Metrobus Bus Stop Consolidation Program

January 3rd, 2011

As bus service providers, we must wrestle with often-conflicting goals: providing fast, yet accessible, bus service.   Our customers expect that once they are on the bus, the service will be fast and reliable, but that when they want to board the bus, a stop will be as close to their origin or destination as possible.

Metro often receives complaints that our buses stop every block, making travel times slow.  And with stops on virtually every block, it is difficult for our schedulers to accurately determine how often the bus will stop, making the establishment of time points for accurate scheduling more art than science.

However, most times when we propose to remove an underused or poorly placed stop, the few people using the stop will mobilize, often lobbying their elected officials to have it reinstalled.  Everyone wants faster service; they just don’t want it at the expense of their stop.

Image from Prince of Petworth. Click for original context.

Finding a fair and efficient way to address this tension between speed, convenience and accessibly lead Metro to last year initiate a study to determine the right number of bus stops per mile in our system.  We also wanted the guidelines to tell us and our jurisdictional partners (individual jurisdictions own their own bus stops) what amenities should be placed at different types of stops, and how to ensure that our stops are accessible to all.  The guidelines provide WMATA and its jurisdictional partners with specific physical design criteria to be integrated with local comprehensive plan policies, land use ordinances, pedestrian plans, and street design guidelines.

The guidelines provide a discussion of appropriate bus stop placement relative to different types of land uses, intersections and street designs.  They also provide standards for improving accessibility to bus stops to fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The published study may be viewed on the Metro website.

The guidelines recommend appropriate spacing between bus stop locations and an analysis of the current spacing between stops on Metrobus lines.  The study evaluated the savings possible if stops were reduced to 4 or 5 per mile.  Having fewer stops per mile allows Metro to more accurately predict when buses will arrive at specific time points, making estimated bus arrival times at stops more accurate for our customers.  It also allows buses to reduce their travel times on these routes, alleviating the need to add more time in the schedules for buses as regional congestion increases.

We used ride check data to determine the current average number of stops per mile on every line in the system, and determined that there are 67 lines with spacing exceeding 5 stops per mile.  (Map of Bus Lines for Consolidation, PDF, 2 MB) Generally, 10-20 seconds can be saved for each stop eliminated.  Usually, the time saving achieved for each stop eliminated number is highest in low density (low congestion) areas, and lowest in those areas with the highest congestion levels.

On December 19, Metro implemented the first phase of the recommendations from the guidelines study. We removed and consolidated selected stops on the U8 (18 stops), 62/63 (16 stops), G8 (26 stops) and X2 lines (7 Stops).  These lines were chosen for the initial phase of this project because they are among those with the highest number of stops per mile in the Metrobus system.  We used the following criteria, in conjunction with on the ground field visits, to develop list of stops to be removed/relocated:

  • Transfer locations
  • Ridership at stops
  • Distance to next stop
  • Proximity to special needs customers
  • Accessibility of stops
  • Stop Condition

Field visits are an integral part of the process since sometimes a stop that seems like a prime candidate for removal, once visited, will turn out to be on the side of steep hill, or next to a senior center.  A jurisdictional representative was present for each field visit and proposed locations were also reviewed by our operations department to ensure agency agreement.  Over the next few years, we will examine the stops on every line in the system to ensure that each has the optimal number and location of bus stops.  After we have evaluated the 67 lines with more than 5 stops per mile, we will evaluate the remaining lines to ensure that we don’t just have the right number of stops, but that they are also in the right places.

Do you ride a Metrobus line that seems to stop too often?   What other ideas are there for striking the proper balance between bus speed and accessibility?

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Categories: Planning Studies Tags: , ,
  1. January 3rd, 2011 at 12:18 | #1

    Wouldn’t low ridership stops be kind of pointless to remove? If the ridership is low, then the bus isn’t stopping there. Other than to reduce the size of your stop database and the amount of money spent on pointless upkeep for little-used stops.

    I would think that the best option would be consolidating two medium-ridership stops.

  2. Ted
    January 3rd, 2011 at 12:45 | #2

    Will Metro look at the correlation between stop spacing and bus frequency? Specifically, on segments where there are multiple routes sharing the same street (e.g. the 90s or the S buses) since buses come more often, expanding the distance between stops wouldn’t be as bad, because the extra time it would take a rider to walk to/from their stop would be offset by the shorter waiting time.

    Obviously if most riders in the multiple-route corridor are actually waiting for one particular bus they won’t gain anything in this scenario, but does Metro know enough about its ridership to make this determination?

  3. Transport.
    January 3rd, 2011 at 16:00 | #3

    Please look at the 42, 43 bus routes along Connecticut Ave between Dupont Circle and K St. There is an instance where there are three bus stops within a two block distance in the direction of Mt. Pleasant. If WMATA would note the reason progress such as this is being blocked by politicians it would be helpful.

    Also, has WMATA considered moving many of the frequent “nearside” bus stops to “farside” locations where safe to do so? Often times, buses sit at an intersection for an entire green signal cycle boarding passengers and then wait for the light after it becomes red.

  4. Michael
    January 10th, 2011 at 16:08 | #4

    @Michael Perkins
    Hi, Michael:

    The issue isn’t with stops with “zero” ridership. It’s the stops that have one boarding and/or one alighting on average. Especially when these stops are very close to other stops that have a similar low number of boardings.

    Imagine a bus route where each bus stop only ever has one passenger getting on or off. Now imagine the same route with half as many stops with two passenger movements per stop instead of one. The second bus route will have half as much bus-stop delay as the first, but with the same ridership. It’s cheaper for Metro to run the second route since there’s less wear-and-tear on the buses and the whole route will take less time to serve. It’s also likely that the second route will have higher reliability. (Lower standard deviation in total trip time.)

    Basically what we’re doing here is exactly what you suggest: consolidating underused stops.

  5. Elizabeth
    May 5th, 2012 at 00:27 | #5

    I just heard about upcoming meetings to discuss the geographic frequency of bus stops & can’t attend any of them because of my wacky work schedule.

    I do get the idea, but don’t want my stops abolished. I am an off hours rider relying on the bus to commute to various part-time jobs. The compelling reason for me is pickup/drop off within half-blocks of departure and destination. Without this convenience, rising fares and erratic schedules outweigh the benefits of riding vs. biking, walking or driving.

    My stops are often a block before or after a transfer crossing, so I’m certain mine would be the ones to go, though it has been my observation in non-rush hours that mine are the most populous stops. Is it possible there are different patterns to travel depending on the time of day? DC as a driving city already has difficulty realizing the fluctuation of traffic, so I would hate to see the buses reflecting only the convenience of one particular time of day.

    Couldn’t perhaps Express buses in rush times instead of full-stop service be a compromise solution instead of reducing stops?

    If I have to walk further to bus stops, I really don’t think I’ll have the patience for the bus (especially if the schedules continue as erratic as they currently are from traffic delays). I’ve had better luck walking 30 blocks than waiting for a bus at least twice in the past three weeks on a couple routes that should have been running every 8-15 minutes and the other route 20-30 minutes apart). Given the apparent trend, loss of convenience could well put me off the bus.

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