London Busses

March 15th, 2007 by Potato

London, for being a relatively medium-sized city, has a relatively decent bus system. If you want to go to a lot of places on major streets then you can do pretty well for yourself. While there are a few blind spots in the coverage, and some strange route choices, for the most part they even come often enough to be useful. And once they arrive, they’re pretty quick to get to where they’re going! However, I just can’t figure out a lot of the weird burst scheduling they do. For example, today we were at the hospital waiting for the bus to come to take us up to campus. One of my office mates said “oh, it’ll be nice and fast, the #6 comes every 5 minutes or so” and I said “well, it averages out to every 5 minutes, but we usually get 2 every 10.” And that’s actually the way the London Transit system works. In the summer, when there are fewer busses running due to the lack of students, there are two busses running down Richmond (or to put it in a way that’s more relevant, two busses that would take me from my old apartment to work). They each ran on 20-minute intervals outside of rush hour, and of course, they always came back-to-back, rather than being one every 10 minutes.

So there we are in the bus shelter, and 15 minutes after I made my quip about it averaging out with two busses every ten minutes, sure enough, three busses show up. Not just any three busses, but two #6’s and a #13 (which does a very similar route to the #6). Now, during rush hour that makes a bit of sense: when you can see that there’s another bus right there, you don’t try to kamikaze the doors of the already-full bus. But at the same time, the masses of people at the bus stops wouldn’t form quite so much if a bus actually came every 5 minutes instead of getting swarms of them every 15-20.

It got worse as the day went on, though. After seminars were over, it was time to head back to the hospital from campus. On campus there’s a spot in front of the Natural Sciences building where the busses stop for a bit to “get back on schedule” or let the drivers get a coffee and a break, etc. So in front of Natural Sciences are 4 idling busses: 3 #10’s and an “out of service” one. There were a bunch of people queuing up for the #6, which was nowhere in sight. Then, the driver for the “out of service” bus came back from break and started flipping, oh so slowly, through the route signs, keeping us in suspense. So, what did he reactivate his bus as? Not a #6, which a bunch of people were waiting for, and not a #2, which just had two busses come through but didn’t actually have any sitting right there at the moment. No, he came back into service as a fourth #10. That was just ridiculous. Then, a bit later, two #6’s came through, and within 3 stops we had completely filled the first one.

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