Bus Types and Urban Planning: What is Data’s Role?

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With data now playing an increased role in urban planning, how does data consider bus types & their seating arrangements?

A friend once told me that documentaries are special because they trigger you to find out more about something. Well, that simple conversation turned out to be prophetic last week as I caught up with a documentary detailing traffic congestion in different cities across the world and suggesting potential solutions.

Turns out that the fortunes of cities synonymous with traffic congestion can be transformed gradually by commissioning buses with larger capacities. Does that sound like your city? My city Nairobi is nowhere close to finding a solution, which triggered my curiosity about the different types of buses and the instrumental role that data plays in the modelling of buses for public transport.

There are four broad categories of bus types: single deck, double deck, articulated and rigid buses. Under these four categories, there are further sub-categories that differ based on mechanical specifications, body, alternative configurations, and chassis layout.

Conversely, different buses have different standards of passenger accommodation ranging from basic to premium along with various features such as air conditioning, grab handles, and Wi-Fi connection depending on the accommodation standard.

Two buses ferrying passengers in Bangkok, Thailand, in the night. Big data is playing an increasing role in the manufacturing of automobiles and influencing fine details such as seating arrangements in buses. [Image Source: Hanny Naibaho}

Single Deck Buses

Single deck buses are generally 5 to 12 metres in length. Some nations even allow longer buses of up to 15 metres, mainly depending on the roads’ condition.

Minibuses

These buses, otherwise known as microbuses, are designed for all passengers to be comfortably seated. The shortest single-deckers range between 5-6 metres and carry between 10 to 20 passengers. Still, in cities worldwide, extra passengers are ferried while standing and in most scenarios in cramped conditions.

A minibus operating on a road in Bishek, Kygyzstan. in June 2020. [Image Source: Laurentiu Morariu}

Midibuses

This type of single deck buses are about 7 to 8 metres long and ferry 20 to 35 passengers in one trip. These types of buses can also accommodate extra passengers.

A midibus operating on a road in Saransk, Russia in May 2019. [Image Source: deposit photos}

Full-sized single-deck buses

This type of single-deck bus ferries between 60 to 120 passengers in one swoop, including those standing.

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A single-deck bus as captured on First Avenue, Minneapolis, USA on May 31, 2020. [Image Source: Weston MacKinnon}

Double Deck Buses

This type of bus is usually 9 to 12 metres in length and up to 15 metres in countries that allow expanded sizes. They ferry between 60 to 120 passengers in one trip and mainly operate in urban areas.

The most attractive feature about double-deck buses is that they are high capacity, potentially translating into less traffic on the road. Conversely, these buses also occupy less depot floor, terminal, and road per every seated passenger, which could be a big boon for cities with congestion problems.

A double-deck bus carrying passengers on a road in London, United Kingdom on April 30, 2020. [Image Source: Zeynep Çetinkaya]

This is because of the sheer volume of passengers that these buses can ferry and the spaces between passenger seats carefully designed to allocate extra passengers to stand in cities where this is permissible.

The features that make double-deckers to be considered disadvantageous and less attractive compared to single deck buses is that double-deck buses require greater headroom. For instance, double-deck buses are unlikely to use a route with road tunnels that do not have adequate headroom because they are taller in height. Loading and unloading also take more time in double-deck buses than single-deck buses.

Rigid Buses

A rigid bus might be a single-deck or double-deck bus but the overriding theme about a rigid bus is that it is defined by a rigid chassis as its foundation compared to articulated buses, which feature multiple rigid sections linked together by a pivoting joint to accommodate more passengers.

A rigid bus parked in Sharjah- United Arab Emirates. [Image: Wang Loko]

Articulated Buses

This type of bus, also known as bendy bus or stretch bus, is usually a single-decker comprising multiple rigid sections linked together by a pivoting joint. They ferry up to 270 passengers, while others are built to accommodate even more. In the same vein, articulated buses can be much longer than rigid buses and, in rare instances, up to 25 metres long, although the average maximum length is usually 18 to 20 metres.

Articulated buses suffice most where labour is expensive or scarce, cities with high passenger traffic, wide and straight roads, and space are not boxed in.

An articulated bus making its way in the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia, in March 2019. [Image Source: Azka Rayhansyah]

One crucial aspect of articulate buses is that if the right bus stop and fare-collection systems are in place, articulated buses can fill and unload quickly despite their size.

These buses require highly skilled drivers. The routes that these buses take can also be limited. These buses cannot be driven on congested and narrow roads.

They are also more expensive to acquire and maintain and most times end up being 25-30% costlier than double-deck buses.

Another critical aspect of articulated buses is that there must be access to bus stops and doors accessible for passengers without the added baggage of obstructing parked cars or street mainstays.

How Data Considers Bus Type and Bus Capacity

Vehicle size

Data plays a huge role in determining what size a vehicle can be. Manufacturers do their research on their target market bases before commissioning a new brand.

For instance, factors such as the traffic volume, the characteristics of a road system, and the type of services that residents of a particular area are prepared to pay for hugely influence what size a bus or a standard vehicle will be.

In a blog post shared on the company’s website, Jeongkyu Park, the Senior Manager, Global Data Analytics Team at Hyundai Motor Group, revealed that the company uses big data for product planning, including the size of the vehicle and the installed seating capacity.

Hyundai Motor Group uses Big Data for product planning, automobile development, quality improvement, manufacture, logistics, and customer services.

Jeongkyu Park, Senior Manager, Global Data Analytics Team at Hyundai Motor Group

Such data analysis will include examining passenger flows and how they are affected by different vehicle sizes.

Operating speed

The smaller a bus/vehicle is in size, the better it can accelerate and manoeuvre in traffic than a larger vehicle bus. In contrast, a larger vehicle can ferry more passengers.

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A big bus as captured on an Indian road in October 2019. [Image Source: Siddharth Kushwaha}

According to Mr. Park, accidents can be stopped through analysis of big data.

The Senior Manager, Global Data Analytics Team at Hyundai Motor Group, says that when a vehicle/ bus is fitted with various sensors it can detect surroundings more accurately. For instance, when a vehicle slips over or goes over a pothole, the sensors can detect the dangers and send caution to the cars behind it, averting a possible collision.

 Using Big Data, it is possible. A car decked with various kinds of sensors can detect its surroundings accurately. When a vehicle slips over on the road or passes a pothole, it can detect dangers through the sensors and send warnings for the cars behind it. It will send out the alarm just because a single car slipped over on the road, of course.

JEONGKYU PARK, SENIOR MANAGER, GLOBAL DATA ANALYTICS TEAM AT HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP

The same data can also be used to analyze which vehicles and buses are involved in accidents and at which speeds the same cars were involved in accidents. This will, in turn, help manufacturers improve their products for the benefit of consumers.

Maintenance

There are several ways in which big data can enhance the maintenance of different bus types ranging from single deck buses to articulated buses.

The remote sensors installed in these different bus types can be used to track engine performance. This allows automobile manufacturers to react to a problem. If the bus is low on radiator fluid or requires an oil change, the manufacturer will notify the driver directly.

Unrecognizable mechanic doing car service and maintenance. [Image Source: iStock}

Conversely, with the sensors in place, maintenance of the buses becomes proactive rather than reactive in that with systems being analyzed, a possible collapse can be stopped before it occurs. Consequently, this helps keep the bus in shape hence improved performance and reduced costs.

Traffic Congestion

Analysis of traffic data in a particular city can yield several insights such as passenger behaviour, drivers’ behaviour, and the appropriateness of a specific route at a given time. Consequently, these insights can inform the manufacturing of buses and how the seating arrangements in the same buses are structured.

This is done to achieve several objectives mainly; to reduce traffic congestion, ensure road safety, suit passengers’ tastes and preferences, and accomplish other factors such as reducing the environmental pollution.

Conversely, if there are many passengers, smaller vehicles lose the free reign to speed as much as they would like due to many cars using the same infrastructure and picking and dropping passengers along the way. Thus, overall, any congested city could benefit from deploying high-capacity buses as a measure to ease traffic problems…

… which leads us to our final destination

Small buses have some advantages, including manoeuvring in severely congested cities and are more effective if the larger buses are not carrying full capacity.

However, the main disadvantage that outweighs the advantages is that when small buses are operated at high frequencies, they cause more traffic congestion than a larger bus that can carry two or three times the capacity of passengers that a small bus can.

My friend was right in telling me that a documentary is a problem-solving broadcast format. I am especially invested in the one I stumbled upon because I am affected by traffic congestion. The major take-aways from this episode is that analysis of data is king especially heading into the future and many cities would be served right by gradually phasing out small capacity buses.

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