Bus Branching

There are two standard reasons why public transit should limit branching. The first is that it reduces frequency on the branches; this is Jarrett Walker’s reason, and distantly the reason why New York doesn’t interline more than two subway services anywhere except 60th Street Tunnel. The second is that it makes schedules more fragile, first because services have to be scheduled more precisely to alternate among branches, and second because delays on one branch propagate to the others. And yet, rail and bus networks still employ branching, due to benefits including better coverage and focusing frequency where demand is the highest. This is especially common on regional rail, where all services are scheduled and often interact with the mainline network, so the second problem of branching is present no matter what. Metro systems instead have less branching, often because they only serve dense areas so that the main benefits of branching are absent. But what about buses?

I posit that bus branching is more valuable in low-density areas than in high-density areas. If an area only has demand for a bus every 30 minutes, and some farther-out places only have demand for an hourly bus, then it’s fine to branch the route in two. The bus would only be useful with some timed transfers at the inner end – maybe it’s feeding a regional train station with a train every half hour – but the Zurich suburbs have half-hourly clockface schedules with timed bus/rail connections and maintain high mode share for how low their density is.

In the other direction, look at Manhattan specifically. I’ve been looking at its bus network even though I’m only supposed to redesign Brooklyn’s. I’ve mentioned before that my epistemology is that if the presence of factor A makes solution B better, then the absence of factor A should make solution B worse. I noticed that the Brooklyn bus network has very little branching: the only route numbers that branch are the B41 and B38, and the only routes with different numbers that share the majority of their lengths are the B67 and B69 (which reverse-branch). However, Manhattan has extensive branching: the M1/2/3/4 share the Madison and Fifth Avenue one-way pair, and the M101/102/103 share the Third and Lexington one-way pair. Understanding why would be useful even if I only care about Brooklyn: if there is a good reason for Manhattan buses to branch then I should consider adding branching in Brooklyn where appropriate, and even if it’s inappropriate, it’s useful to understand what special circumstances make branching good in Manhattan but not in Brooklyn.

As it is, I don’t believe the branching in Manhattan is useful for Brooklyn. This comes from several reasons, at least one of which implies it’s not really useful for Manhattan either, and by extension for other high-density regions.

Base frequency

You can run a bus that comes every half hour on a schedule, making it possible to interline two hourly routes evenly. With some discipline you can go down to 15 minutes, or possibly even 10: Vancouver runs 12-minute limited buses on 4th Avenue on a clockface schedule with on-board fare collection and shared lanes, but there is signal priority at nearly all intersections and relatively little car traffic since the West Side’s street network is rich in arterial roads and distributes cars across other routes (i.e. Broadway, 12th, and 16th Avenues).

In contrast, it’s not really feasible to run buses on a schedule when they come every 5 minutes. There can be a printed schedule, but buses won’t follow it reliably. Once frequency hits about once every 3 minutes, regular street buses bunch so much that adding more buses doesn’t increase passenger capacity, but even in the 5-10 minute range, schedules are less important than headway management, unless the bus has extensive BRT treatments reducing schedule variance. This means that if a bus comes every 10 minutes and is scheduled on headway management, then branching the route means each branch gets service every 20 minutes scheduled on headway management as well. Few passengers would want to ride such a route. This is the worst region for branching, the 7.5-15 minute range in which branches force passengers to use buses that are both infrequent and irregular.

The highest-frequency routes can branch with less risk. If a 5-minute bus branches in two, then each branch gets 10-minute service, at which point reliable schedules are still desirable but not absolutely necessary. How much service do the Manhattan bus trunks run? In the following scheme, peak means the busiest hour in the morning in the peak direction, and off-peak means the lowest frequency between the morning and afternoon peaks, which is usually around 11 am.

M1: 13 buses per hour peak (8 limited, 5 local), 5 off-peak (all local)
M2: 9 peak, 4 off-peak
M3: 6 peak, 6 off-peak
M4: 12 peak (5 limited, 7 local), 6 off-peak (all local)

M101: 6 peak, 6 off-peak (8 in the busiest off-peak hour, 2-3 pm)
M102: 5 peak, 4 off-peak
M103: 5 peak, 4 off-peak

What we see is that Manhattan branches precisely in the worst frequency range. The buses are frequent enough that it’s not possible to run them on a timetable without either much better segregation from traffic than is feasible (even waving away politics) or massive schedule padding, but they still require passengers in Upper Manhattan to wait 10-15 minutes for their specific branch. One might expect that Bus Time would make it easier on passengers by telling them where the bus is, but no, ridership has actually fallen since apps were introduced (and this fall predates the entry of app-hailed TNCs into the city). It turns out passengers like being able to rely on easily memorable clockface schedules, or else on frequencies so high that they only need to wait 5 minutes, not 15.

The street network

Even one-time visitors to New York notice that the avenues in Manhattan are all one-way. This features prominently in the Manhattan bus network, which employs consistent one-way pairs on First/Second, Third/Lex, Madison/Fifth, and Ninth/Tenth. Moreover, again as every visitor to New York knows, Central Park occupies a large blob of land in the middle, interrupting Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

The upshot is that there are more north-south routes north of 110th Street than south of it. This is roughly the branch point on the three trunks that branch (First/Second only carries the M15). In Harlem, there’s demand for buses on Lenox (i.e. Sixth) and Seventh, both of which are two-way there. There’s also commerce on an interpolating route, Manhattan/St. Nicholas, which is effectively 8.5th Avenue in most of Harlem. Farther west, Ninth/Columbus is no longer a useful through-route north of 110th, but instead Tenth/Amsterdam is two-way, and one of the two buses using the Columbus/Amsterdam one-way pair on the Upper West Side, the M11, indeed goes two-way on Amsterdam north of 110th.

This situation occurs very frequently in cities without gridded street networks. One trunk route will split in two, heading to different former villages that were incorporated into the city as it industrialized and grew. Manhattan is unusual among gridded cities in that its avenues are one-way, forcing buses into one-way pairs south of Harlem that, together with Central Park, ensure there are more useful routes north of 110th than south of it. But among cities without a planned street network this is typical.

As a check, let’s look at the bus networks in two ungridded American cities: Boston and Providence. Do they have a lot of interlining, involving one trunk route splitting in two farther out? Yes, they do!

Here is Providence. Going west of Downcity, there are two major routes to Olneyville, Westminster and Broadway, but beyond Olneyville there are four main streets, so each of the two inner corridors carries two bus routes, and one of these four routes even splits in two farther out. Going north, Charles Street carries four routes, branching off at various locations. Going east there’s a bus tunnel to College Hill carrying many routes, but even outside the tunnel, the one-way pair on Angell and Waterman carries three buses, which split in East Providence. And going south and southwest, Broad Street carries multiple routes, and one of its branches, Elmwood, carries two, splitting farther south.

Here is Boston. Unlike in Providence, buses don’t converge on city center, but on subway stations, so the map is much less clean. However, we see the same pattern of trunk routes splitting into branches. For example, going south of Ruggles, many routes go southeast to Dudley and then south on Warren Street, splitting to various destinations in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park on the way. Going southwest of Forest Hills we see many routes use Washington Street, some staying on it and branching in Dedham and some veering west to West Roxbury and branching there. Elsewhere in the system we see the same pattern going north of Maverick and Oak Grove, northeast of Malden, west of Harvard (briefly on Mount Auburn), and northwest of Alewife.

One-seat rides and reverse-branching

I have repeatedly criticized the practice of reverse-branching on subway networks, especially New York, in which two train routes share tracks in an outlying area (such as Queens Boulevard) and then split heading into the center (such as Eighth Avenue on the E versus Sixth Avenue on the F). I did so on the same grounds that any branching is suspect: it reduces frequency on specific routes, and makes the schedule more fragile as delays propagate to more of the network. Moreover, the issue of schedule fragility gets worse if many routes share tracks at some point during their journey, whereas with conventional branching there are only two or three branches per trunk and the trunks form self-contained systems. Finally, reverse-branching lacks the main benefit of conventional branching, as it does not concentrate traffic in the core, where there’s most demand.

These issues are present on bus networks, with two modifications:

  1. The value of one-seat rides is somewhat higher. Transferring between buses is less nice than transferring between subways: in a Dutch study about location decisions, people’s disutility of out-of-vehicle time on buses was 1.5 times as high as on trains.
  2. Buses can overtake each other and, even without overtakes, run much closer together than trains. The limiting factor to capacity on buses is schedule fragility and bunching and not stopping distances. This means that reverse-branching is less likely to lead to cascading delays – buses do not have a 2-minute exclusion zone behind them in which no buses may enter.

This means that reverse-branching is more defensible on buses than on trains. However, even then, I don’t think it’s a good idea. At least in Manhattan, reverse-branching consists of avenues in Upper Manhattan that have buses going to both the East Side and the West Side: the M7 (serving the Ninth/Tenth pair) and the M102 both run on Lenox, and the M4 and M104 (running on Broadway to Midtown) both run on Broadway in Morningside Heights. These splits both reduce the frequency available to bus riders and should be eliminated. East-west service should be provided with high-quality bus routes on the main streets, especially 125th (which needs a full subway) but also 116th, 135th, 145th, and 155th.

The snag is that grids don’t work well unless they are complete. The Manhattan grid isn’t complete through Upper Manhattan, because 116th and 135th are discontinuous, without a direct connection from Central Harlem to Morningside Heights and West Harlem. However, the M7 route duplicates the 2 and 3 trains, so it’s not necessary for east-west connectivity. The M4 route doesn’t duplicate the subway, but does duplicate the M101, which runs on 125th Street and Amsterdam (and isn’t a reverse-branch because the M11 terminates shortly after 125th), so it’s not useful by itself.

Should buses branch?

There is one solid reason for buses to branch: if the street network has more major routes closer to the center than in outlying areas, then buses running on the outer arterials should come together close to the core. This is common enough on cities with haphazard street networks. It may also be reinforced if there are weak circumferential streets (Sydney is one such example). In contrast, cities with gridded street plans, even broken grids like those of Brooklyn and Tel Aviv, should have little to no bus branching.

If a bus does branch, it should ideally be extremely frequent on the trunk, so that even the branches have decent headway-based service. I’m not willing to commit to a maximum headway, but Barcelona and Toronto both have at worst 8-minute headways on their bus grids, so if that is indeed the maximum then a bus shouldn’t branch if its off-peak frequency is worse than every 4 minutes and better than every 10-20 (the more reliable the timetable is, the lower the upper limit is, since it’s possible to run on a timetable at higher frequency). In my case of interest, Brooklyn, there is exactly one bus route that comes at least every 4 minutes off-peak: the B46 on Utica runs 16 buses per hour in each direction, counting both local and limited (SBS) routes.

The area in which buses absolutely should not branch – strong interconnected networks of arterials (not necessarily grids – Paris’s network counts too), running buses every 5-15 minutes off-peak – is exactly where most strong bus networks are. It’s rare to have a bus that has extremely high frequency all day, because in most functional city such a bus would be a subway already; as it is, Utica has long been New York’s second priority for subway service, after Second Avenue. So for the most part, the places where buses are the strongest are precisely those where branching is the most deleterious. Low-frequency networks, perhaps connecting to a suburban train station with a timed transfer, should add bus branching to their planning toolkit, but high-frequency urban networks should not.


  1. Erick

    Most of the branching is designed to reduce frequency in order to reduce costs. So it’s designed that way. Of course as a passenger I hate it. Growing up in a suburb of Montréal there was no branching but the service was awful and only meant to bring you to the Metro station in the morning and back home in the afternoon.

    Montréal proper had some but not really.

    When I moved to Ottawa I was flabbergasted and horrified to discover that I was in the kingdom of branching and inappropriate interlining.

    Chatting with neighbours and reading local blogs and media I would discover that local politicians hate seeing drivers waiting at a station (even though its inevitable) and desperately try to reduce costs as opposed to provide a quality service. They would rather spent money burning diesel and have drivers either run across town (deadheading is high in Ottawa) than wait at a station for the next departure. There’s also quite a few routes with 2-3 midday departures which of course only exists to placate city councillors who have way too much authority.

    What drives this is that while we are the national capital of Canada, we are only 900 000 spread out on a territory which is as large as the city (not the island though) of Montréal. I was surprised to discover that many in the public service, military and The RCMP comes not from metropolitan areas like I did, but from small towns. So the idea of taking the bus irritates them to no end.

    Many come to work only for a few years and will return home. So th obsession with the one-seat ride is there. This leads to inefficient decisions on building the bus and now the rail network.

    Ironically, the construction of the Confederation Line LRT will reduce branching as most passengers will have no choice but to take the train on their journey. We might finally get a more reasonable bus network.

    However the current mayor desperately wants to reduce service as to avoid costs. Soooo

  2. adirondacker12800

    That things run hither thither and yon is a feature of large networks with high demand. San Francisco bus routes are odd peculiar and bizarre. Until I realized that almost no one is using them for through service. It’s two bus routes to Market Street that happen to share the same number. Throuuuuugh runnning!!
    There is more than one market of demand hiding in those Manhattan bus routes. Most obvious one is the M100 paired with M101. I’m sure people ride through 125th but it’s more than one market sharing a bus number. M100 serves the local market between upper Amsterdam Avenue and 125th and so does the M101 – the schedule says it runs local north of 122nd. It runs thrrrrrrrrrroooooooough and becomes the Limited. ….It empties out as it crosses 125th and fills up again? There’s enough demand for local service between 125th and 8th streets that instead of running the M100 down there they run the M103. Yep there are some people who ride all the way through but it’s a lot of shorter trips too. . . . When something is going on at 125th and Morningside that’s delaying or stopping buses the other routes are unaffected…
    …. I’m on 157th and Amsterdam and I want to get to 88th and Park. Without looking at maps I can take the 7th Ave local or the 8th Avenue local to 86th and catch a crosstown bus. I know 86th can be a parking lot, I’d be inclined to use the 8th Ave. Or I doubt there are a whole lot of people riding through on the M103 from East Harlem to City Hall. That’s an extra bus on the Upper East Side that runs throoooooooooooooough to become the bus from Murray Hill and the East Village to Chinatown and City Hall. Rather clever that it’s also the bus from Yorkville to Midtown…. There’s a bunch of different markets hiding in there.

  3. Jarrett Walker

    Well, we just released a network redesign plan for Dublin (busconnects.ie) that features lettered spines (every <8 min or better) with numbered branches (usually every <=15 min or better). At lower densities than Manhattan, branches make sense where, as you move outward from a core, two things happen: (a) demand for frequency drops due to lower density and (b) several destinations not in a straight line all need good frequency to the core. In a classically radial city like Dublin, this pattern is everywhere. Spines radiate out from the city in all directions, and at a certain distance out, the space between the spines gets big and starts to contain important destinations. This happens just as (b) you move out of the Georgian core and into an early 20c land use pattern featuring lower densities (but still high by US standards of course.) When you have both of these, branching makes good sense.

    This is also why I'm such a fan of "open BRT" in the new world, facilities like the Brisbane busway that can handle concentrated service (and produce very high frequency) closer in but that also allow branching further out where frequency needs are lower and the area deserving direct city service gets larger.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, open BRT is especially useful because of the difference in capacity, same as on a subway-surface trolley like in Boston or SF. On the Brisbane busway or in the Lincoln Tunnel buses can run way closer together than every 3 minutes.

  4. Bjorn

    Manhattan is a special case just due to the sheer amount of travel demand. In very general terms, the subway system works as a grid with the crosstown buses. North-south bus routes can then be more specialized than would otherwise be found in a regular bus grid, perhaps forming somewhat of a warped hexagonal grid.

    The other factor is just how variable bus speeds in Manhattan are; the M103 is scheduled for roughly 35 minutes end-to-end overnight, but one hour, 35 minutes during the PM peak. The former is a perfectly reasonable route length; the latter is pushing the patience of the operator’s bladder.

    • Alon Levy

      There are several north-south buses that take two hours one way during the daytime. I suspect that this is why you see short-turns and overlapping routes rather than island-wide north-south routes – running all the way up 10th and Amsterdam would take far too long.

  5. Bjorn

    At the Manhattan, Kansas scale of network planning, the most significant disadvantage to branching is that timed connections between differently-pulsed branches of different routes aren’t possible. If one bank of routes departs at :15 past, and the other at :45 past, the main corridors can have contextually frequent service, but connections between a branch that leaves at :15 and one that leaves at :45 are longer than if all routes left at the same pulse. This isn’t that substantial of an issue; more riders are gained due to more service on the busier streets than are lost due to bad timing on rare transfer patterns.

    • Alon Levy

      Right, I’m talking about timed transfers in suburbs with regional rail rather than in small towns without public transit.

  6. ardecila

    Most of the NY subway is not accessible, so the bus network probably serves a disproportionate number of disabled and elderly persons. Thus, I would imagine the network is designed more around “equity” principles than “efficiency” principles. The branching and reverse-branching is logical in the sense that it allows routes to serve the few avenues east and west of Central Park, and the many avenues north and south of it, and reduces the need to transfer which is (obviously) more difficult for the disabled/elderly.

    The trunk schedule is likely designed in response to capacity constraints on the subway, such that the buses can both transport disabled passengers to a variety of destinations on the island, and relieve strain on the subway for popular destination-pairs.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, that’s definitely a possibility, but evidently there are few buses in Manhattan south of Houston, where the streets are narrower and subway coverage is more comprehensive. There’s no east-west bus between Houston and Worth, even though in theory Canal/East Broadway could work, and in the north-south direction there’s a gap between Lafayette and Sixth in the northbound direction and between Broadway and Seventh in the southbound direction.

      The Upper Manhattan reverse-branches can both be handled relatively easily using 2-seat rides. They’re unpopular now because of how MetroCard works (you get one free transfer: bus-bus, bus-subway, or subway-bus) and how infrequent the routes are (who wants to wait 12 minutes for a bus that gets stuck in Manhattan traffic?), but high frequency and better fare integration would make them more feasible. For example, you could prune the M4 and replace it with an extended M104, and reroute the M106 onto 110th instead of 96th.

      • John Cowan

        The Houston bus is scheduled every 30 minutes but the wait variance is enormous. I live on East 3rd St. and I treat the Houston bus as if it doesn’t exist, using the F for crosstown service as far as West 4th St / 6th Ave. Not very good if I want to go further west in the Village.

  7. adirondacker12800

    The M4 takes frugal tourists from the Midtown hotels on a grand tour of Manhattan with the added bonus of ferrying them to the Cloisters. There’s a bunch of intermediate markets hiding in there. The most obvious one is that the bus runs twice as frequently in the evening between Harlem and Washington Heights.
    Decades after they bustituted the streetcars I suspect there’s a group of people in bus operations who has grip on how to finagle clumping all those markets into one bus route that runnnnnnnnnnnnnnns throughhhhhhhhhhh! Capturing another market like frugal tourists. That isn’t served by the subway. It’s too bad it offends your sensibilities.

    • Alon Levy

      Frugal tourists take the subway. There isn’t a big market of people taking buses for such long distances in New York – the average unlinked bus trip is 3.5 km.

      • adirondacker12800

        It’s in the guide books to take the M4 for a cheap tour.
        There isn’t a big market for long bus rides in New York. Why are you obsessed with making the lines on the map straighter? The buses go where people wanna go. There are people at the MTA who track that kinda of thing for living. It’s okay that the M4 is four or five or six different buses routes all using the same number. Things can then overlap. Like the bus from Yorkville to Midtown becoming the bus from Murray Hill to Chinatown while the last of of the Yorkvillians gets off.

        • johndmuller

          This is a good point, the bus is not necessarily about the whole route, yet this is not always understood even by the people who run the buses. My own local bus route was recently cut; it was perceived as a wandering deviation from the the straight through route. Historically, it was the bustituted tail end of a long 100 plus years ago streetcar route from Big City to River City to Our Village which then continued on around to My Hood. Note how this cleverly made use of the streetcar as not only a local service for two sides of Our Village, but also local services on two sides of River City and also the commuter feeder to Big City.

          Once separated from the streetcar route, the little bus route to My Hood was extended through Happy Hill, where there are more residents of Our Village on to River City along a different route toward Big City. This setup was not all bad (especially on Happy Hill), but it did split up Our Village into two separate lines and made the trip from My Hood to Big City into a 2 seat ride.

          Later on, the streetcar to Big City would be itself bustituted (although it still went all the way to Big City without transferring) and both bus routes would be further extended beyond Our Village and branched into multiple destinations like County Capital and NameThatBridge Crossing.

          So now, being as how My Hood is not on the direct route between River City and County Capital, all the people in My Hood and most of the people on Happy Hill lose their bus service. “And who gains?”, you might ask. Those imaginary people whom the Bus Lords believe need a faster ride between River City and County Capital would benefit if they weren’t driving or taking an even more direct and non-local service running along a limited access route without the inefficient roadside litter of bus stops.

  8. James Sinclair

    It is important to think about the customer service side. Branches are confusing. It’s added friction that pushes people to something easier, which may be the subway, or may be the uber.

    Youre at the bus stop. Bus 31B shows up. Shit. What does that mean? You have 2 seconds to decide. Or worse, “X via y”. I dont know where Y is. Is this a super slow bus and I should wait for the faster one?

    Also, it assumes everyone is going from center to suburb. Makes suburb-suburb travel very difficult.

    • adirondacker12800

      I’m gonna assume you have a smartphone. Or could have asked someone. You had hours if not days to decide whether or not you wanted the 31B.

        • adirondacker12800

          He doesn’t want to know what time the bus was going to be there. Apparently it was there. He apparently didn’t bother to check a schedule before he left. He could have used his smartphone to discover that there is a 31B and I assume some other sort of bus also designated 31-something. Or asked someone. I’ve found that if you are polite the driver can be a font of information.

          • Alon Levy

            Okay, I ask the driver. It’s noisy out there and the driver doesn’t hear, or maybe my accent is too thick. I ask again. The driver says something, but I don’t understand. People pile up behind me. The driver’s frustrated I’m delaying passengers behind me, I’m embarrassed it’s taking so long and clearly I’m a tourist and not a real resident of the city, and I guess at what the driver meant. I’m likely never riding the bus in the city again.

          • adirondacker12800

            He checked something somewhere and was surprised to discover there is a 31B.

            31B implies a 31-something-else. 31 implies a few dozen other routes. They rejigger everything so there’s only numbers. The 31A has become the 22, the 31B has become the 47, the 31C is now the 53 and the 31D is 88. He’s got the same problem. He didn’t look at a map. Or the “getting here” information on his destination’s website or brochure he picked up in his hotel’s lobby. Or ask someone else at the stop if the 47 goes to his destination. Or the driver. He’s going someplace that the 22 and the 88 serve. I know! Why doesn’t someone do something more logical like number all the buses on the trunk one number and give the suburban branches letters. It would make it much easier. Lots of origins and destinations would be “take any 31 bus”. Quite a few would be “Any 31A, 31B or 31C” instead of 22, 47 and 53. How does changing the 31A to 22, 31B to 47, 31C to 53 and the 31D to 88 solve much of the problem(s)? I know they could give ’em colors and at dusk he can try figure out if that’s medium blue or light slate! And cause problems for people who have varying degrees of color blindness. You are having trouble understanding the bus driver is telling you to use the 31C it’s going equally difficult to understand that you should take the 53. What does a different scheme solve?

            Go ahead, disentangle it.

            Click to access Essex_County_Map.pdf

            Give it a shot! Many of those route numbers have been the same since the streetcar companies consolidated in the early 20th Century. I’ve spent far too much time waiting for a bus on the Market Street side of Penn Station. They wanna go to “the courthouse”. Which courthouse? Or “the college”. Which college? “The hospital” is a good one too. City Hall was easier, point at the dome and suggest they walk. Can’t point at it anymore, there are other buildings in the way. The 70 goes there. Not very often and it doesn’t come back from City Hall. And not from Market Street. It leaves from the Raymond Blvd. side of the station. Though I suspect occasionally one of them doesn’t want city hall, they want town hall in one of the suburbs. After passing the big information kiosk staffed by friendly people who know much better how to get to Montclair University, Kean University or Seton Hall University from Penn Station than I do. And can point you at the bus bays on Raymond Blvd instead of Market Street. Probably with a catalog stuffed in their oversized backpack with a “getting here” page or two. With full color electronic destination signs I’ve chatted with bus geeks about things like making the buses on Market Street blue and the buses on Broad Street red. Many of them feel that you can lead idiots to water but you can’t stop them from drowning themselves, that getting from Penn Station to the Essex County Courthouse complex or the colleges will still be a challenge. Or Broad Street Station to City Hall or Symphony Hall. Raymond Blvd. yellow? Tell me where the inaccuracies are too. There’s hints in other comments and on the map. …Nah, I’m not gonna bother to see if the 108 and the 319 depart from the same bay in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. I wouldn’t take the bus to get from Manhattan to downtown Newark. I’d take PATH. Or a commuter train from Penn Station to Penn Station. Or from Penn Station to Broad Street. That whole Penn Station to Penn Station thing is confusing too. Why didn’t they pick different names. Like Union Station in Chicago. Or Union Station in Washington D.C. Or Union Station in Los Angeles. Or Union Station in umpteen other cities that have a Union Station. Or did.

            Toooo many tourists, in Manhattan, have asked me “where is the blue train?” . Or something similar. Ask them where they are going. If it’s an express stop the answer is “any train that comes in” and if it’s a local stop “the local train goes there, it’s the train against the wall” Special care for Sixth Ave trains. Generally, don’t mention colors but especially with Sixth Ave. because they will get on an F train instead of a B train and end up in Queens. Or hurtle through 81st Street on a D train. Go ahead reorganize the designations on the New York City subway. Does it stay the A train or does it become the A1 to Lefferts Blvd, the A2 to Far Rockaway and the A3 to Rockaway Park. Is that particularly useful if you want to go from Columbus Circle to Madison Square Garden? They are asking how to get from Columbus Circle to Herald Square at 5:52 in the afternoon. There’s the D1, B1 and B2. Anything that is orange might be helpful. It’s reallly really confusing that complex things are… complex.

        • Nicolas Centa

          I totally agree with you on this one. Any solution which depends on smartphone is a broken one. Tourists won’t know which app to use or won’t have a data connection at all times, the elderly don’t have smartphones or are not proficient enough…

          I started to use buses in central Tokyo thanks to Google: they are so infrequent and with routes to seemingly nowhere that I wouldn’t be able to understand them otherwise.

          And even at times when the subway get crowded the buses sure remain empty.

          (I wish they could be used to complement the subway like they do in central Paris and not only serve as feeders for the train stations.)

          It is the same for fare payments: of course the smartphone solution is nice (and could be nicer in Japan for instance), but it forgets the un-banked, non-credit carded, un-smartphoned folks which are the most likely people to ride the bus!

          The smartphone solutions really are the most useful to bring the Apple fan crowd out of their cars (or Ubers when in vacation) and in transit but not to serve pre-existing customers.

      • James Sinclair

        I enjoy your assumptions because I am using a real world examples and you are wrong at every point.

        I wanted to take a bus to Jersey Gardens Mall.
        It is served by Coach USA bus line 24 (I misspoke about 31). The bus has branches on each end.

        Here is the schedule:

        Click to access route24.pdf

        Bus pulls up with 24B on it. Do you see anywhere on the schedule that designates which branch is A and which is B? Point it out to me because I can’t find it.

        Smartphone? Thats pretty useless. The bus isn’t on Google Maps or any transit app. In fact, the only documentation is the PDF, which as you probably know, doesn’t work great on smartphones.

        Ok, so should I rely on the schedule to tell me if A or B is going where I want? In theory. Good luck finding the bus running on time. Headways are 10 minutes, but both buses pulled up together. Which one is early, which one is late?

        Ask the driver? Great in theory. Not so great when the bus has people spilling out the doors and the driver would rather just close the door than deal with another customer. I am also trying to figure out what the fare is, which is not on the PDF for whatever reason.

        Trying to get on bus:

        Instead of dismissing concerns out of hand, maybe take a minute to think about where these concerns are coming from.

        BTW, since I couldn’t fit on the B, I got on the A which pulled up right behind it. It was the wrong branch.

        • adirondacker12800

          The 31 is the South Orange Avenue bus and runs on Market Street. The 24 runs on Broad Street. Coach bus schedules suck.
          They look like a friendly bunch and I’m sure one of the would have been in the mood to be helpful. Or you could have been the last one to get on and asked the driver. Or called the number on the schedule. Or called the Mall. Though looking at the Mall’s website their information sucks too. You were too shy to ask and got on the wrong bus. Oh well.

          • James Sinclair

            Actually, I was waiting to ask the driver. But as you see from the photo, 6 of us didnt get on. No more room. At that point, my choices were to risk 24A, or wait 20 minutes (according to the schedule).

            And you’re entirely missing the point. The point being that even if there is improved signage and improved communication, and the schedule isn’t garbage, and everybody is friendly…

            Branching creates added friction. Ask a retailer how important it is to decrease friction between a customer and a cash register.

            You’re falling into a trap that transit is some kind of special magic thing. It’s not. It’s a transaction between a customer and a service provider. If the service provider does a bad job, the customer will go elsewhere (Uber) or not purchase the service at all (stay home).

            People point to the NYC subway as an example of where 100 branches and service patterns works out just fine and people figure it out. I disagree. Look at how many cabs/ubers are in the city. Those are folks that have an option of a cheaper AND faster trip and the subway, but have opted for something else. I think that decision is in part many folks, especially tourists, looking at the map and deciding it just isn’t worth the hassle to figure it out. NYC subway succeeded in spite of the branches, not because of.

          • adirondacker12800

            Okay, they decide they aren’t going to branch it any more and stop going to the Mall. You wouldn’t have any problems to face.

          • James Sinclair

            The crowded bus was the mall bus. Thats where everybody wanted to go. Are you surprised that a mall is a more popular destination than a seaport?

          • adirondacker12800

            They have two branches. Someone must want to go there. I doubt all of them were going to the mall. There’s a lot places to go on the core of that route.

            Go ahead, have at it.

            Click to access Essex_County_Map.pdf

            Do short turns get their own route number? Years and years ago I lived near the Irvington Bus Terminal. Back then the eastbound 25 Springfield Avenue line mostly went to Penn Station with some of them continuing on into the Ironbound. To one destination. Now there are three. Is that two, three or four route numbers? The express buses used to be 25X but someone decided that express buses should be three hundred something and for some odd and peculiar reason instead of giving the 25’s express bus 325 they gave it 375. Westbound it’s been short turning in the vicinity of the Irvington Bus Terminal since it was a horsecar and the next destination, westbound, is 43rd Street. Where today’s bus garage is. Where the carbarn used to be. And pastures for the horses. I’m not in the mood to go find online references to the Morris County Traction company and where they ran through Millburn. The Maplewood loop probably has something to do that. One, two or three route numbers?

            I’d suggest starting at 1000 and working your way around Broad and Market, sorta kinda. Newark Airport buses are 1010 through 1019, Frelinghuysen Avenue buses are 1020 – 1029. Elizabeth Ave buses are 1030 etc. Chancellor Avenue are 1040.. Lyons Avenue are 1050. Does Hawthorne Avenue get 1060 or does it get lumped with Lyons or Clinton? It’s also kinda sorta a Bloomfield Avenue bus, maybe it should use Bloomfield Ave. numbering. That gets interesting, is the Broad Street bus that runs quite a ways on Clinton Ave before wandering over to Chancellor a Clinton Ave bus or a Chancellor Ave bus? You solve that condundrum by using the numbers Washington Ave. is going to use. How ’bout the 70. Avon Avenue is sorta kinda parallel to Clinton but the 70 overlaps with the 25 between Irvington Terminal and the Maplewood loop. Does Avon Avenue get it’s own set of numbers or is it Clinton Avenue-ish? Or Springfield Avenue-ish? Might want to give it it’s own set, the destinations on the western end change fairly often.

            And don’t forget the cross town buses. For instance the 94 runs from Bloomfield to Irvington, two different destinations in Union or Linden. Instead of taking any 94 to get from all those densely populated lower car owning places in Bloomfield, East Orange, Irvington and Union it’d be 1834, 1835, 1836 and 1837. Instead of there being a confusing amount of bus routes terminating and going through Irvington Center it’s a whole page.

            Go ahead, have at it.

          • James Sinclair

            To your first point, I think short turns absolutely need a better designation than what NJT does now. Right now theyll do things like Route 1: Ivy Hill and then another bus pulls up and says Route 1: 13th Street. If you are going to a random stop along the way, Main Street or whatever, the sign provided you zero info on which bus (maybe both?) take you there. But thats short turning, not branching.

            Going the other way, there are 4 terminus points and 3 different via arrangements which is branching. Some buses go to Exchange Place, some to Journal Square, some to some horrible industrial wasteland.

            Oh, and the peak hour express service pattern is the 361? But why.

            Absolute mess.

            No, Im not going to “have at it”. I dont have a sollution to their garbage.

            My point is that NONE of this is customer friendly. And not customer friendly means less customers.

            It’s 100% done for operations purposes, and not customer purposes.

            And on top of that, the fact that the private bus routes like the 24 and 31 have their own independent (and random) number system and are not incorporated in the system map is its own set of problems.

            You never answered my question: Looking at the Coach #24 schedule, which service is A and which is B? And how would having a smartphone help me know?

          • adirondacker12800

            There is a solution. The buses that run on the 1 route and short turn at 18th Street say 18th Street on the destination sign. The ones that go to Ivy Hill say Ivy Hill. I suspect they have a few customers because the 1 runs 22 hours a day and has so much demand during rush hour they run expresses. The 24 runs 20 hours a day. I suspect they have a few customers too. Oh! So many you weren’t able to get on the bus! It’s unfortunate they don’t have a solution that it is exquisitely personalized just for you. Other people seem to have figured it out.

      • Alon Levy

        Not every city does that, though. Providence had no such map at the bottom of the bus tunnel showing which route went where until Jef Nickerson drew one and then RIPTA used his map and posted it at the station.

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