Why Buses Should Let You Board Through Any Door, in 2 Charts

San Francisco's all-door boarding program has been a big success.

A couple years ago, San Francisco's Muni became the first big U.S. transit agency to implement all-door boarding across its entire bus system. The advantages of all-door boarding are obvious: letting some passengers enter the rear door shortens the line at the front, reducing the time buses sit at stops (known as dwell). But many cities avoid the feature for fear of inviting fare evasion.

Well, the "final" results of San Francisco's all-door program are in, and they're spectacular. All-door boarding reduced the average dwell time from nearly 4 seconds to 2.5 seconds among all Muni buses—a dip of 38 percent. More than half of all passengers used the rear door to enter, and time-consuming fare payments at the front door declined 4 percent. As a result, overall bus speeds improved.

Here's the crux of the dwell finding, in one chart:

Muni

We can see that for two-door buses (and trolleys) in particular, dwell times fell from 4.3 seconds to 2.7 seconds on average. Whereas buses tended to dwell for 2 or 2.5 seconds before all-door boarding, 1 second became the most common dwell time afterward, with more riders using the rear door. The entire statistical distribution shifted to the left—meaning passengers spent less of their days waiting at a bus stop.

The improvements were felt across the system. Dwell-time reductions occurred at tourist stops, where one might expect less familiarity with boarding procedure, as well as express stops, where one might think things couldn't get any better. This second chart shows all-door boarding helped at every type of stop across the city:

Muni

Most impressive, though, was that fare evasion didn't increase. Muni added a rear-door smartcard reader and hired 13 new fare inspectors to spot-check rider proof-of-purchase. Pre-implementation studies had found fare evasion as high as 9.5 percent; after all-door boarding was implement, evasion was at 8 percent. As mobile fare technology improves, especially through contactless smartphone payments, boarding through any door should become even easier.

So the all-door boarding program in San Francisco has been a great success, and more U.S. cities should consider a similar one for their own bus systems. It's hard to top this conclusion, from the final report:

Two years after official All-Door Boarding began, transit operations have improved without adverse financial impacts.

H/t: Harvard Ash Center

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