Glen Kohler, in his Aug. 24 commentary (“Empty Van Hool Buses on Telegraph”), provided a fairly good description of “bus bunching” when he said “A closely-spaced motorcade of double-size Van Hool buses now trundles up and down Telegraph Avenue at all hours.” Ironically, bus bunching would be remedied by the BRT system that Kohler expresses doubt about. It occurs when buses are operating in “mixed flow” traffic which results in buses being stuck in traffic and as a result thrown off schedule. Transportation engineers use the term “mixed flow” to describe the situation where buses are mixed in the same lane with autos, trucks, emergency vehicles, etc. The proposed BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system with dedicated lanes proposed for Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley/Oakland and International Boulevard in Oakland would go a long way to eliminating this problem. With dedicated lanes, buses flow unimpeded by other traffic.
For instance, the new 1R Rapid Bus is operating with a 12-minute “headway”—the scheduled time interval between consecutive buses—on weekdays along Telegraph, and it is this frequency of service that is responsible for the bus bunching we see there.
As any bus rider knows, being stuck in a traffic jam will result in the next bus catching up with your bus, and the result is two buses arriving at a bus stop at one time; if the traffic is bad enough, and a driver has trouble helping to load or unload a wheelchair passenger, it is possible to see three buses arriving at the same time. Bus bunching does not occur very often with buses that run with a half-hour headway, and it does not occur with buses running in dedicated lanes.
Kohler also says: “I see an average range of six to 16 passengers occupying these cavernous vehicles.”
A number of other letters to the Planet have similarly described seeing many empty buses on Telegraph. This perception may be explained by the fact that during the afternoon commute hours, the southbound 1R Rapid Bus from downtown Berkeley does not run on either Bancroft Way or on the section of Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight. It only runs on Telegraph south of Dwight Way. Only the northbound 1R will be seen north of Dwight Way on Telegraph and on Bancroft. I recently boarded a southbound 1R Rapid Bus on a weekday evening at 6:30 at the corner of Dwight Way and Telegraph and counted at least 10 people boarding the bus at that stop. There were already 25 people on the bus when I boarded.
These southbound buses carry large numbers of people during the afternoon commute hours, but they will not be seen by someone on either Bancroft Way or on the section of Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight. People there will only see the northbound 1R on Telegraph and could be forgiven for believing that the “buses are running empty” since they don’t see the southbound 1R buses. It is also the case that these northbound buses may very well be lightly loaded—hence appearing to be “empty”—in the evening while traveling north on Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight Way because their main job at that time of day is to carry students and workers away from downtown Berkeley and the campus on the southbound return trip to Oakland and destinations along the Telegraph Corridor south of Dwight Way. This is no different from BART running trains during peak hours which are relatively empty because they are getting ready to carry passengers to or from work, i.e. they are “deadheading.” Neither bus bunching or empty buses are the result of bad management of buses by AC Transit as the tone of some of the letters to the Planet on this topic seem to imply.
Len Conly is co-chair of Friends of BRT.