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How to catch a bus
January 23, 2008 12:48 PM   Subscribe

How to catch a bus.
And the paper in question. (PDF)
posted by johnny novak (44 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Figured as much. The trick is to bring something to the bus stop to distract you.
posted by furtive at 12:56 PM on January 23, 2008


I almost always choose the bus and the reason is simple: I like to day dream that we are having an orgy, so we I come home I can masturbate while I remember the faces of the passengers.
Okay. That second comment should definitely be incorporated into the formula now.
posted by False Jesii Inc. at 12:59 PM on January 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


I can't not walk, I get too...walky. Good post, though.
posted by everichon at 12:59 PM on January 23, 2008


My bus in NYC (M14A) got voted slowest in the system. I witnessed this firsthand when, after seeing the bus, I walked from 6th ave. to Ave A. and beat it. This paper needs an asterisk for crosstown buses.
posted by Mach5 at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2008


Every smoker knows that the best way to summon a bus is to light a cigarette.
posted by lekvar at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2008 [13 favorites]


""It certainly has changed the way I travel," Kominers says."

Ok, I can understand it changing the way you feel about waiting, but changing the way you travel? This guy habitually walked to a bus stop, and, seeing no bus idling there waiting for him, decided to walk instead?
posted by Bugbread at 1:05 PM on January 23, 2008


On my iPod, I have a list of all the buses that stop at one of the few different bus stops near work, what time they leave (any time between 1/2 hour before and 1/2 hour after I'm done with work for the day), and what time they will arrive at the bus stop near my house.

Yeah, I'm a dork.
posted by Lucinda at 1:08 PM on January 23, 2008


seeing no bus idling there waiting for him, decided to walk instead?

I took buses everywhere from when I was 11 till I left Milwaukee at 18. I very quickly got into the habit of walking from stop to stop. I don't have a rational explanation of this, except that I'm fidgety. I wouldn't be surprised if this was a fairly common thing to do.
posted by everichon at 1:08 PM on January 23, 2008


This reminds me of my earlier work: "Local or Express", AskMetafilter.com, June 19, 2007.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:11 PM on January 23, 2008


It gets more complicated if some of the bus stops on your route are served by more bus routes that are also useful to you - so that by walking to another stop you increase the rate at which busses appear.

I think it's funny that the paper is framed in terms of Justin wanting to take the bus or walk to Scott's place, but Justin is in Pasadena and Scott is in Cambridge, MA.
posted by yarrow at 1:13 PM on January 23, 2008


I find the real trick to catching a bus is to use a big enough trap to kill it immediately. Too often people use a smaller size, probably hoping to save money, but all they really do is cruelly injure it, leaving it to wheel around hopelessly.

And make sure you bait it properly. Drunks and the elderly seem to be a favorite in my neighborhood.
posted by quin at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2008 [20 favorites]


I never missed a bus until I got a bus schedule.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lucinda, you are not a dork. I don't use my iPod, but I have a similar list in my daytimer...makes my decisions about when to leave for the day easier.

Oh, look at the time...
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2008


I keep nextbus.com in my phone with internet access. The $15/month I pay for phone internet pays for itself in saved cab fare. THe only time I get screwed is when there is a 'ghost bus' that doesn't show up on nextbus, but shows up as soon as you hail a cab.

Hailing a cab is like lighting a cigarette for non-smokers.

If it's a wash, I don't mind walking. It exercise I need anyway.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2008


The TTC makes me think about this problem A LOT. THANKS TTC!

And now I know the answer.
posted by GuyZero at 1:35 PM on January 23, 2008


If I walk, the bus usually scoops me up at some point along the way; the stops here are close enough together that I can jog ahead to one if I see the bus coming.

Walkng may not get me there any faster, but at least I got a little exercise instead of stading there like a stump and squinting at the horizon.
posted by hermitosis at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2008


my earlier work

Having read that thread, I'd say this paper is right—wait...until T trains start running.
posted by oaf at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2008


This is absolutely not true at non-rush-hour-times in Philly. I start walking down the same street as the bus and frequently I walk the mile home without a single bus passing me.
posted by desuetude at 1:45 PM on January 23, 2008


The TTC makes me think about this problem A LOT. THANKS TTC!

Why, look, it's five 39 buses that go past before I can get across the street to the bus stop! Oh, wait, here's another bus behind it that got caught by the light, but it's a 39E, so it's not going to stop! Throw in some extended, stationary views of the underside of Yonge Street for good measure.
posted by oaf at 1:49 PM on January 23, 2008


To restate the walking thing in plain English: If you walk to the next stop and board the bus there, you and the bus are there at the same time, so you haven't saved any time. If you walk to the next stop and the bus passes you along the way, you lose. So you should only walk if the interval between buses is so long that the expected wait for the bus exceeds your total walk time.

If you've got a bus schedule, it's not a problem to figure out the wait time, but you've got to do it right. The actual time of arrival will not necessarily be what the schedule says, especially near rush hours, but the inter-bus interval is known and managed, and that's what you've got to calculate from.

The problem arises when the spacing of buses is irregular and unpredictable. In that case, you wait for the bus as long as you can afford to, and then you take "non-official taxi." Or at least that's the way we did it when I lived in Kiev.
posted by eritain at 1:52 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lucinda, you're not a dork. And thank you for clueing me in to another goobery thing that I can do with my new iPod.

Interesting post -- it amazes me what people will do studies on. Me, I'd almost always be a walker, whether I'm late or not. It's like being stuck in a traffic jam versus taking surface streets that, while you know they'll take you longer, at least allow you to stay in motion the whole time. Makes me at least FEEL like I'm making progress, even if the net travel time is longer.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:56 PM on January 23, 2008


Chicago MeFi's may have noticed that Google Maps is now incorporating CTA data that includes bus routes and schedules. More here.
posted by wfrgms at 1:59 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why this required a math paper. The end case conditions they describe as places where the formula breaks are the only ones where the answer is non-obvious. Unless the time between buses is longer than the walk, there's never a point in walking -- because even if you make it to the next stop before a bus passes you, the one that picks you up will be the same one that would have picked you up at the last stop, given their one bus/one route constraints. Unless you walk faster than a bus. In which case, you should walk anyway, because you'll get there faster than all the buses.

Now, if they want to figure out whether it's better for me to walk to the next stop from the one outside my house, when the next stop has 3 bus routes running through it, while the one by my house has only one, I might be interested.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:01 PM on January 23, 2008


I keep nextbus.com in my phone with internet access.

Yeah, me too. NextBus is awesome.

Last week I wanted to catch the #24 across town. I checkNextBus and see that it will be arriving in three minutes. Prefect timing, right?

I head down to the bus stop and see a 24 Muni coming up the hill, Directly behind it is a second #24. I wave to the first one, and without slowing down, the driver points to the bus behind it and rolls by. The driver of the second bus sees me, scowls, stops, and lets me on. She then drives a total of three stops and then kicks everyone off, explaining that this the end of her shift. She honks at the other #24, stopped directly in front of us, so that he will wait for us to transfer buses. As we reach the door of the waiting bus, the driver peels out, leaving us at Mission and Cortland.

I check NextBus on my Blackberry. Another surly bus driver will be arriving in 8 minutes to screw me over some more. Eight minutes is too long to wait. I decide to take the morning off and head to the waterfront, get a coffee, and find a comfy place to sit. As I open my book, several small birds and a pigeon come to see if I have any food to offer them. Not today, little friends. The birds and I sit by the bay and contemplate what a beautiful morning it is.

Thanks, NextBus! You totally saved the day!
posted by rajbot at 2:15 PM on January 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


If you've got a bus schedule,

Bus schedule? You and these mathematicians have never actually used buses.

The time given by the bus schedule is the time the bus departs when you arrive at the bus stop later than that time. When you are at the bus stop before the given time, the bus will arrive much later.

This is especially evident in the case of Greyhound buses, where, if you are lucky, the bus will arrive at the depot at the scheduled time. At this point, the driver will debark, disappear for a while, come out, smoke a cigarette, disappear for a while again, come back, stand around for a while, and then begin the boarding process. After everyone has boarded, the driver will disappear for a while again, eventually coming back and starting to drive the bus anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour after the scheduled time. Note that this half-hour to an hour lateness is when the bus and driver were actually there at the scheduled time. It can be more.

Solution? Replace the local bus with a bicycle or walking, and replace Greyhound with the train or the Chinatown bus, which, while it's still going to show up late, at least will promptly board everyone and depart once it does show up.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:21 PM on January 23, 2008


I'm disappointed. The paper didn't have anything to say about what bait to use in my bus trap.
posted by ooga_booga at 2:24 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Unless the formula includes temperature and wind chill loading on a probability of frostbite factor it just isn't relevant in Canada during the winter. Standing around waiting for a OCTranspo bus in Bell's Corners when it was -35C with the wind chill is the closest I have ever come to hypothermia. Turns out a lot of the buses wouldn't start so they cut back to essential routes only. I learned this from a bus driver after finally giving up the wait and walking about a kilometer to a main line.

Here in England the calculations require a similar adjustment. If there is even 5 mm of snow get walkin 'cuz the bus ain't a comin. Nor are any cars.
posted by srboisvert at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2008


Ever lose patience waiting for a bus and decided to walk instead?
If you do choose to walk, you should make your decision before you start waiting


Ever lose your patience and walk out of a bad movie?
It's cheaper if you make your decision before you start watching the movie.

Ever ROTFL after reading a research paper?
It's more time efficient if you ROTFL and not read the paper.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2008


I head down to the bus stop and see a 24 Muni coming up the hill, Directly behind it is a second #24. I wave to the first one, and without slowing down, the driver points to the bus behind it and rolls by. The driver of the second bus sees me, scowls, stops, and lets me on. She then drives a total of three stops and then kicks everyone off, explaining that this the end of her shift. She honks at the other #24, stopped directly in front of us, so that he will wait for us to transfer buses. As we reach the door of the waiting bus, the driver peels out, leaving us at Mission and Cortland.

I feel your pain...the 24 absolutely sucks - It's the first leg of my trip to work from Noe to the Inner Richmond every day. They don't call it the 24ever for nothing.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:17 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some of the bus routes here in Edinburgh have electronic stops that let you know how long it is till the next bus comes. It works great but they're only on the more central routes.

My own rule of thumb for deciding if I should wait at a bus stop involves counting how many old people are waiting at the stop. My theory is that old people, being both wise and not so keen to stand for long periods, avoid unnecessary waiting and only queue when a bus is imminent. The more old people waiting at the stop, the more likely it is that a bus is due.

Oh man.. this is my first post on the blue in a long time and I'm talking about fucking buses.. I think I need to get out more.
posted by jiroczech at 3:28 PM on January 23, 2008


It's a little different for me: I walk against the route. That way I get into the warmth of the bus earlier and don't have to freeze my ass off standing at the bus stop.
posted by aldurtregi at 3:33 PM on January 23, 2008


Always carry a book.

Muni Rwy. 53-Southern Heights bus....
posted by lathrop at 3:42 PM on January 23, 2008


If there is a smoker at the bus stop I'll walk.
posted by mattoxic at 3:59 PM on January 23, 2008


derived a formula for the optimal time that you should wait for a tardy bus at each stop en route before giving up and walking on.

Sadly I've spent a lot of time at bus stops over the past 5 years or so pondering this exact question when I'm unsure if the bus I'd intended to catch is late or was so very early I missed it completely. At one point I was recording the arrival times of a certain bus line I waited for at the same time every morning just so I could calculate the mean and standard deviation. But after some data collection I realized the arrival times were really very random, and it was difficult to tell whether a bus was very late or very early and should count or not. I scrapped the project entirely.

I like taking the bus to work though.
posted by Tehanu at 4:12 PM on January 23, 2008


In real life there are too many variables to make this scientific. How safe is the neighborhood? Is it day or night? How's the weather? Is there a shelter? Do you have an umbrella? Have you heavy parcels? Uphill or downhill walk? How's the traffic congestion? How frequently do the buses run? How far apart are the bus stops? Do you have people to talk to/walk with? How fit are you? What shoes are you wearing? Do you have an appointment?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:38 PM on January 23, 2008


How not to catch a bus.
posted by benzo8 at 6:24 PM on January 23, 2008



How not to catch a bus.

That driver's lucky he didn't get bit.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:31 PM on January 23, 2008


Chicago MeFi's may have noticed that Google Maps is now incorporating CTA data that includes bus routes and schedules. More here. --wfrgms

Google Maps has done the same for DART in Dallas and I use it all the time now. It works so much better for planning trips than the official site.

Yes, that Dallas.
posted by Bugg at 6:34 PM on January 23, 2008


Does this paper have anything to say about late trains when it's %@!#ing cold out like it's been in Boston lately?
posted by Eideteker at 7:42 PM on January 23, 2008


Weapons-grade makes some very good points. Even if your destination is only a kilometer away, if you're in your work clothes wearing high heels, you may not feel like walking one more block.

I well remember my experience with Detroit's bus system, about 10 years ago when I was without a car for two weeks. I worked in a very unsavory neighborhood, and although it only took 15 minutes to drive there from my house, it was an 80 minute bus journey (due to schedules and transfers). Not to mention that you could never count on the bus actually showing up. I remember one cold November evening, as I stood in the sleet at the corner of Van Dyke and Frontenac, a neighborhood of mostly burned-out buildings and packs of roaming stray dogs, waiting one hour and 15 minutes for the bus (I'd arrived at the stop 10 minutes before its scheduled stop.) When the bus finally pulled up, I was soaked and freezing. I climbed aboard and commented to the driver, "I didn't think you were coming today." He took a drag of his cigarette (despite the No Smoking signs), looked at me and said, "You lucky I even stopped."
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:50 PM on January 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


A former economics professor of mine was constantly figuring these things out for every part of his day. On his drive home, he knew which stoplight to turn right at if he didn't make the green, and the precise number of cars in the drivethrough lane that made it faster to park and walk in. He knew which grocery stores had the items he wanted in closest proximity to each other and the checkout. Operations research as a way of life.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:39 PM on January 23, 2008


A former economics professor of mine was constantly figuring these things out for every part of his day.

It's a nerd thing, as xkcd points out.

I take the light rail to one of two busses, and there are two different stops that I can get off of on each. I swear, I spent a month of 15-minute bus rides figuring out the optimal method for each time of day, weather condition, etc. It just drives me nuts to waste time by making the wrong choice.

Oddly enough, i have no problems wasting time on the internet...
posted by chrisamiller at 9:52 PM on January 23, 2008


If there is a smoker at the bus stop I'll walk.

I smoke with an especial vigor at bus stops, and have calculated that by driving off the oversensitive I increase my odds of getting a seat by as much as 5%!

In fact, however, you are choosing the worst possible time to start walking. It is well-established in the literature that the likelihood of a bus's arrival peaks at the moment you light your cigarette (and that likelihood is directly proportional to the length of time for which you've foregone smoking in anticipation of the bus showing up any minute now), and subsequently declines in inverse proportion to the amount of nicotine inhaled.
posted by enn at 10:52 PM on January 23, 2008


I suspect that this won't work in real life because of black swan events. The mathematical theory basically says you should wait up to an infinite amount of time, based on the assumption that the intervals are random.

In real life, we have transport strikes. We have roadworks. We have changes of routes. We forget that it's a public holiday and the buses aren't coming. Those things don't seem to appear in that model. After a while, it makes sense to just start walking.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:48 AM on January 24, 2008


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