Vienna tram with steps.
Old type Vienna tram requires passengers to climb up several steps to board. (Source: Andrew Nash, 2010)

Speed-up Boarding

Every second that buses and trams spend stopped slows down passenger trips and costs public transport agencies money. A great way to improve public transport is to speed-up the boarding process. How?

  1. Use off-vehicle fare collection;
  2. Use level boarding or low floor vehicles;
  3. Improve vehicle design.

These improvements are outlined below, in the meantime here’s an excellent video by Streetfilms called A faster Muni (2010) that describes ideas for speeding-up boarding on the San Francisco Muni buses and trams.

1. Use off-vehicle fare collection

Fare collection significantly impacts the speed and efficiency of public transport. Fare collection consists of two activities: paying the fare and demonstrating that the fare has been paid. There are three basic approaches to this process:

  • on-vehicle fare collection – passengers CAN buy their ticket from the driver and MUST show the driver a valid ticket. In these systems all passengers must interact with the driver and so they must all enter through the front door.
  • off-vehicle fare collection – all passengers MUST buy their tickets before boarding the vehicle and do not need to show drivers their tickets. In these systems passengers do not interact with the driver and can board the vehicle through any door, thus significantly reducing boarding time.
  • hybrid approaches include using conductors, on-vehicle ticket machines and/or on-vehicle turnstiles to achieve some off-vehicle fare collection advantages.

The problem with off-vehicle fare collection is that people can ride without buying a ticket. There are two approaches for solving this problem:

  • Closed systems – in a closed system barriers are used to control access to public transport boarding areas (e.g. rapid transit stations like the New York Subway or Paris Metro). It’s hard to use closed systems for buses or streetcars because it’s hard to control access to on-street boarding areas. Curitiba’s BRT tube stations are innovative since the closed system stations are small enough to fit in the normal streetscape.
  • Open systems – also known as proof of payment (POP) or self-service fare collection. This system relies on passengers to be honest and buy tickets; however, fare collectors regularly inspect passengers and ask to see their tickets – traveling without a valid ticket results in a fine.

In summary, to improve public transport efficiency, fares should be collected off the vehicle. For more information on fare collection systems please see Best Practices wiki: Fare Collection.

2. Use Level Boarding

BRT Station Curitiba Brazil
Curitiba BRT: bus and station. (Source: Carlos Restrepo)

Climbing up steps to board a bus or streetcar takes longer than boarding when the vehicle floor and the boarding area are at the same level. Climbing steps is also difficult for older passengers, people with baby carriages and impossible for people in wheelchairs. There are two solutions:

  • raise the boarding area platform, or
  • lower the vehicle floor

Raising the boarding area is expensive and involves major construction project (Curitiba’s bus station tubes are an innovative exception to this rule). This approach also requires that raised platforms be built at all stops (although San Francisco uses a hybrid system where vehicle steps are raised and lowered mechanically – but this is complex, maintenance intensive and prone to failure).

Most public transport agencies have adopted the second solution: lowering the vehicle floor and most modern buses and streetcars are “low floor” design.

Zurich Cobra Tram
Zurich’s Cobra Tram is an excellent example of a new tram: level boarding, many doors, proof of payment fare collection. (Source: Andrew Nash, 2008).

Often the boarding area for low floor vehicles is slightly raised above the standard curb height so that the boarding area is exactly level with the vehicle floor. This significantly improves the boarding and alighting process for all passengers.

A key reason for introducing level boarding is the need to provide access to public transit for everyone from old to young to people with mobility difficulties. But it’s good to remember that it makes it easier for everyone to use public transport and reduces operating costs: a true win-win.

For more information and photos of level boarding please see the Best Practices wiki Vehicle Boarding page.

3. Improve Vehicle Design

There are three important concepts of vehicle design that can help speed-up public transport:

  • Increase the number of doors – The more doors that can be used for boarding and alighting the less time the bus or streetcar will spend stopped at a station. As outlined above, the number of doors that can be used depends on the fare payment system (off-vehicle fare collection is best).
Goteborg BRT Bus
New bus in Goteborg Sweden with three wide doors and low floor. (Source: Andrew Nash, 2009)
  • Eliminate dead zones – dead zones are areas of the vehicle where there is limited access to a door (a good example is the back portion of buses without doors at the end of the vehicle); people tend not to use these areas reducing capacity and increasing congestion around the doors.
  • Increase circulation space around doors – people tend to congregate around the doors leading to congestion. This increases the amount of time it takes people to board or alight the vehicle. Good vehicle design practice has lots of space without seats around the door. This also provides space for baby carriages and people in wheelchairs.

For more information and photos of public transport vehicle design please see Best Practices wiki Vehicle Design page.

About the Project

Bus Meister uses an on-line game, social networking and a best practices database (+wiki) to teach people about public transport. By educating residents and providing them with a way to get involved in improving public transport we hope to stimulate creative thinking and generate the political support needed to implement good ideas.

Bus Meister has been assisted with funds provided by the Vienna Business Agency (formerly ZIT).

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