The peak problem: why buses have spare capacity

The load factor of a bus is fraction of seats filled or passengers riding compared to the total number of seats or passenger capacity.

In 1979, the load factor for the Los Angeles public bus system was somewhere below 33%. I am looking for a published load factor with a 2007 to 2008 date.

For the typical public bus system, and for a lot of passenger carrying systems, load factors of 25% and less are quite common. There are a number of reasons for this persistent state of affairs:
  • A passenger car with 1 driver out of a total of 4 or 5 seats is already operating at 25% or 20% load factor.
  • Public buses start out empty in the morning and they gradually fill up as they drive from the suburbs to the city center.
  • There is a big surge of bus patronage each morning. The bus management has to schedule enough buses to reasonably handle the peak of the surge. The peak hour bus fleet continues to run even as the patronage surge declines.
  • The peaks of the twice daily surge are plausibly about a workday plus a lunch hour apart ( or about 8.5 hours).
  • It is a management and labor scheduling challenge for every public bus system to arrange reasonable working hours for bus drivers to match bus service with the demand for it.
As a public bus system critic I see the "below 33% load factor" as a huge service opportunity.
Potentially up to 66% of the gross carrying capacity of the public bus system is available to do useful work.

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