In public transportation, service frequency depends on bus speed. The faster buses go, the more times one operator can make a run in a single shift. Since the vast majority of operating cost is taken up by operator salary, that means higher service frequencies for little to no extra money. And since higher frequencies are the best way to make public transportation more useful to more people, Syracuse should be doing everything it can to make Centro’s buses go faster.
Nationwide, transit buses travel an average of 12 mph. Buses go so slow because they spend so much of their time not going at all—between sitting at red lights and pickup up/dropping off riders, buses in NYC only spend half their time actually moving. Reduce time spent stuck at reds and time spent letting people on and off the bus, and Syracuse can have faster—more frequent, better—public transportation.
There are a few ways to do this. The most obvious is bus lanes. Give buses their own space on the street, and cars won’t get in their way. That means no waiting for traffic to pass before pulling away from the bus stop, no getting stuck behind somebody illegally parked at the curb. All this requires is some paint, and it will speed buses up immediately.
Transit signal priority is another way to speed up buses. That technology lets traffic lights know when a bus is approaching, and it adjusts the light cycle to speed up bus travel times—either turning green a little faster or staying green a little longer to let the bus through. City Hall has talked about implementing this technology with its newly acquired streetlight grid, and it would be a perfect smart city technology to deploy as part of the Syracuse Surge.
New payment technologies can also speed the bus up. Paying the fare on the bus takes a couple seconds, and that time really adds up when a lot of people get on the bus all at the same time. Riders have to look for exact change, they have to request a transfer, they have to wait for the fare box to spit their pass back out. While they’re doing all that, the operator has to monitor them, and the bus isn’t moving. Other cities have much faster payment methods—like touchless RFID cards, mobile pay, and offboard fare collection—that let people board much faster so that the bus can spend less time hanging out at the curb.
All of these infrastructure and policy improvements complement network redesign strategies that will also increase service frequency with little to no added operating cost. Take the lineup: it confines service to infrequent bunches throughout the day. That’s bad for frequency from a scheduling standpoint (spreading the service out evenly over the course of the day would yield better frequencies), and it causes traffic that slows buses down (putting 20 buses on the street all at one time creates way more traffic congestion than Downtown normally sees, and those buses get in each other’s way and slow each other down). Getting rid of the lineup would improve frequency in both cases.
Or take spines: the idea of running multiple bus lines on a single street near the center of the network. That multiplies the service frequency on the spine, and it makes all of that speed-boosting infrastructure more effective because improvements to a single street benefit multiple bus lines. Running all of the northbound lines as a spine up North Salina would give that street frequent service and it would make it easier to build this kind of speed-boosting infrastructure.
If Centro is going to improve its service, it’s going to have to find ways to make the buses go faster. That will mean working with City Hall to build infrastructure like bus lanes and transit signal priority, and it will mean adopting innovative technology like mobile fare payment. Combine improvements like those with a redesigned network and schedule, and Syracuse will have more frequent service that gives more people more access to more opportunity.