Route and Schedule Design

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As noted throughout this website, roughly half of all the factors that appear to be causative factors in public transportation incidents are largely the result of schedules that are too tight, or drivers falling behind in their otherwise operable schedules. Most commonly in fixed route transit service, where most transit agencies’ schedules are almost all too tight (this stems from the failure to loosen or restructure routes when the ADA required their unpredictable transportation of wheelchair users, whose garden-variety chairs can take 10 minutes to load, secure, detach and unload), drivers learn how to compromise safety in a considerable number of ways in order to preserve what little “recovery” or “layover” time their routes may otherwise enjoy if they are also lucky enough to not pick up a wheelchair user (or calloused enough to pass one by, which has led to many a class action suit, including Beauchamp v. LACMTA, the most famous, in which I served as the plaintiff’s expert). These tricks include:

  • Not securing wheelchairs
  • Not securing wheelchair users’ lap and shoulder-belts
  • Not letting boarding passengers reach a point of seating or securement before pulling the bus out
  • Not kneeling the bus
  • Not pulling to the curb (and exacerbating this maneuver by also not kneeling the bus)
  • Stopping on the wrong side of the intersection (depending on whether the vehicle “makes the light” or gets “caught in it”)
  • Prematurely closing doors on passengers
  • Speeding
  • Accelerating and/or braking too sharply

Negligent route design is far more a recent phenomenon (at least for those modes whose vehicles follow designated paths) stemming from the devising of routes by computerized software. But errors and omissions also occur at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Particularly in small school districts, sometimes drivers design the routes. In some lawsuits I’ve been involved in, no one did — instead, slips of paper with the names of various students residing in certain areas of the service area were simply handed to drivers serving that area, and using what knowledge of that area they had, they circulated through it, picking up and discharging students willy-nilly, paying no attention to minimizing the number of students who would have to cross streets or any other factors related to their safety. Needless to say, in such cases, stops are not selected either (much less based on any rationale), but “materialize” as students point out where they live (and the drop-off points chosen are used for pickup points in the morning). And because they possess long wheelbases, full-size buses (transit, school buses, motorcoaches) do not turn the same way automobiles do. As a consequence, buses do not turn easily (if at all) into narrow streets.

Finally, some operations of certain modes that should define the precise path of the vehicle between stops fail to do so, granting the driver the liberty to improve the path of his or her choice. This deviation opens the doors of risk to a vast spectrum of problems, including passengers not knowing where they are, or vehicles carrying young children arriving before their parents arrive to meet them. Otherwise, when routes are improvised, drivers do not have the information to avoid poor roadway conditions, detours, construction areas, and other harbingers of danger and delay — often enticing them to “make up for lost time” by compromising yet other safety procedures.

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