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Bus back better: Identifying bus priority requirements

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Bus back better: Identifying bus priority requirements

Look out for some fresh paint on the street as local government teams up with transit agencies to implement ambitious bus priority schemes.

In the second part of our 'Bus Back Better' series (read part 1 here), James McCarthy, Head of Operations at CitySwift, explains how to identify where bus priority measures will prove most effective.

The clear benefits that bus lanes and other priority measures can deliver in terms of reduced running costs (from faster, guaranteed journey times) and increased revenue (from new passengers) could transform the economics of the bus sector.

The challenge is identifying where priority measures should go. That’s where CitySwift’s bus data engine can provide evidence-based insight that will deliver a robust result for operators and stakeholders alike.

We’ve been analyzing what happened to buses during lockdown. The ‘stay at home’ order effectively resulted in a massive (albeit unintended) experiment on what happens to buses in free-flowing traffic. We now know how much time can be saved if buses are not bogged down in congestion – and it’s HUGE.

Bus journey time improvements varied between 10% and 200% – yes, 200%! On one major city corridor, bus speeds increased from walking pace (3.5mph) to 13mph. It’s not difficult to imagine how fast, dependable journey times like this could transform the attractiveness of bus services, with benefits for passengers, operators and stakeholders alike.

Bus journey time improvements varied between 10% and 200%.

The free-flowing traffic conditions during lockdown effectively replicate what would happen in ‘normal times’ if extensive bus priority measures were implemented. We can use this data to provide reliable estimates about the journey time savings that can be achieved if new bus priority schemes are implemented on any given corridor. Naturally, some extra dwell time needs to be factored in to account for the return of passengers, but our bus data engine - which has been constantly learning throughout the pandemic - can handle that brief. 

These insights into what bus priorities can achieve are significant. Armed with this data, local government and transit agencies can sit down together and robustly analyze the benefits of bus priority interventions. They can drill down beyond route level to stop and street level to identify where the greatest benefits can be derived.

And there are other benefits. As average speeds creep up with the introduction of new bus lanes, savings can be realised by reducing the resource requirement – a saving of roughly $420k per year per bus and more for electric vehicles. How often have we heard bus operators bemoaning the fact they have had to insert additional vehicles into their schedules in order to maintain frequencies in the face of growing traffic congestion? Armed with bus priority measures and other interventions that have been guided by robust, evidence-based data, this negative spiral reverses.

Increasing bus speeds by 10mph might not sound much to the average person, but in terms of the cost savings it’s enormous! Factor in the journey time improvements both current and future bus passengers are likely to experience and it creates a virtuous circle for all concerned. And the benefits will only increase thanks to the compounding effects that are likely two, three, five or even ten years down the line.

James McCarthy is Head of Operations at CitySwift. Read the first part of his series here.

Learn more about CitySwift’s specialist bus data engine, request a demo or contact us to discover how CitySwift can help you bus back better.

Beyond Covid: Building Back Better