Debate: Travelling Time vs Waiting Time

Travelling by bus can get quite frustrating sometimes, as it involves mainly two variables which are both important, but however opposing of each other.

It is almost like a law, where one variable would usually stand out over the other. However, it is quite impossible to get both variables low. At least with the model employed in Singapore.


As a Commuter

Most people don’t give a damn on how you operate your bus services. As long as they get from point A to point B, within a set desired time limit.

You’d usually want both short waiting times and short travelling times. This equates to having a good bus frequency and have fast average travelling speed.

Unfortunately the real life doesn’t always work in your favour, and it always go lop-sided. If you’re unlucky, even both variables can take longer than usual.


Waiting Time

This is the main variable that the Land Transport Authority focuses on. They did several tell-tale signs by setting a requirement to have all bus services to operate with a set maximum frequency of 15 minutes per bus during weekdays. Obviously special services are exempted.

Usually high demand services would get a good bus frequency, around 3 to 7 minutes for a bus during weekday peak hours.

The bus services are controlled by a system employed by all current public bus operators known as Common Fleet Management System (CFMS).

You could read more about it at Land Transport Guru, however all you need to know is that the system determines how fast or slow your bus is required to travel by the headway, not schedule.

So, if your front bus speeds, you too, and so forth.
If your front bus slows, you too, and so forth.

It sounds good, except that it doesn’t work exceptionally well for services with very short headway, and even more exceptionally on services where it passes through congestion almost everyday (Stevens Road is a good example.).

As the system only updates with a set interval, some bus drivers could be receiving outdated information if the system hasn’t updated their timing. This would greatly impact high frequency services, and can cause a domino effect that could potentially last for several hours.

The system does not consider errant drivers as well, who decides to follow the schedule instead of maintaining headway.

This potentially can cause all the back buses to come close, and they would be ordered to slow down, effectively elongating the travelling time of the passengers in those buses, despite them following schedule as well.

In an attempt to maintain a good frequency (and headway), the travelling time of people in multiple buses had to be extended, even when there’s multiple buses all close to each other.

Another thing the system does not cover is departure times. The buses would depart usually on schedule (instead of headway), therefore carrying the long headway onward as well. However the frequencies of the buses behind are more or less regulated as well. But with the late bus requiring to handle the heavy passenger loads posed by the longer headway between itself and the front bus, it is bound to be delayed. The system does not take this into consideration as well, to deploy another bus closely behind to alleviate the crowd.


Travelling Time

Travelling fast could be considered both a luxury and a thrill.

You are less likely to be anxious about being late or be more concerned with the time if you were to be on a bus with a fast driver. However, Singapore lacks a system to manage average speeds, whereas in other countries they do.

The main concern is that faster speeds equate to more accidents. False.
Speeds have almost nothing to do with accidents. The reason why this is portrayed is simply because high speed accidents usually would result in a fatality whereas low speed accidents don’t. There’s way more low speed accidents in Singapore than fast speeds, just that fast speed crashes are more of a “newsworthy” material. It’s just an illusion brought up by the press.

However, the maximum speed of a bus in Singapore is already capped at 60kmh. It couldn’t get any faster even if it wanted to. It’s still considerably slow.

Either way, as everyone is armed with a smartphone, they can easily check for the timing for the next bus, and hence frequency becomes a non-concern – just simply leave your house to reach the bus stop when the bus is arriving soon, so you don’t have to spend any time waiting for the bus a the bus stop.

Therefore in theory, your total travelling time could be reduced quite drastically if the travelling time is reduced. But obviously there are some flaws with this as well.

If buses start to travel fast, heavy bunching could occur at congestion points.

But this would allow drivers to overtake errant drivers who drives at a constant low speed, and reduce the headway in front. Having a faster journey could even potentially allow more trips to be conducted throughout the day even with the same amount of break time. Talk about efficiency.


The Conclusion

But to be honest, buses bunching after a long headway really isn’t bad at all for passengers. I’d rather wait 20 minutes to still be able to get on a bus than to wait 7 minutes for a bus that I may not even be able to board.

Perhaps it is the operations where bunching is undesired. But being a public service, shouldn’t the service prioritise the passengers’ needs instead of operational needs?

Hong Kong could run fast bus services yet maintaining a good frequency. LTA needs to realise that several bus services are made to be a good alternative from the MRT. But with their current scheduling, it isn’t looking to be the best of options for now.

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