Chicago Transit Question: Multiple Buses?

Hey all! I just moved to the fair city of Chicago (just to be closer to Uncle Cecil, of course) and have noticed a disturbing trend with the local bus system:

Rather than following schedule, the bus I’m waiting for will sometimes be 20-40 minutes late, and it will be followed by 2-4 buses following the same route. These latter buses are of course empty because everyone gets on the first bus in the “conga line.” This happens ALL the damn time!

My question: I’ve lived/visited New York, Boston, Providence, and San Francisco, and have never seen this problem occur so frequently. Why the hell does this happen? Can’t the 3rd bus in the line just turn around or something? Or wait around at one stop and then keep going?

Any words of wisdom, Chicagoans? (Chicagoites?)


This is why I moved to Seattle.

They do it to remind you that you are scum.

Us native Chicagoans have long since given up on trying to figure out the CTA. Are you sure these buses are on the same route as yours and not buses from other routes who happen to share your stop on their schedule? Many of the routes overlap, especially in the Loop.

Well, the reason for the bus pile-up has to do with the crowds at each stop and the delays as everyone pays to get on.

For whatever reason, a large crowd is waiting at Stop A. When Bus 1 arrives, it has to stop for several minutes while everyone gets on, pay their fares, etc. This causes Bus 1 to fall behind schedule.

Because of this delay, when Bus 1 gets to Stop B, even more people are waiting. This means Bus 1 gets even further behind schedule as everyone piles on. This situation gets worse and worse the more stops there are, until Bus 1 ends up being 30 minutes late for Stop F.

Meanwhile, Bus 2 arrives at Stop A on schedule. Because Bus 1 left fairly recently, there are not as many people waiting to get on Bus 2, allowing it to stay on schedule and zip right on over to Stop B, where there are even fewer people waiting. As Bus 1 gets further behind schedule, Bus 2 begins to catch up, until they are right next to each other. If the route is long enough, Bus 3 may also catch up to them.

Now, why does this happen in Chicago but not elsewhere? Dunno, although in the small city in Japan I used to live in (Hamamatsu), if the driver could see the next bus ahead, he would usually wait for a minute or two at the next stop, and radio to other drivers of what he was doing. This gave some time for more passengers to pile up at the next stop, eventually causing the gains and delays to straighten themselves out. Also, passengers paid when they got off the bus, and most got off at one or two main stops. This meant that even if there was a large crowd waiting to get on, the bus usually didn’t need to stop for very long.

Probably none of this made any sense.


Crap. I was so eager to show off what a big stud I was that I didn’t read the OP carefully. AkashJ already understood perfectly why this happens in general, and was just asking ‘why Chicago?’ I really have nothing constructive to say in response to that question, so I’ll just slink off into the corner and hope no one was watching.


–sublight. :o

The bus bunching occurs because of several factors:

  1. Cars parking in bus stops and bus-only lanes. Passengers are forced to walk further to the bus, thus delaying the bus. Busses in back of a vehicle parked in the bus lane will have to wait until other, usually heavily-trafficked lane, is cleared.
  2. Cars double-parking in bus routes. It slows down all traffic behind it, including buses. On a narrow street, a dp sometimes brings traffic to a halt.
  3. Unfortunate incidents such as detours, police actions, fire department runs, unusually bad traffic, etc, also works against the on-time record of a bus route.
  4. Passengers wanting to go into the first bus that arrives so badly, no matter how full it is, instead of waiting for the next one.
  5. Poor route planning that puts the bus fleet into the first three situations almost daily.

These are the major factors on why the buses are late.

BTW it is much worse in NYC. A group was hired to look for ways to stop the bunching, but after 18 months, no progress whatsoever was made.

In Cleveland, at least (only city where I’m familiar with the public busses) most bus routes have layover points: On-schedule, they get there five or ten minutes before they leave, and they’re guaranteed not to leave until that point. If they’re running a bit late, they leave at the same time, and just wait a bit less. Of course, they can’t do this at every stop, as it would hold up traffic, but they usually do it at the public train stations, where there’s a parking lot and a designated layover area. Maybe Chicago doesn’t have enough layover points to even out the schedules?

That sounds like a good system Chronos. Chicago traffic can be nightmarish however, and I doubt motorists would take kindly to buses idling at stops for several minutes at a time. Crafty (read “crazy”) drivers use the street space allocated for bus stops as makeshift turn lanes, passing lanes, etc.

Another possibility is that Chicago buses have such tight (optimistic) schedules that they are never early. Layover points won’t be any use if all buses are late.