My favorite bus these days is the Fairfax connector 926.
On the way home, it has an express route that zips past all the rigamarole in Herndon, getting me right to the new Wiehle Avenue Metro station. On the way out, this same expedited route means that it sits at the station for minutes before taking off westbound. I haven;t gotten off the train yet when it hasn’t been there.
I worked out a clever little schedule of the 926 and the 952, the two buses that deign to pass within a suburban block of my work. They have roughly the same headway (a a suburban 30 minutes), but the 952 just doesn’t measure up to the 926 in getting me expeditiously to and from the station. The 952 is never at the station when I get there in the morning.
There was one advantage to the 952. I was able to get a lot of work done on it one evening,as it wound its way through five miles of rush hour traffic in the exurbs or Herndon and Reston. Time on transit is different than time in traffic. I am drafting this article from a seat on that bus; something I could not do if I was stuck in traffic.
The thing that inspired me to write this piece in particular, was the notion of dwell time. How long is your bus going to wait at your stop. This is an advantage afforded transit users at the ends of routes. Along the middle of the route, the train or bus comes and goes in a matter of seconds. If there is no one at the stop the bus will just drive on by. Only at the very busiest stop will the bus wait through a cycle of the nearby traffic signals for passengers to make it across the traffic arterial without being killed by blunt force trauma. Once the bus is gone, it is gone, which is a big deal for a bus that only comes every 30 minutes. At the end of the route, you can take your time.
What if a bus knew what passengers it was going to take on each run at each time, and wanted faithfully at each stop?
It would be great customer service for those trying to get on the bus, but infuriating for those already on the bus. It would also be infuriating for the vehicles behind that bus in traffic. Forced to make their way around the stopped bus until every single sainted passenger finally made it to the front door. Which is why we don’t run transit that way. If you miss the bus, you wait for the next one, or you get a cab.
But we do run traffic that way. Our cars, trucks and motorcycles sit patiently for us the majority of every day, machines in repose, waiting for the 5% of their existence that they are actually used as advertised. We require that they do this out of the roadway in most of America, which is why subdivision codes come with specific parking minimums that must be obeyed if the property is going to connect the road*.
Bikes and shoes wait for us on our time, too, but its hard to use those in an America built for the ecstasy of traffic.
* What a silly notion. Of course the property has to connect to the road. How else can we get to it?