Thursday, May 5, 2011

Empty buses my foot

The plan this morning was to attend an ACTC committee meeting, followed by the Port Authority Board of Directors Stakeholders Committee meeting, but because of a last minute change in plans, I ended up doing something much more important: I rode a bus home. Let me tell you about that bus ride.

8:45 I check the timetables at the Wood Street T station and verify that an outbound 12 McKnight would be due in five minutes. Excellent. I've caught this bus, or its predecessor 12A McKnight Shopper, hundreds of times. Off to 9th Street at Penn Avenue I go.

8:50 A gaggle of people are waiting, but as this stop is shared by several routes, I did not think much of it, merely verified that the 12 had not yet gone. A couple of minutes pass, but not enough to be of any concern.

The bus shows up at 8:54, within the five-minute window for timeliness. It does not remain that way. Bus 5003 has a mechanical problem, the rear door won't open, but that's not the real problem. The bus is jammed to capacity from its inbound trip, and to my surprise, all nine of us waiting at that stop board here.

From here, let's pick it up from my Twitter stream, verbatim. This was all documented as it happened. All I've done is to timestamp the tweets that I did not already key in a timestamp. (Quick primer on Twitterese: bc=because, inb or ib=inbound, ob=outbound, w=with, wo=without.)

8:54 12 ob 5003 9St at Penn Av. 9 of us boarding packed bus. Packed bc 1st ob stop wo discharging (much of) anyone ib. Easily 50 aboard.
[Translation: Boarding an outbound 12 at 8:54, bus 5003, at the corner of 9th Street and Penn Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh.]

9:00 Inb riders trading stories of O12s passing people up. This 12 isn't to the point of refusal but IS uncomfortable bc rear door won't open.

9:04 42 boarded at the Liberty & 7St stop. 9:02 crossing Penn. Almost 10 minutes late, partly bc of overcrowding bc of reduced trips.

9:07 The extended dwell time was partly due to the bad door, but getting 50 people off and 50 other people on at just two bus stops is bc cuts.

9:10 Throw a detour in there and we're now almost 15 minutes late. 9:10 Cedar at ENorthAv.
[Note: That trip of the 12 is due at E North & Middle, one block later, at 8:57. ]

9:13 One off, 6 more on. This is nuts. People are yelling to move back but it's jammed back there, too.

9:17 If a wheelchair rider showed up, we'd have to pass him up. There's almost no room for another standee let alone a w/c.

9:20 On East St at Venture. Squeezed two more on. Weird Al Yankovic, we hear ya. Baytree St, yet another.

9:22 I am jammed against the left front wheelwell so I have a perfect vantage point. Ivory Av, one more on.

9:25 Lady mid bus wants off. Actually 4 people. Dwell time at that stop was on the high side of 1:50.

9:28 Red Lobster stop dwell time 1:25.

9:29 Flowerama stop, about 30 seconds. I can see the back of the bus now.

9:31 Nhills Village, still 12 standees.

9:35 Ross Park Mall. Still 10 standees approaching mall.

9:38 23 off at mall. One standee but lots of seats. 17 still on board.

9:44 Northway Mall, almost normal. Someone sitting in traffic on McKnight would look in & wonder why Port Authority runs half-empty buses.

9:55 2 off at Kane, 4 at McIntyre Square, I'm next at Perrymont, 5 left. Empty buses indeed. Recall that the inb trip was at capacity, too.

10:14 Home. Blog post underway, hope to have it up by lunchtime. 80-minute trip from 9St/Penn, normally 57 by bus & foot on this route.

That's the blow-by-blow. Take a look at that. There was not a missing bus prior to this. At least 51 people got on at two stops Downtown, as counted by me, who could see every head getting on and off through the one operable door. That is vastly different from similar pre-cut trips, which were busy -- often to standing, but not to capacity even before crossing the Allegheny.

The peak load for that trip, by my count, was 61 people. The actual rider count would actually be higher because some got off before others got on.

The trip was mighty uncomfortable. With 61 on board and 39 seats, that means 22 people were trying to hang onto whatever was available, and on the 1999 Neoplan low-floor buses, there isn't much to hang on to in the front half of the bus.

People were standing in front of the white line because they had to. This also occurred on the inbound O12 I was on earlier, and likely occurred on the inbound trip of the 12 I boarded. Three trips, three technically illegal loads. There's something wrong with this picture.

Note that this is a morning outbound trip! The primary direction of travel in the morning is inbound. There is no earlier choice. The prior trip left town a full hour earlier, 7:50.

By the time we got past Ross Park Mall, the load had thinned to the point where, had someone looked in the bus from a car sitting in traffic, because of the low-floor design of the bus they would not have seen a lot of people, yet there were still 17 people on board. I am certain that some of the public thinks nobody rides the buses because they don't see anybody on them. Those most likely to think this are those who most often see a bus when sitting in traffic near the outer terminus.

The bus was seriously delayed by being overloaded. Dwell times -- the time the bus is stopped to board or deboard a passenger -- are commonly 20 seconds for a couple of people. Being stopped for 40 seconds is unusual. We had to stop for up to two minutes on several occasions. The bad door was a factor Downtown, but it did not impede the inbound trip, as it was only four minutes late arriving Downtown, perfectly normal.

The problem is a lack of service. Sixty-minute headways are not enough for the 12 McKnight, either direction.

I had the sensation that I was riding a third-world transit bus. This is not the third world. Why are we trying to make it so?


  1. If you really want a study in passenger overload since the cuts you should observe the P1 & P2 at peak hours.

  2. I am sure the 12 and O12 are anything but unique. I am documenting this one trip just to illustrate how bad it is out there. Would that more of us would do likewise.

    This is really the same as saying we cannot afford to maintain all the lane miles of state highways, so let's just put the orange cones on 4- and 6-lane highways, forcing them all down to 2- and 4-laners.