CTA rolls out new monitoring system to tackle bus bunching

The CTA is stepping up its efforts to alleviate bus bunching with the introduction of a new real-time monitoring and communications systems.

With the Bus Transit Management System (BTMS),  buses should be able to more quickly adapt to changing traffic and street conditions, and help avoid bus bunching that leads to long waits between buses.

Through touch-screen terminals on every CTA bus, BTMS allows for improved two-way communication between drivers and the CTA’s command center, which monitors all bus and train operations throughout the service region.

The system enables the command center to better track the location and movement of buses, and quickly convey route or speed changes to operators in order to ensure proper spreading of buses and adherence to schedule when possible. If personnel in the center detect conditions that could lead to a service delay or bus bunching—more than one bus arriving at a stop at or near the same time—they can instruct the driver to adjust the route accordingly. Further, if the command center needs to send a message to multiple buses about a reroute due to police or fire activity, it can be done instantaneously.

The CTA tested the system at two South Side CTA garages earlier this year. That testing showed significant improvement to bus service. Since January 2015, bus “big gaps”— defined as larger-than-scheduled periods of time between buses — on nine of the busiest South Side bus routes have dropped an average of nearly 40 percent.

This is good news, since bunching has perennially been a big problem at the CTA. In 2014, the CTA's own performance metrics show that it did not meet standards on "big gap intervals" in 10 of the 12 months. And it didn't meet "bunched intervals" standards in eight of 12 months.

Read a previous CTA Tattler story about "mysterious phenomenon of bus bunching."


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  • The question is that since CTA claimed when BusTracker rolled out in 2008 that the supervisors would use it to end bus bunching, and fooled WTTW in 2013 into believing that the control center had cured bus bunching, what this system offers different, other than Clever Devices LLC got more federal money. The proof will be in the pudding.

  • In reply to jack:

    It absolutely drives me nuts that CTA can't figure this out. eg, I'll be at the Belmont Red Line grabbing a 77 west bound. There is often a bunch of 4-5 in rush hour. CTA does nothing. If they'd get a brain, they'd have #1 go express to the blue line, #2 to California, #3 to Western, #4 to Ashland and #5 does all stop.

    Or I'll see the same thing eastbound and they all go the whole route to St Joe's instead of having some short turn at Halsted and get caught back up.

  • In reply to whateva:

    Aside from the question whether CTA can ever figure it out, people on chicagobus.org point out two problems (1) someone at CTA figures that all the old buses should be assigned to Forest Glen garage, which covers pretty much all E-W routes from Diversey north, and not much of that equipment has received the new Clever Devices equipment, and (2) if there are ghost buses on BusTracker (buses that are not logged into the system, do not have working transmitters, or are off route), how is this management system going to detect them?

  • In reply to whateva:

    Sorry, but if you tried to actually implement your solution it simply would not work. If there are 35 people on bus #1, and 30 of those people are getting off somewhere before the blue line, you have to have them all get off and move to a different bus. That's going to take forever. Half those people are probably old and walk slowly. What if one of them is handicapped or in a wheelchair? And how are you going to explain to each of them which new bus to get on? What if they don't speak English very well? How about the tourists that are suddenly using this moment to ask the bus driver for directions? And you're going to have to make sure all five bus drivers know exactly what is going on, so they don't try to charge the people getting displaced. You would lose so much time doing all this that more buses would pile up, and now there are eight buses instead of five.

    Also, you're going to have people waiting for the bus all along the way. Let's take the people at Western for example. They are going to have two express buses come by, and they are either going to be mad that the bus passed them, or if the bus gets stuck at the stoplight, they are going to start pounding on the doors. You want the bus driver to ignore them? Or does he open the door and then get stuck explaining to them that the bus is going express?

    The truth of the matter is that during rush hour, there is going to be bus bunching on busy routes. It just takes one wheelchair, or one missed light, or one car wreck, or one ANYTHING, to mess it all up. And once it is messed up, you can't always just go ahead and express or short turn a bus, because not only are there are affected people on that bus, but you also actually need a place to turn the bus around.

    It's a lot easier to do this on the trains. But with buses, I see people with these genius solutions all the time. If it was really that easy they'd be doing it already.

  • In reply to Nirvana91:

    As I indicated below, you don't have to dump all the existing passengers off the bus, just don't pick up new ones.

  • In reply to jack:

    Fair enough, although I'll say many of my other points regarding old people, wheelchairs, and "confused/mad passengers waiting on the corner" all still stand.

  • In reply to Nirvana91:

    I think that the Press Release acknowledges that anything can happen and probably will, by stating that the test showed that "big gaps dropped an average of nearly 40%," not were eliminated, and the focus in the block quote was that the system gave the command center certain strategic options. I stated that the proof of the pudding would be whether these options really work. However, the proof will never be that every bus hits all time points on time. If that could be achieved, there would be no need for the BusTracker app or displays at the bus stops.

  • In reply to Nirvana91:

    Sorry that "old people, wheelchairs, and confused/mad passengers" make your using PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION such a terrible experience!

  • In reply to AbilityChicago:

    With the money it takes to rebuild subway & L stations, plus the extra cost of buses with lifts or ramps, they probably could buy every single person in a wheelchair their own cars or at the very least, give them door to door taxi service with a wheelchair equipped taxi & still save millions, maybe tens of millions!
    This turned MASS TRANSIT into a social service agency which was not intended to be or capable of being!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Dear ScooterLibby, I am assuming you are saying that people in wheelchairs should not participate in life, should stay inside so You would not have them ever see them, not use Public Transit, (because Public Transportation should not include use for those with Disabilities) should have the Government/taxpayers pay for their own car, or pay for all taxis rides.
    .Gee sorry that people in wheelchairs have affected your quality of life.
    What a sad life you must have to wish that part of society should not participate in life's daily activities.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I thought this was settled 25 years ago. Otherwise, why do they call it the ADA of 1990?

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I'm not clueless, you certainly are!
    Have you noticed that for the last decade, the Republicans in Congress keep cutting funds to urban mass transit?
    Have you noticed that the new governor is cutting state funds to the CTA by way over $100 million?

    There's no money for what you want!
    When the buses are totally filled to overcapacity due to service cutbacks, how many people do want to get off so your wheelchair can take up 3-4 seats & the 4 minutes it will take to unload them, get you on & then leave 6 people at the curb so you can take your ride?
    I'd rather leave one person at the curb, you!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Scooter, like I said this was settled 25 years ago.

    There may be an argument whether this, like many other things, is an unfunded mandate, but Bob Dole, who is a Republican, ran on championing the ADA.

    Also it is easy to blame the Republicans, but the Democrats in Illinois have bankrupted the state to the extent that it can't help either, and the Republicans here recognize that the Ryan and Quinn was of raising taxes and fees for 5 year capital bills every 10 years doesn't work either.

    There may be a debate whether Illinois should be giving out free and half fares to an extent above that mandated by federal law, but otherwise, Scooter, your train left the station 25 years ago. And if the disabled want to ride next to the filthy, stinking drunk, at least that isn't discrimination on the basis of handicap.

    I don't think even you can get the Tea Party to repeal the ADA.

  • In reply to AbilityChicago:

    It's called MASS TRANSIT, not public transit.
    No one is saying they shouldn't participate in life, but there are limits to the money available to do things & rebuilding subway stations that cost several hundred million per station is absolutely insane when there are numerous, far cheaper ways to do that & do it better!
    I'm sure every person in a wheelchair is happy to sit next to a filthy, stinking drunk on the bus or L Or I'm sure they're happy to attempt to go through 18 inches of unshoveled snow in the winter, to get to a bus stop that's inaccessible because the city has plowed all the snow from the street into a 3 foot high wall of ice that makes it extremely difficult for a perfectly able 20 year old to get on the bus!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    wow, just totally clueless, and full of .... excuses for your comments. "It's called MASS TRANSIT, not public transit"- LMAO

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm not trying to get ADA repealed, I'm just trying to get one guy to understand there's not enough money to do everything, especially now.
    He just wants the CTA to drop every single other thing they're doing & do nothing but make the entire rail system wheelchair accessible, no matter how much it would cost & ignore that it would cripple and paralyze [very deliberate use of those words] the rest of the system.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I don't think you can attribute that to him.

    Reread your posts; it seems like you essentially told the disabled to get off the mass transit system, which is possible only if the ADA is repealed. I accepted your limited resources argument only in the context of unfunded mandates, but it seems you went way beyond that in your rhetoric.

    Your economics of riding transit point is probably also off base, in that taxi access vouchers are for a ride costing up to $13.50 for $5.00, and a paratansit ride costs about $43.00 for a $3/fare. I doubt that having to operate the lift incurs that kind of cost on bus operations.

  • In reply to jack:

    It's not the cost of operating the lift. It's the cost of buying the lift & repairing the lift. Every transit operator wanted the lift to be at the rear of the buses, as it is in all school buses because that's the least affected area in collisions, while the front is the most affected. But the mainstreamers demanded & got from Bush 1 what they wanted as he pandered to them for votes.

    But most of my criticism was about the staggeringly high cost of rebuild subway stations to add elevators. Just adding a single elevator to Chicago/State costs more than the entire Wilson station & track reconstruction!

    As for the paratransit costs, they're so high because the entire system is run wrong. Run it as a hub & spoke bus system & the cost will come way down & the service will get far better. Southwest Airlines could easily teach the RTA how to run such a system. And he still had no reply to the impossibility of anyone in a wheelchair getting to a bus or L station in Chicago for the month or more following a blizzard.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    "Every transit operator wanted the lift to be at the rear of the buses." That is totally false. The lift at the back of the bus was standard on RTS buses until CTA (yes that CTA) put in its specs that the lift had to be in front for fare collection. FTA agreed to that variance, and TMC created the RTS-08, basically for CTA although other transit authorities subsequently bought it.

    CTA has relied on the Standard Bus Procurement Guidelines, which were developed by the transit authorities themselves (although apparently CTA uses a much more expensive version of them). That now dictates where the floor is low and where the ramps are.

    NOBODY makes a standard floor transit bus. So, even if you think money would be saved by buying them, they don't exist. Nobody makes a bus that isn't EPA 2013 compliant, either. That adds costs.

    I suggest that before ranting again, you read the FTA ADA regulations, and at least have a factual basis for your statements.

    On the issue of making a station accessible, there is a distinction between those that need to be made accessible and those that the TA wants to make accessible. In particular, 49 CFR 37.43 provides:
    "(e)(1) Alterations made to provide an accessible path of travel to the altered area will be deemed disproportionate to the overall alteration when the cost exceeds 20 percent of the cost of the alteration to the primary function area (without regard to the costs of accessibility modifications)."

    Thus, the question may have come down to whether other costs of renovating that station exceed the above threshold, but I don't think it could be rationally argued that given the amount of passenger traffic at that station (which is about the only one that serves the Mag Mile shopping district) that station should not have been made accessible.

    On the rest, while I have argued that paratransit could and should be run more efficiently, it will never be as efficient as fixed route.

    And if the snow prevents someone from a wheelchair from getting to a bus, that doesn't excuse the other 350 days a year. I suppose the whole transit system should be shut down 365 because buses get stuck on LSD during a blizzard.

    Like I said, all you want to do is beat the dead horse of repealing the ADA.

    The only relevance to this topic was some people said that deploying the ramps may hurt schedule compliance, but that is also life, and apparently partially cured by this system rather than barring the disabled from transit.

  • In reply to jack:

    I don't know how old you were when the ADA proposals were written, but I was 35 & I remember that no one & I mean no one wanted them in front. The CTA changed when the disabled screamed bloody murder about being second class citizens because the lift was going to be at the back. All the manufacturers wanted it at the back, especially GMC, then the largest bus builder.
    I've never written one goddam word about repealing ADA, so stop bringing up a non-relevant subject!
    As for the time of inaccessibility due to snow, that's because the original poster brought up that couldn't enjoy life without accessibility & that means for 4-6 weeks a year, he's stuck at home!

    All I've brought up is the appalling cost of putting elevators in old subway stations & you keep going off on that bizarre tangent, which isn't relevant!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I was around then, and another fact for you--GM was out of the bus business by then, as the CTA buses were built by TMC, And what I said was correct about the FTA record.

    You are the one who went off on the tangent. The point of this post was the Bus Management System.

    Also, essentially, you saying you didn't say anything about repealing the ADA is the equivalent of saying you are in favor of slavery because it is economically efficient, but didn't say anything about repealing the 13th Amendment. What you want, such as buses without lifts, is legally impossible so long as the ADA is here. Thus, I suggest you get over it.

  • Ghost buses, yes an unacknowledged fly in their soothing ointment.

    I have also noted that nowhere have they addressed the *hows* of route adjusting, either. On the trains it is easy - the crabby, displaced riders just get off on the platform and can get on any following train (according to their time sensitivity vs. crowd intolerance) with no penalty. On a bus that will begin express or skip-stopping, riders will *have* to get on a designated immediately-following bunched bus or pay the penalty of an extra fare. Bet they didn't test that on crowded south side routed during rush hour!

  • In reply to CarolynA2:

    A late bus isn't subject to what you say, as the driver can let off existing passengers through the back door without stopping to pick up passengers on the way. In NYC, they accomplished that with a "next bus, please" headsign. If a train has to stop at a station, all the doors have to open.

    Of course, in the situation whateva describes, I suppose that the passengers will be irate if a bus passes the L station without loading.

  • In reply to jack:

    My point was pretty mu h as whateva said. At the time a driver receives instructions to go express to a certain point, the bus is already filled with people expecting to exit along the normal route. The driver has to announce to the current passengers that the bus will skip certain stops. These passengers, who have already paid a fare for the ride, will want to exit and get on a bus that will make their desired stop. How do they get on another bus without paying an extra fare? On the L, you can get off and on whatever train you want with no penalty. In current cases of bus breakdowns, the passengers are guided to the specific replacement bus, whose driver has been notified and they board for free. In the new scenario, how is the "replacement bus" identified, and how does the driver know who has already paid?

  • In reply to jack:

    Oops! It took awhile but I realized your point. Agreed that no "passenger swapping" would be needed. Though some announcement would probably need to be made.

  • I'm certainly not holding my breath. What do the drivers do today when they can clearly see a bus ahead of them? I've noticed that some actually do attempt to slow down, either by spending a little longer at a stop, or driving less aggressively to catch a red light. However, many drivers simply blast ahead and catch the lead bus.

  • In reply to SpinyNorman:

    That gets to the age old questions about what the operating rules are, to which can be added that if the new system detects a problem, what authority the control center has to override those rules.

    Also, some of the behavior you describe is that the Clever Device display displays (and presumably logs) how much plus or minus the driver is compared to schedule, rather than the driver sees a bus ahead.

  • I'm wondering if there is any chance this can solve the problem of unbelievably long intervals between buses that are not due to bunching but to someone taking buses out of service because whatever. This past January I waited nearly an hour for a southbound 36...near the beginning of the route. Two other bus routes at my stop were more or less keeping up with the schedule. And there were 36s going the other way. That was deliberate disappearance and it was infuriating that no one appeared to be asking themselves "what of the people who have been waiting a long long long long time for a bus?".

    Under this new system, will someone in the command center be aware of such a delay and make a decision that can correct the situation before it gets out of hand?

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