D.C. tackles bus bunching with smartphones

D.C. tackles bus bunching with smartphones

Bus bunching is one of the biggest problems that city transportation networks face.

The term refers to when traffic, delays in loading and unloading passengers or variations in driver speed  cause buses on the same route to become unevenly spaced. Instead of arriving every 10 minutes, multiple buses from the same route arrive at nearly the same time. Then it might be 30 minutes or more before another bus arrives.

For Washington D.C.’s Circulator lines, the goal is to have a bus arrive every 10 minutes. But at some stations, particularly at stops around Union Station, the buses weren’t quite meeting that mark.

That’s where EastBanc Technologies came in. Peter Shashkin, a technical partner there, said the main issue was that the Circulator had horrible data on bus location.

So EastBanc approached the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) with a proposal to install smartphones that would transmit a positioning signal every three seconds from every bus through EastBanc’s TransitIQ system. Tracking began this spring.

By reliably tracking bus positions every three seconds, TransitIQ allows dispatchers to alert bus drivers in real time if they need to speed up or slow down to avoid bus bunching. Shashkin said that their initial focus on better data is essential for public transportation networks to build trust with their customers through better reliability, which in turn saves money and creates revenue for the services.

The data also allows for a more holistic study of problem points. By using EastBanc’s data-reporting solution, DDOT was able to understand how it could modify routes to help buses maintain 10-minute intervals. For Union Station, DDOT found that by adding a bus to the line three stops closer to Union Station, the buses were able to make it through traffic and continue to hit the 10-minute mark every time for the rest of their routes.

Shashkin also pointed out that EastBanc’s solution is surprisingly low-tech. The devices used are smartphones, and the data is stored in a cloud and publicly available.

“It’s easy, reliable and cheap,” he said of EastBanc’s data collection solution. “Cloud technology is now mainstream. We just need to take advantage of it.”

The original version of this article appeared on Mobility Lab, a site about “transportation demand management” that is funded by Arlington County (Virginia) Commuter Services, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

About the Author

Amy Eagleburger is the tech reporter for Mobility Lab.

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