September 10, 2018
Bunching is for Bananas, Not Buses: Dispatches from Austin

The question of how to prevent bus bunching bedevils transit agencies across the country. Bunching, when two or more transit vehicles arrive at once, is particularly infuriating for riders because of the ensuing gaps in service. This week, we’re in Austin, working with Capital Metro to test a new bus dispatching method in hopes of reducing bunching and improving reliability along the MetroRapid lines.

Cap Metro’s MetroRapid 801 is one of the busiest bus routes in Texas, moving thousands of riders a day past Downtown Austin, the State Capitol and the University of Texas. Cap Metro doesn’t provide a schedule for this route, but instead promises riders that the bus will arrive every 10 minutes from 6 am to 7 pm. Currently, buses are dispatched at 10 minute headways, and bus bunching is common along the route.

Capital Metro has made a public commitment to tackling the problem, acknowledging that while it can’t control the traffic or what happens on the streets during the route, it can control when buses leave the terminal.

Designed in collaboration with Cap Metro and contracted operators MV Transportation, our pilot project throws out the idea of scheduled headways, and instead actively adjusts dispatching based on changing conditions on the ground. When no bunching is observed, dispatchers stick to 10 minute headways, but are encouraged to make accommodations when buses are behind schedule. Today, we are joining Cap Metro staff out at the MetroRapid 801’s northern and southern terminals to put this idea to practice

As more and more transit agencies expand the number of frequent routes in their bus networks, managing bus bunching and gapping will be critical. Over this week, we’re testing the effectiveness of this  active dispatching technique – stay tuned for our “lessons learned” post, as well as video updates throughout the week. 

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