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Friday, April 22, 2011

Consistency Matters

I have friends who would never willingly ride a bus who will eagerly take a ride on TRAX. I cannot blame them. TRAX was the start of my love affair with Salt Lake City transit. The fundamental difference between TRAX and a bus is reliability--TRAX can keep a schedule. When I was commuting to the University of Utah from Sandy, I knew, to the minute, when TRAX left Sandy station and arrived at the University of Utah.

Much as I support buses, I cannot muster any love for them. Because I cannot trust a bus. By its very nature, a bus is an unreliable beast. No bus can keep a schedule, and the sheer uncertainty of that is maddening. Even when I rode a bus daily to work, I still found myself doing the 'bus bob', craning my neck down the street to look and see if the bus was coming yet. When the bus actually came varied by weather conditions, by time of day, and by individual driver. It was actually pleasing when a regular driver was consistently ten minutes late every day.  I knew exactly when I had to be at the stop and I no longer had to stand in the cold for ten minutes every morning, waiting for a bus that the schedule claimed had already arrived. 

The bus schedule was worse than useless. It only shows what time the bus is supposed to come, not when it actually will. It is possible and even likely to arrive ten minutes before the schedule time, and wait 20 minutes to catch a bus. But with 15 minute headways between buses or trains, there is only one chance to catch the right bus, so everyone is forced to be early, just to be sure. Thus, irregular arrival times vastly increasing their door to door travel time, to the enormous detriment of ridership.