At the October 6 meeting of the Boston Region MPO, board members voted to initiate a study to research ways to reduce wait times for bus passengers on corridors in which multiple bus routes operate, so-called “trunk sections” of the MBTA bus network.
If one views a bus network as a tree, the section where multiple buses run (usually closer to the central area of a community) is the trunk. Different bus routes traverse the same trunk and then branch off onto their individual routes. Headways for individual bus routes operating on a trunk section may be determined independently of one another. This can cause irregular wait times between buses that serve the same corridor. By studying these wait times and adjusting the headways on multiple routes, it may be possible to reduce passenger wait times on trunk sections as a whole.
The study concept was presented to the MPO by Elizabeth Moore, Director of Policy and Planning, and Steven Andrews, both of the MPO staff, and described in a work program titled, “Using General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) Data to Find Shared Segments with Excessively Irregular Headways.” In this study, MPO staff will identify locations where multiple bus routes are operating on a trunk section and choose specific bus stops for study. They will then determine if passengers could realistically take different bus routes to reach their destinations along this section. They will finally evaluate the benefit of smoothing out bus arrivals. Sections eligible for the study would be those where buses arrive often enough that passengers will show up at a stop without consulting a schedule.
Once staff have identified potential changes to bus schedules that might save time for passengers, they will present their findings to the MPO. The MBTA will decide whether to spend resources on implementing proposed changes; the MBTA makes minor schedule changes on a quarterly basis.