Lewis Lehe/Dennys Hess.

See how small delays can lead to big commuting headaches in this interactive.

As a video game, “Why Do Buses Bunch?” is about as pulse-pounding as those municipal simulators about street cleaning and garbage collection. But as an interactive visualization, it’s a clean, beautiful explanation for how small delays can lead to big headaches in your commute.

The viz, created by Berkeley transportation-engineering student Lewis Lehe and designer Dennys Hess, presents a simplified city where two buses run a circular route. By clicking on one, you can cause it to momentarily pause—something that might happen if the driver was loading a wheelchair, say, or letting somebody put a bike on the rack.

But here’s the nifty part: No matter how short of a delay you create, the buses eventually wind up running back-to-back, an annoying phenomenon known as “bus bunching.” The creators explain:

Have you ever been waiting for a late bus, and all of a sudden two or three buses arrive at the same time? That’s called bus bunching.

Bus bunching happens because, if a bus gets delayed, then there will be more people waiting at the next stop than anticipated. The extra passengers’ boarding time makes the bus even later, and so on in a vicious cycle.

To combat bus bunching, bus systems have to build slack into the system, but that slack involves extra buses and labor and longer travel times.

Bunching might seem esoteric to non-transportation scholars, but it’s something cities are taking seriously. Chicago is testing out a nearly $9 million anti-bunching system, and Miami recently teamed up with IBM to tackle the problem, which reportedly can ding cities’ economies by millions every year.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a map of future climate risks in the U.S.
    Maps

    America After Climate Change, Mapped

    With “The 2100 Project: An Atlas for A Green New Deal,” the McHarg Center tries to visualize how the warming world will reshape the United States.

  2. photo: a Tower Records Japan Inc. store in Tokyo, Japan.
    Life

    The Bankrupt American Brands Still Thriving in Japan

    Cultural cachet, licensing deals, and density explain why Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, Barneys, and other faded U.S. retailers remain big across the Pacific.

  3. photo: a commuter looks at a small map of the London Tube in 2009
    Maps

    Help! The London Tube Map Is Out of Control.

    It’s never been easy to design a map of the city’s underground transit network. But soon, critics say, legibility concerns will demand a new look.

  4. Perspective

    Why Car-Free Streets Will Soon Be the Norm

    In cities like New York, Paris, Rotterdam, and soon San Francisco, car-free streets are emerging amid a growing movement.

  5. A sign outside a storefront in Buffalo, New York.
    Environment

    Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?

    The Western New York city possesses a distinct mix of weather, geography, and infrastructure that could make it a potential climate haven. But for whom?

×