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  • Writer's pictureD Lane

If the bus is empty, is something stupid going on?

Everyone is an expert on what’s wrong with our local bus system. They know what’s wrong because they see a big bus go by with almost no one on it. It is crystal clear that either that bus route should be cut or that we should use a much smaller bus on that route. I wonder if ever occurs to these observers that to see the occupancy of a bus in specific location might not tell the whole story.

Here’s an easy example. The bus coming down from UCSC into town is almost empty at 9 am... and that’s because that bus was jam packed with students and workers going to class at the start of the day and now they’ve all gotten off the bus on campus. The bus now needs to drive back down to town to pick up more people and make another circuit. It isn’t actually possible for the bus to shrink to a smaller size just for the return trip. So we really do need the big bus.

One other only slightly different example: The bus starts full at the bus station but only has a few people on it after it passes the tenth stop. Then the bus only has a half a dozen people for the final ten stops. One could say that we should just run a big bus for the first ten stops and then have a different little bus for the second ten stops. However the logistics of shuttling drivers and swapping buses and having even more vehicles owned and maintained by the bus system would be more expensive and less efficient—without providing any additional service.

Here’s a friendly (and snarky?) suggestion. The next time you have a great idea for fixing a problem you perceive, start by asking why things are done the way they are now. Next- and this is the really important part because ASKING is not sufficient – is to actually get some answers to those initial questions. Too many people just ask things like “why is the big bus empty” and then immediately jump to “we need to get smaller buses” without learning why the system is currently doing what it’s doing. And, NO, this is not a platitude to defend the status quo. It is essential to question things like empty buses. However, it’s also important to make informed suggestions about changing things. Otherwise, we might just suggest something stupid...

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