All-Door Boarding Can Save Time for Bus Riders — If Transit Agencies Embrace It

In Montreal, bus passengers who boarded through the back or middle door perceived their journey as shorter. Graph: McGill University
In Montreal, bus passengers who boarded through the back or middle door perceived their journey as shorter. Graph: McGill University

Here’s a simple way to make bus trips faster: Let riders board at any door.

All-door boarding can speed up heavily-used bus routes and improve customer satisfaction, according to research led by Ahmed El-Geneidy at McGill University in Montreal [PDF]. But transit agencies have to commit to the new policy to fully realize the benefits.

The time that buses spend stopped while passengers board and exit (“dwell time”) accounts for 9 to 26 percent of a typical bus journey, according to El-Geneidy. All-door boarding reduces this delay.

Empirical research has found that all-door boarding can save significant time for bus riders, especially on busy routes. When all-door boarding and off-board fare collection were introduced on the New York City route with the most ridership, for instance, shorter dwell times were responsible for speeding bus trips 8 percent.

El-Geneidy and his team found a smaller effect on the 121 route in Montreal, attributing a 1.2 percent improvement in travel times to an all-door boarding pilot. There were a few shortcomings in the pilot that explain the underwhelming results.

Montreal’s pilot applied only to riders with unlimited passes, unlike typical all-door boarding systems, which apply to every passenger. The transit agency also appears to have communicated the pilot poorly. Some customers complained that drivers didn’t open the rear doors. At stops where three or more passengers boarded, the vast majority (88 percent) continued to board at the front door, and those passengers were all required to verify payment.

The bus riders who did take advantage of the all-door policy were pleased with it. In a survey of 450 passengers, 67 percent of people who entered at the middle or rear doors perceived a decrease in travel time, compared to 34 percent of passengers who boarded at the front.

Some transit agencies are hesitant to use all-door boarding out of concern that it will encourage fare evasion. But experience has shown those fears are overblown. Ottawa and San Francisco, for instance, both use all-door boarding and have average fare evasion rates. Transit officials who have successfully enacted the switch to all-door boarding say agency priorities have to change from preventing fare evasion, to creating a fare system that results in better service for riders.

  • All-door boarding can work quite well even without off-board fare collection if a fare reader is put at the rear door(s). People with cash would still have to use the front, but everyone else can board at the back and just swipe there. That’s likely a less expensive and more secure option than installing the equipment on curbs.

  • Michel S

    True. In my mind it makes more sense to keep the technology with the vehicle than to install it at each and every boarding location. Central hubs for sure can justify the expense of built infrastructure, but not every stop. This doesn’t solve the fare evasion problem, but evasion as a problem is overblown to begin with.

  • Yea, most people aren’t necessarily looking to evade the fare and roving inspectors across the system can help in that regard. Also, with autonomous buses on the way, transit operators will have to do something with all the drivers being put out of a job.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I’ve always felt that fare evasion is difficult to measure on buses anyway. In my experience, I’ve never observed onboard fare enforcement on all-door-boarding buses. That’s not to say it never happens, though I’m fairly sure it’s relatively rare, and one reasons why agencies still see “average fare evasion rates”.

  • bolwerk

    On-board TVMs are the way to go on busy routes with some lightly used stops. Those people waiting at a little-used stop can board and pay, cash if they want, using the TVM. The driver should not be involved.

    Typically there are fewer vehicles than there are stops, so you likely need fewer TVMs this way. Maintenance can be largely centralized, barring the consideration that busier stops probably still need TVMs. Regular rush hour users should be able to figure out how to get their fare media ahead of time (and they should be using a pass of some sort anyway).

  • bolwerk

    There isn’t really an evasion problem. If you have fare inspectors, you want them to catch some evaders so the revenue can be used to cover the cost of inspectors. No evasion is a bigger problem!

  • All door boarding is so popular for RapidRide in Seattle that on a few bus lines that ostensibly allow front-only boardings — like the packed Route 40, or buses serving postgame sports fans — people just use all the doors and pay with the curbside farecard readers reserved for for all-door routes, or we just figure that most commuters have a monthly pass anyway.

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