Frequency and the Lineup

Frequent bus service makes more of the City more accessible, but it also saves money. Citywide transit systems only work when people can easily switch between different buses to reach any point in the network, but low-frequency service—like what Centro currently offers—requires enormous inefficiency in order to facilitate transfers. More frequent service can pay for itself—at least in part—by eliminating that waste.


Transit networks benefit from transfers. All alone, a bus line only connects a small part of the City, but as part of a full network, that one bus line can help anyone get anywhere they need to go.

Transfers, though, take time. A rider can show up at their stop right on time to catch the first bus, but they have a lot less control over how long they’ll have to wait for their connecting bus at the transfer point. When the buses don’t show up all that often, a rider can end up waiting an hour or more for their second bus. That’s enough to put a lot of people off of riding the bus at all.

Centro facilitates transfers by running every single bus through the Hub. A person riding any bus can transfer directly to any other bus at that one single point, so it never requires more than one transfer to reach any bus stop in Centro’s entire network.

This ‘hub-and-spoke’ system also allows Centro to minimize the amount of time a rider spends waiting for their connecting bus. Centro times its different bus lines to meet at the Hub all at once roughly every 40 minutes throughout the day. It’s called a lineup, and it makes transferring quick and easy—anybody can transfer between any of the dozen or so buses at a lineup with just a few minutes wait.

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But although the lineup is the best way to facilitate transfers in a low-frequency bus network, it is enormously inefficient. If a dozen buses are all going to meet at a single point at a single time, then bus stops near the center of the network will see bunching (when two or more buses reach a stop at exactly the same time) before and after lineups. This is most obvious at stops right next to the Hub (like Salina and Jefferson), but it’s a problem as far away as James and Oak. 76 buses run from that stop to the Hub between 5:30 am and 12:21 pm every weekday (or 1 bus every ~15 minutes), but 9 times a day Centro intentionally sends 2 bunched buses from that stop all 1.75 miles to the Hub. That doubles the cost of serving lower James Street nine times a day without adding any benefit for riders.

Relatedly, the hub-and-spoke network requires all bus lines to start at the Hub even when that makes no sense. Centro runs buses along Grant Blvd, Teall Ave, Geddes St, Colvin St, and Rt 31. These corridors don’t fit easily into the hub-and-spoke network because they don’t point towards Downtown—Centro has to shoehorn them in by combining them with other lines that do go Downtown. So the Rt 31 bus is really just a detour on the route to Oswego, the Grant Blvd bus zigs and zags across the Northside to make its way to the Hub, and Teall doesn’t get the service it really needs along its full length. All of these fudges add extra miles and extra expense to each bus run, and none of it would be necessary if not for the lineup.

Run buses more frequently, and none of this waste is necessary. When buses run every 10 minutes, riders never have to wait more than 10 minutes for their connecting bus. That makes the lineup unnecessary because transfers are quick and easy no matter when a rider reaches the transfer point. And it makes the hub-and-spoke network unnecessary because quick transfers are possible wherever two bus lines intersect.

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The lineup is necessary and useful in a system where the buses only run once an hour, but it limits the kind of service that Centro can offer, and it makes that service more expensive than it needs to be.

Frequent service will free Centro from the logic of the lineup. It will make new kinds of bus routes possible (a line running from Lyncourt to South Campus along Teall and Westcott, a line running from Corcoran to the train station along Geddes, a line running from Liverpool to Hancock Airpark along Taft), and it will make the entire network cheaper to run.