing before the fare increase.

    I'd also like to take issue with your sentence, "What the article doesn't mention is that the Chicago Card (and the Chicago Card Plus) are, by far, the cheapest tickets for the CTA to process." How do you know that? Do you know for sure? From what I've read elsewhere, it's somewhat of a boondoggle that maybe hasn't turned out to be so cheap for CTA. And even if it was cheaper--does that still justify giving away a 10% discount, and then more for the rail ride? Do you actually think that for every dollar CTA migrated over to a Chicago Card that they saved 10 cents on that dollar? Can't be. Then why give away that 10 cents? And if speeding-up bus boarding was one of the goals, then why the discount only on the rail rides?

    I think Huberman was probably right on this one. This was a ridiculous set of discounts being given to a market that wasn't bringing much to the CTA and he couldn't justify giving away that kind of discount anymore--especially since he was about to raise pass prices by 15%.

  • In reply to sargas:

    "I really don't know what to say if you really don't understand why printing out several magnetic stirip cards and constantly replentishing machines is more expensive than selling one person a Chicago Card that they will use for years."

    Let's assume that each cost magnetic card costs about 5 cents, no, let's say 10 cents. CTA has repeatedly said the Chicago Cards are over $5. That means that if I switch from a Chicago Card to a magnetic 30-Day Pass it'll take 50 months before I'm costing CTA money. Since these Chicago Cards expire every 4 years (the message on the bus says so), then I never will. Now, granted, there's more costs, administrative, etc.., my basic numbers may not be correct: but that's my question to you. Do you really know the CC is so much cheaper? The CC+ has a website and someone's paying the credit card fees. CTA probably has to handle more customer service calls because of it. But, yes, magnetics seem wasteful and costful too. And, yes, some aren't switching to 30-Days, so my algebra above doesn't always apply.

    I definitely think there's a lot here that both of us don't know, because we don't have all the info, but don't make it seem so obvious, because it is not. Really.

  • MK,

    The loss of Chicago Card users mainly went to Chicago Card Plus. I don't see how this is necessarily bad.

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