October 4, 2000

The CTA's Vice President for Bus Operations recommended to the CTA Board Wednesday that a pilot program to reduce bus bunching should be expanded to routes in other parts of the city. Robert Smith said preliminary results indicate a significant overall improvement in service reliability along two of the three routes involved in the initial Operator Empowerment Program.

Bus bunching occurs when a bus falls behind schedule and others following on the same route begin to catch up to it. Bunching can result from traffic congestion, weather-related driving conditions, longer boarding times or for numerous other reasons. The CTA selected three routes to inaugurate its Operator Empowerment Program early this year, and is now adding eight more.

The program allows bus operators to make decisions about service restoration techniques that previously could be made only by Control Center personnel or a supervisor on the scene. Several choices might be involved, such as spacing back to leave more distance between buses; leaving the terminal early to fill a gap in service, or detouring on the spot to bypass a blocked street.

?Bus bunching is the number one complaint that I hear from our customers," said CTA Chairman Valerie B. Jarrett. "By empowering operators to handle more decisions about service on their own, we will help solve many of the problems that cause bus bunching and help our customers reach their destinations on time."

Smith emphasized that the operator empowerment experiment is just one approach to solving a difficult problem, and that while it can be effective on some short routes, it may not be as helpful on longer, more complex routes. The pilot program involved service on the #49B North Western, #57 Laramie and #95E 93rd-/95th routes. In the test period, the #57 and #95E routes showed decreases in bus bunching of 3.4 and 2.2 percent, respectively. The #49B route, which is more complex because many more operators are assigned to it, actually showed an increase in bus bunching of 1.64 percent. The #49B and #57 routes run on a single street, allowing each operator to clearly observe when and where other buses pass in the opposite direction to determine on-time performance.

The additional routes that have been selected for the expansion of the program come from each of the eight CTA garages. They include the #8A South Halsted, #21 Cermak, #43 43rd, #54 Cicero, #75 74th-75th, #88 Higgins, #103 West 103rd, and #155 Devon. As with the initial three, each of the eight new routes is relatively short, facilitating closer cooperation among operators.

CTA President Frank Kruesi said, "Empowering bus operators to make judgment calls themselves is another step toward providing the on-time, clean, safe and friendly service our customers have come to expect. We?re also continuing to look at technological advances that can address the bus bunching problem in the long term. In the meantime, this program is an important step that we can take right now. It will become even more important as congestion in the region continues to grow."

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