holiday hairsplitting: the challenge of one-day schedules

David Marlor writes:

Thought you’d like to see this.

Every year, Edmonton Transit reduces costs by reducing service during the Christmas holiday season. I’ve no problem with that, but the way it is done is totally user-unfriendly. When you look through that list of changes you quickly realize you have no easy way of knowing when buses are running and if the connections work. Yes, you can use the trip planner, but this kind of thing just defeats the idea of an easy to use network. My eyes glaze over and I think I’d just say “forget it, I’ll drive”.

Personally, I think Edmonton is too surgical with the reductions at the expense of losing the ease of understanding the network. I’m not sure it’s even worth it.

Edmonton Transit certainly has made it complicated, but I respect the imperative behind it.  Transit operators are under such constant cost-cutting pressure that they often can't justify running regular schedules on unusual holidays where when demand is higher than a typical weekend day but lower than a full weekday.

Most of the approaches to network planning that I recommend are based on the notion that we need to make networks simpler.  Part of that is grouping services into brands of similar usefulness (based on distinctions such as rapid vs. local, peak-only vs all-day, frequent vs not).  Doing this, however, requires that a transit agency give up some of its ability to micro-adjust service to its perception of demand.  For example, if we specify that the Frequent Network as a whole must be frequent until 9 PM, a few lines that we've included in that category may have to have their evening frequency expanded evne though their ridership then doesn't seem to justify it.  That's right: we spend a little and in return we get a network and schedule that we can describe succinctly, and that our customers can remember.

The same principle should ideally apply to these unusual days, though I respect that it's hard to get there.  But this kind of standardization, and the clarity that results, are an important frontier for transit if we're going to substantially increase its usefulness, and make people who value freedom choose to rely on it. 

9 Responses to holiday hairsplitting: the challenge of one-day schedules

  1. Joseph December 23, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    Ahh.. the classic holiday tradition of complicated transit schedules!!
    Merry Christmas!
    In Montreal, each of our 30-some agencies does its own thing during the holidays which makes for some fun trip planning.

  2. Tom West December 26, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    Our local transit agency has a very easy-to-remember schedule on Christmas Day: no service.

  3. anonymouse December 26, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    In Britain, no trains run on Christmas, and almost no trains on Boxing Day. To me it seems really odd to have a railway that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 364 days a year. And shuts down completely for one day.
    Also, around where I live, the transit agencies just run sunday service on holidays, but special service on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Fortunately, the special service is usually along the lines of “weekend schedule plus a couple of extra service” or “weekday schedule, with commuter-only routes not running”, which is considerably better than an entirely custom schedule.

  4. December 27, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    TransLink Vancouver has separate schedules for Christmas and Boxing Day that are distinct from the standard Sunday/holiday schedules. A summary is here, with links to its trip planner, although alterations to individual routes have been itemized in the past.

  5. Steve Lax December 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

    When I worked in bus service planning, I tried to develop a standard year-round holiday schedule for days like Christmas Eve. However, each holiday is different with extra sections sometimes being warranted at certain hours for some holidays and holiday eves and absolutely no demand at the same time period on other holidays and holiday eves.
    Also, there are a number of reasons in addition to cost savings why transit agencies (at least large ones) find it necessary to customize schedules on these “in-between” days, such as major holiday eves and on the Holidays themselves. Some of them include:
    1. Politics – Prior to my retirement, I spent a fair amount of time answering letters from elected officials writing on behalf of non-transit loving constituents who saw empty buses running around. The tone of the constituent’s letter to the elected official usually went something like this: “My tax dollars are being wasted with all these empty buses running around on Christmas Eve. Don’t these people know the Mall closed early, the factory had no second shift, and the university is on Holiday recess.”
    2. Labor agreements – The unions are interested in giving their operators and mechanics time off. Even at Holiday pay, it is sometimes difficult to get a full complement of workers to report.
    3. The need to use equipment at times other than the traditional peak period – For example, on a typical major holiday eve, many schools and businesses close early. This requires extra sections operating between noon and 4 PM. (Sometimes, we did not advertise these extra sections, we just operated on a load and go basis from major terminals.) In a large market with long routes, the buses often cannot then be properly positioned to provide a full weekday level of service between 5 and 7 PM. As the demand is not there, reducing frequency is one way to address this lack of equipment availability.

  6. Andrew December 29, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    Typically on the TTC in Toronto, holiday service is either regular Saturday or Sunday service, except on some holidays (usually when they fall on a weekday) subway and regular bus service starts at 6am when it would normally start at 9am on a Sunday. Although during the week around Christmas and New Years, there is often reduced service on high-frequency bus routes, which is only a minor inconvenience since these routes are so frequent anyways.
    GO Transit is much more complicated. On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, trains which normally operate in the PM rush hour are moved forward into the mid-afternoon (because employees often leave work early those days). Also on holidays as well as Dec 27 and 28 (when the big banks in downtown Toronto are closed), a Sunday or Saturday schedule is used (hourly trains on Lakeshore Line; all other trains cancelled and replaced with buses; some buses which normally serve universities on Sundays cancelled).

  7. Chris December 30, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Long Beach Transit in California now operates a significantly reduced schedule on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day, with 25% less service than a normal Sunday. All of the special schedules are published in the September bus book, and are available online. Ridership on those three days is between 50 – 70% of a normal Sunday. This reduction in service represents tremendous savings, especially when one considers that the drivers make more money on holidays.

  8. Ted King January 2, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    The S.F. Chronicle’s run down for six agencies in the SFBay area :
    P.S. The Chron. does a column like this prior to most major holidays.

  9. SpyOne January 4, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Anything can be taken too far. There is such a thing as “too simple”.
    My local transit agency offers three grades of service: “weekday”, “Saturday” (which is just like weekday except that certain lines run less often), and “Sunday” (which is no service at all except on the most major route(s)).
    Most holidays are a “Saturday”, but Christmas is a “Sunday”, and Christmas Eve is a “Saturday” with some routes canceled outright.
    Oh, and this year we got snow on the day after Christmas, which caused them to reduce service, then suspend service entirely. For three days.