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PAT tests real-time bus tracking

This topic contains 22 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Mikhail 1 yr, 4 mos.

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Marko82

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Aug 21 2013 at 8:19am #

Port Authority begins testing real-time bus tracker for riders

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/region/port-authority-begins-testing-real-time-bus-tracker-for-riders-700143/#ixzz2cbqDsy00


Benzo

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Aug 21 2013 at 8:35am #

This is a game changer in terms of improving usability of public transit.


StuInMcCandless

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Aug 21 2013 at 4:08pm #

Once they have the bits in place to do this for customers, those same bits will also allow them to track bus activity a lot easier. I hope they tie that into some data mining software that would pinpoint where slowdowns are occurring.

So, between customers knowing how much time they have before the bus shows up, and management figuring out what makes buses not run on time, I see a great future in public transit becoming truly usable.


Mick

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Aug 21 2013 at 6:05pm #

Acountability for bus drivers?

If they can physically or administratively trash this, they will.


Marko82

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Aug 21 2013 at 6:06pm #

@stu, add the data from the fare cards too . The piece of data that’s missing though is the passenger final destination which you cant get unless people tap their card getting both on and off the bus/trolley.


StuInMcCandless

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Aug 21 2013 at 6:43pm #

They do have automatic passenger counters on some buses, so they (theoretically) can figure out how many people are getting off, and where and when. They also know what trips people are planning, from usage of the website trip planner. So they have some of it, and have had that for a while. Now, as to whether they have the manpower to crunch all that data, that’s something else again.


salty

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Aug 21 2013 at 8:05pm #

I can tell you what makes buses not run on time – single passenger vehicles.


StuInMcCandless

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Aug 22 2013 at 8:08am #

When we can get 50,000 warm bodies who are not using transit now to instead use transit, PAT will be able to make ends meet, and traffic delays will be greatly alleviated. To that end, two things need to happen: (a) This technology; (b) Use of bicycles to get from residences deep within suburban subdivisions out to the main drag where they can then catch a bus.

This is precisely where I have been trying to focus my energies for at least six years, the transit technology part for more like 15 to 20.

Money: Each new person on transit means $1,000/year in PAT’s pockets (and $3,000 less in the gas tank), so 50K people means $50 million, which is roughly what the budget deficits have been in recent years.


Marko82

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Aug 22 2013 at 9:16am #

^ I don’t think the math is quite that simple Stu. Since most of those 50K riders will be using transit during peak times when buses are already full, more buses/drivers will need to be used thus driving up operating costs. It would be a problem I would like to have none the less.

I don’t think public transit can ever operate fully in the black, thus it will always need to be subsidized. But we subsidize private automobiles (think roads, parking, etc.) enormously; treating it like a birth-right and not giving it much thought. The solution is to put a fixed *percentage* of our transportation dollars toward public transit.
(and transit should be free)


Mikhail

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Aug 22 2013 at 9:28am #

StuInMcCandless wrote:When we can get 50,000 warm bodies who are not using transit now to instead use transit,

Stu, do you know how PAT plans routes? What kind of methods do they use to estimates it?


Mick

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Aug 22 2013 at 11:09am #

StuInMcCandless wrote:When we can get 50,000 warm bodies who are not using transit now to instead use transit, PAT will be able to make ends meet,

What kind of an increase is this? 25% ? 40%?

I’m trying to figure out is this if realistic to consider.

They could get a bit more income -along with less crowding on the buses and fewer truly silly trips – if they made students pay a quarter for each ride.


WillB

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Aug 22 2013 at 11:32am #

Daily PAT ridership is 225,000 trips taken by over 100,000 people, so 50,000 would be a pretty big increase.

As for the students, they pay for their bus passes through their student fees to the universities (which pay the Port Authority), and having that student pass doesn’t lead to frivolous trips any more than a regular user having a monthly pass. Plus, giving students cheap access to transit is a good thing in the long run, because it teaches them to be users of transit, which they will hopefully continue to do once they leave school and start paying full fare.


Mick

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Aug 22 2013 at 11:41am #

WillB wrote:As for the students, they pay for their bus passes through their student fees to the universities (which pay the Port Authority),

That comes out to what per ride? IIRC it’s considerably less than half of full fare.

They could tack a quarter on there and stop students from taking “elevator rides” for 4 blocks in Oakland with no great hardship.


StuInMcCandless

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Aug 22 2013 at 1:13pm #

PAT put a crapton of $ into a system redesign only four years ago, hiring the Nelson\Nygaard firm to study usage patterns, interview user groups and community organizations, and get a pile of real-time usage data on every route in the system, then run the designplans past everyone they talked to earlier.

Unfortunately, they had to cut the system back 15% on the very day they implemented the last of the changes. Still, the redesign worked. Despite the 15% cut, ridership rose 7% that year. More recently, PAT ended its fiscal year with a surplus last year for the first time in ages.

@marko82 What you’re talking about is the transit paradox — that the more that ridership increases, the more service needs to be put out on the street to accommodate that. To a great extent, that has been addressed by replacing aging 40-foot buses with 65-foot articulated buses.

@Mick I see no need to ratchet usage down with an Oakland-only fare. If anything, we want to encourage more riding like that, just with 30% more service on the streets so buses don’t get overcrowded. (30%=15% service cut in June 2007 + 15% service cut in March 2011)

Will we ever get to free fare, system-wide? I’d like to think so, but first things first.


WillB

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Aug 22 2013 at 1:39pm #

Mick wrote:They could tack a quarter on there and stop students from taking “elevator rides” for 4 blocks in Oakland with no great hardship.

My point is that anyone with an unlimited rides pass, whether it’s a student getting a subsidized pass or a person who buys a monthly/yearly pass at full price, will be able to take short rides at no marginal cost. While that may cause a little bit of crowding from people who take short rides instead of walking, the alternative is to completely get rid of any kind of pass system, which goes against the goal of getting more people to use public transit.


Mikhail

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Aug 22 2013 at 1:51pm #

StuInMcCandless wrote:@marko82 What you’re talking about is the transit paradox — that the more that ridership increases, the more service needs to be put out on the street to accommodate that. To a great extent, that has been addressed by replacing aging 40-foot buses with 65-foot articulated buses.

I think marko82 wanted to stress something slightly different. The usage of transit systems is not spread evenly over the time. There are two distinctive “hills” during a weekday. And total increase in service during other times of the same day should not be that huge. 60-foot buses would only partially address it since current system of paying fare (even with connect card) creates a bottleneck. T in this sense has an advantage in a form of big stops where there is an attendant.

PS Back in USSR government mandated to start work day at different hours for different “businesses” to spread rush hours more evenly. convenient for transit system and, probably, not that convenient for people.


Steven

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Aug 22 2013 at 2:52pm #

That transit study in 2009 produced a report showing the cost per passenger of every route in the system. As I recall, busy short routes cost PAAC a buck or so for every passenger, so fares would more than cover that. Meandering suburban routes sometimes ran to $8 or more.

It would be interesting to see current data. Did they really cut or reform the routes to such an extent that using more articulated buses turned them from money-losers to money-makers? Or are some routes still set up so the more passengers they get, the more PAAC has to spend? Which ones?


StuInMcCandless

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Aug 22 2013 at 4:39pm #

If I was still on ACTC, I could get that info. It comes from a regularly issued internal report, which I have paper copies of from 1993 to 2010. Between that and publicly available data on service hours, which you can get from the Google Transit Feed Spec, the desired numbers can be crunched.

(Total passengers carried) / Service hours = Passengers per vehicle-hour. Another crucial number is the cost to operate a bus, per hour, which was $105 in 2004, about $120 in 2010. I don’t have a current figure. But simple math, with help from a spreadsheet, and you can easily figure out whether any routes break even.

Usually P1/P2 and 71A come close. 51 Carrick does OK but is limited to 40-foot equipment because of weight restrictions on the Smithfield Street Bridge, so they run lots of service instead, which drives up the operating cost for that route. (See above about the Transit Paradox.) Routes like the G2 and O1 do real well but are not self-supporting because they’re one-directional. Routes like the 54C/D and 61C do well because they haul, big time, both directions, all day long. No suburban route ever does well because of the same issue facing the G2 and O1, they’re jammed one way and empty going back out. The 28X never does well because, while carrying a standing load, just has a superlong trip each way, so that p/vh denominator is high.

Is that enough background for you? This is the simple stuff.


Steven

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Aug 23 2013 at 2:35am #

Thanks, that’s about how I remember it from when the consultants made that info public.

So really, all PAAC needs to do is encourage ridership on the P1, P2, 71A, 54, and 61C, while not encouraging any more on the 51, 28X, or suburban routes. (And if they could get G2 and O1 riders to head to work in the evenings and go home in the mornings, that would help.) Seems a bit tricky….

Though with the new makeup of the PAAC board, I’m guessing they’ll be emphasizing suburban routes, if anything.

Do you know if the system as a whole is breaking even per-passenger now? What I mean is: if you added N passengers, distributed over all the routes in proportion, would their additional fares cover the added service required?


StuInMcCandless

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Aug 23 2013 at 6:13am #

I don’t have current numbers, but if history is any guide, it’s not even close. Tax subsidy pays for about 70% of costs.

If the whole system were busted up and privatized, you would have about eight routes in the whole system. Even the 61B and 61D don’t break anything close to even.

Adding 50,000 warm bodies would help revenue but drive up costs, as alluded to earlier. But what it would do is cause a lot more service to be put on the streets, both in coverage (i.e., adding back routes deleted in 2011) and headway (i.e., buses come more often), thus reversing the death spiral. There will always be subsidy needed. But when the service gets good enough, people will want to use it. I think that’s already happening despite service being sparse.

As @benzo said in the first comment, this tracking system will be a game changer.


edmonds59

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Aug 23 2013 at 6:26am #

There is the little factoid (that TBH I have not personally fact-checked) that no transit system in the world pays for itself through fares. London, Paris, Tokyo, Peoria, all publicly supported. A transit system is literally like building a road. It is a public service provided so society can function. The discussion of a transit system paying for itself is a red herring. I, for instance, have never driven on a road in East Buttplug, PA, but I helped pay for the road for people to get there.


Steven

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Aug 23 2013 at 11:53am #

That’s what I thought, but I was trying to reconcile that with this:

StuInMcCandless wrote:When we can get 50,000 warm bodies who are not using transit now to instead use transit, PAT will be able to make ends meet….

Money: Each new person on transit means $1,000/year in PAT’s pockets (and $3,000 less in the gas tank), so 50K people means $50 million, which is roughly what the budget deficits have been in recent years.

It sounded like you were saying that 50,000 more riders would help PAT’s finances, or solve their budget problems. But it seems like 50,000 more riders would actually increase PAT’s deficit and require more tax dollars, changing that $50 million hole to $60 or $70 million. Would the legislature really respond to PAT’s increasing ridership by providing more money?

Tax subsidy pays for about 70% of costs.

Yes, but I think part of that is legacy costs (pensions, etc.). If subsidies from taxes somehow covered all of that, plus all fixed operating costs, plus the entire capital budget, how much of the per-passenger costs could fares cover? I suppose the answer is more than 30%, but still not enough.

no transit system in the world pays for itself through fares

Sure. But PAT’s fares are unusually high compared to other US cities, and our cost of living in Pittsburgh is unusually low, so we might have a shot at coming closer than most, at least if you ignore all costs that aren’t proportional to the number of riders.


Mikhail

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Aug 23 2013 at 1:13pm #

edmonds59 wrote:London, Paris, Tokyo, Peoria, all publicly supported.

I can add Moscow, St.-Peterburg, Kiev, Ekaterinburg, Prague, Lisbon — that I’ve checked two years ago.

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