Sunday, November 13, 2011

On Time Performance

By Michael Pal

Buses face many obstacles to maintain on time performance. Traffic on shared roadways is an obvious main culprit, but there are many other mitigating circumstances that should be examined when on time performance in not being satisfactorily achieved.

When on time performance is low, confidence and trust of your bus service reliability falls, and your ridership will fall even faster.

What is On Time Performance?
Common industry standard is... A bus should depart no more than one to two minutes early and no more than five minutes late from its posted schedule along en route time-points and departing terminal.

Why shouldn't a bus be early?
Suppose a customer observes a bus schedule of every 20 minutes at his stop.  The first bus is due at 7:00 am.  So the schedule will read
8:00.... and so on..

Now lets suppose he gets to the stop at 6:57 and as he arrives at the stop, he observes the 7:00am bus pulling away.  The 7:00 am bus was three minutes early.  And now the customer has to wait at least 23 minutes for the next bus instead of three!


Factors effecting On Time Performance

  • Ineffective Dispatcher/Supervisor
    • If there is a dispatcher/supervisor en route or monitoring the route via GPS then the supervisor needs to recognize service problems and effectively adjust buses to minimize the schedule disruptions when possible
  • Traffic
    • In large cities, traffic is often unpredictable and without constant evaluation of patterns, too much or too little schedule time may be provided.
  • Weather
    • Weather obviously plays a major role in schedule adherence. 
  • Employee Availability
    • To many sick calls and/or late drivers without adequate extra reports
  • Late Driver / Late Pull-Out
    • A driver who delays service by pulling out of the depot late or "drags" the line
  • Equipment Availability
    • Too many defects waiting to be repaired or scheduled inspections/operations can limit bus availability for revenue service
  • Equipment Failure
    • Breakdowns en route causing following buses to be overcrowded increasing dwell time
  • Schedule Problems
    • Unrealistic schedules that do not reflect the actual travel time conditions
    • Too much or not enough travel time between time-points
  • Construction/Detours
    • Planned or unplanned, buses held up in construction or detouring off rote will usually need additional running time not provided in the schedule
  • Special Events
    • Movie/Church/Concert/School dismissals
    • Subway failure
  • Dwell time
    • Some customers fumble with fare media and ask many questions of the Driver, delaying service at stops.  Additionally, busy stops require more boarding/alighting time.
  • Communication
    • Inability to reach control desk to report problems and/or get directions
    • Driver unaware of detours etc
  • Insufficient Layover Time
    • Transit systems often adjust running times by cutting from Layover times at the end of the route.  This gives less time to compensate a run for unexpected delays for its next scheduled trip


Solutions to Improve On Time Performance

  • Off Board Payment
    • Reduces dwell time by increasing boarding
  • Tap and Go
    • Significantly reduces transaction time
  • Signal Priority
    • Reduces traffic time waiting at red signals
  • GPS Tracking
    • Allows for real time tracking and service adjustments from a control center in real time.  A control center can employ one supervisor to monitor many routes as opposed to an employee per route manpower requirement.  Additionally, automated data collection and analysis can be a wealth of information immediately flagging problem areas that need adjustment/attention in real time
  • Schedule Adjustments
    • Analysis of on time performance failures needs to be carefully and frequently completed.  For example, service reductions may be possible on Friday due to less customers, but more service may be needed due to heavier weekend traffic volume.
  • Driver Discipline
    • Drivers who deliberately disregard schedule adherence should be disciplined for either running ahead of schedule or "dragging" the line.  However, drivers should never be required to operate unsafely to maintain a schedule which does not provide ample running time.
  • Better Maintenance
    • Better preventive maintenance programs reduce equipment failures leading to better service regularity and equipment availability/reliability.  Additionally, maintenance needs to perform quality repairs to avoid "repeater' breakdowns.
  • Extra Supervision
    • Routes need to be monitored when problems exist.  Routes should never go unsupervised.  Supervision schedules should be tweaked to reflect operational issues.
  • Accountable Supervision
    • Supervisors should be held accountable for preventable short-comings with the routes they supervise.  Is the supervisor pro-active?  Does the supervisor understand the problems of the specific route and traffic/ridership patterns to make effective service adjustments?
  • Exclusive Lane / BRT Service
    • Exclusive bus lanes and BRT service has been shown to reduce travel times by up to 20%.  Bus lanes need to be enforced regularly by law enforcement and enforcement cameras.
  • Detour plans in advance
    • Effective communication to the customers and drivers will minimize detour delays allowing advance time to plan.
  • Special Events
    • Concerts, sporting events, and school breaks should all be addressed in advance when they can be. 

What is your experience with on time performance issues?  Share and comment.