On the Replacement Bus (or Hot, Jerky, and Crowded).

(Kiss Me) On the Bus, by the Replacements, is one of the great transit songs about public displays of affection. Today I was on the Replacement Bus for the T1 train, which was closed for works between Strathfield and Epping. This is a train route I take with my kids weekly to their Saturday class, we board the train in Redfern at 12:56 and arrive at 1:25 or so in Eastwood. Add  about 10 minutes on either side for access/egress costs.

Historic Sydney Bus. Ours was newer, but less well ventilated.
Historic Sydney Bus. Ours was newer, but less well ventilated.

We took the train from Redfern to Strathfield. The signs were excellent at both stations. At Strathfield we were easily routed to the replacement T1 bus with stops at West Ryde, Eastwood, and all stops to Hornsby. So this was in one sense more direct than a train, which had additional stops. In another, more important sense, it was not.

The bus runs in traffic along Concord Road [Map] from Strathfield to Ryde. Concord Road is heavily congested most of the time, aligning with one of too few bridges across the Parramatta River, the great tributary of Sydney Harbour. With the trains out-of-service, traffic is probably worse than normal.

More to the point, there were several other issues besides it being slow:

  1. The temperature was 24C (about 80F), with a humidity of about 100%.
  2. The aircon was not working on the bus (or rather it worked fine for the driver, not for the passengers.
  3. The windows were all closed. Someone eventually opened the emergency access on the ceiling to vent the bus.
  4. The bus was pretty crowded. I counted about 50 passengers, all the seats were taken and there were a lot of standees. It was hard to get an accurate count because that required me to face backwards. I have seen more crowded conditions, but obviously I would tend to avoid them if I can.
  5. The traffic was not merely slow, the bus driver was a lurcher, moving the bus to gain a couple of meters and than braking hard, as if maximizing physical jerk was a performance measure. That no one fainted or was actively vomiting I consider a minor miracle Perhaps the song should have been titled (Sick Me on the Buss)
  6. We made the strategic error of sitting facing backwards.

The Replacement Bus arrived at Eastwood station at about 2:05 pm, so 45 minutes slower total. (To be clear, this is significantly faster than scheduled local bus services between these destinations, as we avoided local stops.) Given we caught the bus almost immediately from Strathfield, that 45 minute extra travel time is compared to 15 minutes of train travel from Strathfield to Eastwood, meaning the effective bus speed (and for that matter car speed, since the bus was in traffic almost the entire time) would be about 3x slower.

Why would anyone drive when they can take the train in Sydney?

Now of course the train cannot serve every origin-destination pair, but it serves many of them, and people self-organize to take advantage of the services.

I don’t have any brilliant suggestions for what to do when the tracks are closed for works. Ideally that could be minimized, conducted automatically at night by robots, or some such. However given that they need to be shut down at least sometimes, this is where dynamic lane control might be useful. Ours was far from the only Replacement Bus, there was a veritable convoy. A dynamic bus-only lane would have sped the many thousands of people using buses on Concord Road, stuck in traffic behind many more vehicles carrying many fewer people. Similarly it might have been possible to reverse lanes from one direction to another in places. I realize this is a temporary condition, and trains will likely be back in service next Monday. On the other hand, there might be other conditions where these controls could be useful. Futher, I don’t think the buses had balanced loads, judging from an eyeball observation through the windows. Two buses made the same trip at the same time. Our was full, the following bus was not. This might have been managed better at Strathfield.