basics: operating cost

At several points in the book, I include links to articles on the blog that expand more fully on a topic.  The article on operating cost is now online, here.   Remember: If you don't understand operating cost, you don't understand transit!

15 Responses to basics: operating cost

  1. Dan W. November 28, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Just great, Jarrett!

  2. ant6n November 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    minor quibble: Can you replace the ’ with ‘ characters? The other apostrophes (replaced automatically by Word while typing?) show up as little boxes in chrome, and makes the article harder to read.

  3. Sophia Katt November 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    This is the Best Post Ever.

  4. Danny November 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Excellent post…concise and beautiful clarity.
    I am hoping you have a chapter or section on why costs are important. I know that probably sounds ridiculous to you, and it most definitely does to me, but many transit activists talk and act like cost has no bearing on outcomes. There is no comprehension of alternative uses either (eg. a dollar spent on maintenance/buying American/pensions etc. is a dollar that cant be spent on wages/service).

  5. anonymouse November 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    I think the lumpiness aspect of this is important, although many transit agencies just deal with this by not coordinating headways between lines at all. As an example I’m personally familiar with, the lines through the tunnel in Providence have headways of 20, 20, 35, 50, and 52 minutes, with the latter three lines providing a combined service eastward to Wayland Square.

  6. zefwagner November 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Thank you for the clear explanation! I am currently taking an Urban Econ course and our text is Urban Economics by Arthur O’Sullivan. I got really frustrated with his chapter on transit because he clearly doesn’t really understand how it works. He focuses a lot on a couple studies that showed people value their time walking and waiting for transit at 3 times the rate they value time on the vehicle. He concludes that transit agencies should focus on expanding service coverage and frequency rather than worrying about speed. You see the problem–he completely ignores cost! There was no mention that speed can save money that can then go to frequency, or that wider coverage dilutes resources and reduces frequency.

  7. Alan Howes November 29, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    One thing worth noting – when North Americans talk about bus operating costs, they normally exclude capital costs – mainly the buses themselves, but also infrastructure. At least, this is how it appears to me – presumably because “someone else” pays for the buses. CMIIW.
    In the UK, we always include capital costs, as depreciation (usually over about 15 years for buses). Don’t ask me what the Europeans, Australians etc do – though I would be interested to know.

  8. Zoltán November 29, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    In the UK, the privatised bus operators tend to get over the problem of round trip times being indivisible by frequency by doing a whole lot of interworking of different low-frequency routes. This allows for freedom in designing routes while maintaining headways that repeat every hour – which routes in the UK nearly always have.
    However, it’s a strategy that can only be easily adopted when you don’t care about connections, let alone pulse networks that allow easy anywhere-to-anywhere travel on low frequency networks. Indeed, the UK traditionally has, and nearly always does, made transfer trips very difficult.
    This has meant that people in the UK will most often tell you that if a direct bus isn’t available for their trip, it’s a trip that requires a car, and if they don’t have a car, that they won’t make that trip at all. This doesn’t seem like a good way forward to me.
    Still, certainly, where routes are at a high frequency and connections aren’t going to be timed anyway, or where we’re thinking of terminus points on the outer ends of cities which wouldn’t be serving as a pulse point anyway, there’s some currency in this strategy. Designing schedules based upon interworking combinations of routes that take 30/60/90/etc. minutes as a roundtrip, much like Great Falls, MT does, certainly is a potentially useful thing to do.

  9. Zoltán November 29, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    It seems that in that case of Providence, it ought to be possible to use interworking to yield one 30-minute frequency routes and two hourly routes, and hence a 15-minute frequency, or four buses per hour more or less that well coordinated, to Wayland Square. You probably already worked that one out, though.

  10. Jarrett at November 29, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Alan.  The term "operating cost" by definition excludes capital costs, at least in North America.  Australians understand these terms too, often as "Opex" and "Capex" respectively.  We're not ignoring anything.  Operating cost is a separate issue because (a) it's eternal and (b) it's virtually impossible to get external funding for, unlike capital costs.

  11. leccy November 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Did you mean “includes” or “excludes” in that last comment?

  12. Alon Levy November 29, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    To add to the problem in Providence, one of the 20-minute routes is a fake trolley, running different buses from the rest, and therefore it’s impossible to tweak its headway to be shared with other routes. (It does not serve Wayland Square, but swerves to serve Fox Point and terminates close to Wayland Square.)
    To add to the problem even more, RIPTA doesn’t really think of the buses as sharing a trunk line through the tunnel. It only posted a map of the routes going through the tunnel after Jef Nickerson created one.

  13. anonymouse November 30, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Sorry to sidetrack into discussing RIPTA, but I’m pretty sure they had a single timetable for all the tunnel routes that you could pick up at your favorite timetable kiosk (Kennedy Plaza or the train station) that showed you the times along the tunnel trunk line. There was not, however, any information at all posted at the stops at the tunnel, so you could decide whether it would be easier to wait for a bus to come or just walk up the hill. With the rather uneven combined headways, you pretty much had to have the printed timetable and consult it to know if something was coming soon.

  14. In Brisbane March 23, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    Hi Jarrett,
    Would you have ballpark figures for the hourly average running costs for buses, trains and ferries in an Australian context?

  15. Jarrett at March 23, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    Not readily, no. Sorry.