Three buses come along at once. Which should you take?

Typical. Bloody typical. Two London buses serving the same route, bunched up in the Clapton area. Image: Felix O, via Flickr.

It’s typical – you’re waiting at a bus stop for ages, then three buses come along at once. Should you just hop on the first one, or skip to the second or third? Various tech companies are trying to produce apps to help commuters plan for this type of event. But until those are up and running, some basic knowledge of the transport system – and a bit of mathematics – can help you make the call.

Studies have actually proven that buses which run at short intervals often cluster in threes. The theory goes that, when there’s been a delay, the first bus picks up all the waiting passengers: those who have been waiting for some time, and those who have only been there a few minutes and had planned to get a slightly later bus.

This brings about further delays, because – as we all know – more congested vehicles take longer to load and unload. So the first bus often gets caught in a vicious circle of delay and overcrowding.

The simple solution is to get on the second bus. It’s likely to be less crowded, and to arrive at its destination first. This is because bus operators often instruct the second bus to overtake the first, in order to minimise delays.

The risk in opting for the second bus is that the buses may have already changed order. Look to see if the road before your stop has multiple lanes, which could have allowed the second bus to overtake. And check to see if there are plenty of seats on the first bus – if there are, then jump on that one.


And what about the third bus? This should be avoided wherever possible, because two things, which could cause more problems, are likely to happen. It could be instructed to get in front of the first two buses by skipping a stop – which could be yours.

It could also be ordered to terminate before the advertised destination, so that it can return earlier and prevent the delays that the first bus could carry forward into the journey in the opposite direction, by replacing it.

The ConversationSo, when you’ve got to choose between a three buses, our advice is to target the second, consider the first and ignore the third.

Marcus Mayers, Visiting Research Fellow, University of Huddersfield and David Bamford, Professor of Operations Management, University of Huddersfield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

Jonn Elledge was the founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.