All-Door Bus Boarding Deemed a Success on Silver Line

The pilot program for the Silver Line through the South End that allowed boarding at all doors through the summer has proven to speed up operations and improve perceptions of the bus by riders.

The Silver Line Better Bus Experience, a partnership between BostonBRT, the MBTA, and the City of Boston, tested all-door boarding on the SL4 and SL5 Washington Street Silver Line between Dudley Square and downtown between May 24 and June 6. During the demonstration, riders were able to board and exit buses through all doors (as opposed to the current practice of boarding only at the front door in a single file line, paying upon entry) to compare whether this change could create a faster, more convenient ride.

Surveys of 900 riders throughout the demonstration show that all-door boarding improves the rider experience and encourages bus use, with 65 percent of rider respondents reporting that their demonstration trip was faster and 70 percent saying the all-door boarding demonstration made them more likely to ride the Silver Line again.

“The data reflects what we heard from riders and bus drivers throughout the demonstration, which is that all-door boarding should be made permanent, and we should continue to look at what else we can do to make buses faster and more reliable,” said Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director for Climate at the Barr Foundation. “While we only had two weeks to test, we saw sparks of what is possible in experimenting with transit solutions to inspire better buses in more places. Demonstrating elements like all-door boarding is a good first step to getting real Bus Rapid Transit throughout Greater Boston.”

Data collected during the demonstration provided insights that are useful as cities and towns consider BRT in their future planning. The demonstration in the South End showed that:

  • All-door boarding allowed for more buses to leave on time, with fewer delays at the busiest stops.
  • All-door boarding shortened the boarding process so much that during the demonstration, it took 30+ people the same amount of time it takes 10-14 people to board on a typical day.
  • With so many riders getting on the bus at the first stop on the Silver Line 4/5, all-door boarding allowed for more buses to leave on time.
  • All-door boarding had a significant effect on the SL4/5’s slowest trips, improving those trips to be more like a typical trip, and making the overall rider experience more reliable.
  • Because the line is already one of the most reliable bus lines in the MBTA system – largely due to existing partial BRT elements along the route – time savings for median trips were more subtle. The rider experience was significantly improved as demonstrated by rider satisfaction surveys – less waiting in line, a more comfortable trip, and overall better experience.
  • The slowest bus trips spent 30 percent less time at bus stops during the demonstration, adding up over the course of the trip to create an overall more reliable ride.
  • All-door boarding has the potential to make buses run more frequently, which was the top priority identified by riders in surveys. Bus schedules are determined based on the slowest trips. Reducing the amount of time it takes for passengers to board on the slowest trips opens up possibilities for updating MBTA bus schedules to have buses arrive more frequently.

The demonstration knit into the MBTA’s larger planning around “AFC 2.0,” the agency’s new system of automated fare collection anticipated to be in place by 2020 that will enable all-door boarding. The MBTA has also begun a process to examine each of its current bus routes that, once complete, will implement improvements to better meet the needs of riders.

“Better bus service requires effective partnerships between the MBTA and the municipalities we serve. While cities control the streets where our buses operate, the MBTA is always pursuing strategies to improve elements of bus service – like fare collection – that we do control,” said Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack.  “The Barr Foundation has been an important advocate for improved bus service and through their support the MBTA was able to collect important data on all-door boarding for buses that will help inform our implementation of AFC 2.0.”

To explore further the potential for time savings and a better rider experience, BostonBRT is pursuing partnerships with Massachusetts municipalities to conduct additional pilots through a competitive RFP process.

BostonBRT will be announcing in the coming weeks the recipients of grant funding to pursue additional pilots of BRT elements such as enforced dedicated lanes and level boarding.

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