Transit 101: Layover - An Essential Aspect of Transit Scheduling and Operations
The layover, or the amount of time between when the bus arrives at the end of one trip and before it leaves for the next trip, is an often overlooked but essential aspect of bus scheduling. Layover provides two important benefits: one, it provides time to absorb late-running buses so that they can leave on time for the next trip, and two, for many transit agencies is provides the only amount of break time bus drivers receive. Layover is an essential ingredient when one is determining bus running times and in bus blocking . A common scheduling problem involves trying to schedule buses in blocks that have too much or too little layover, and if drivers do not receive enough rest time - that is often provided in layover time - in California they can claim a violation of Wage Order Number 9 .
Where do we put the buses during their layover? Certainly they have to be out of a lane of traffic. And they need to be close to a restroom facility available whenever the bus route operates. When you consider that many people, especially homeowners, would instantly complain to their city council member if a bus suddenly hung out next to their house, it is actually quite difficult to locate suitable places. If parking spaces are going to be taken away then the city council may become incensed even without the aid of a disgruntled homeowner.
Layover problems can have significant deleterious impacts on the operation of a transit system. For example, the western ends of Los Angeles Metro Routes 164 and 165 had to be adjusted, in a way that removed service from a significant number of stops, in order to avoid using a layover location that had drawn the constant ire of a local homeowner. In addition, Metro's union contract has a very reasonable requirement that all layover locations have access to restroom facilities, which are known in transit parlance as "comfort zones".
It is hard enough to find enough space for one bus to layover; the difficulty becomes exponentially magnified when more than one bus will be there at the same time. This result usually happens only when several different routes are going to use the same layover or one route operates very frequently, usually every twelve minutes or more often. Sometimes short-turns will have to be created for the sole purpose of providing enough space for the buses to layover.
One dilemma transit agencies frequently find themselves in is whether to make drivers let passengers on board the bus during layover period. Sometimes this policy is determined by whether drivers are allowed to leave passengers on board the bus alone. Overall, I would advise transit agencies where layovers are treated as breaks for the driver to not force drivers to admit passengers during the layover. After all, if the layover is supposed to provide a break for the driver then making them let passengers on the board during the layover would be like forcing a customer service agent to listen and deal with callers while eating lunch. People who have never driven a bus believe bus driver breaks are meant to provide a break from driving; those of you who have driven a bus often believe bus driver breaks are meant to provide a break from the passengers.
One thing to avoid is to have a layover distinct from the pick-up and drop-off location of the last stop on the route. Some agencies do this to avoid having several buses parked at the same bus stop, but by making the driver head to some other location for a break creates non-productive deadhead mileage at best and poor driver behavior at worst. If the driver is late, then there will be a temptation either to layover at the stop instead of at the proper location or to layover at the proper location but then not pick up at the stop on the return trip. The take-home message for transit enthusiasts is that it is not enough to have a great idea for a new bus route, or even to know approximately how long the bus route will take to operate and therefore have an idea of the cost. Before a route can operate suitable layover locations must be identified.