The law of maximum transit wait time

A fellow New Westie, Waferboard, has uncovered the indisputable law of public transportation: You’ll have to wait the longest time possible to catch your bus. He offers a few telling illustrations of the ‘law’ in action: advertisement When arriving at a bus stop, the bus will have just gone by. Often you can see passing, tantalizingly close toRead More

A fellow New Westie, Waferboard, has uncovered the indisputable law of public transportation: You’ll have to wait the longest time possible to catch your bus.

He offers a few telling illustrations of the ‘law’ in action: 

  1. When arriving at a bus stop, the bus will have just gone by. Often you can see passing, tantalizingly close to your “if I run, maybe I can catch it” threshold. If you dont see it pass, the abandoned bus stop will let you know youve just missed it and will have to wait.
  2. If you have a choice of several bus stops for different routes, you will always choose the wrong stop. The other bus will go by first — even if youve checked the schedule.
  3. Time is elastic for bus schedules. For example, lets say youve memorized the tables and bus comes every 15 minutes. You arrive at the bus stop three minutes early. No good: the bus has arrived three minutes early, and you have just missed it see above. No problem, you may think, my watch may be wrong. In any case it will by by in 15 minutes. Not so fast The next bus will not arrive in 15 or even 18 minutes 15 + 3 for the early bus, but in 21 minutes 15 + 3 + 3 late minutes — maximum wait time.
  4. At least two buses will go by in the opposite direction before your bus comes.

– via waferisms.

Oh so true. I’ve been a dedicated public transit user since a teenager, and I’ve experienced this whether I’m bussing in Port Moody, Coquitlam, Vancouver, Burnaby or New West. The worst is when you have waited for three phantom buses at a cold or rainy stop, and then see two go by in the opposite direction. Twice!

Briana Tomkinson

Briana Tomkinson is a Montreal-based writer and original founder of Tenth to the Fraser. She really likes to write letters by hand.

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4 comments

  1. I’m sure we all have these stories. You could probably dedicate a whole blog to them. But, to be fair, I noticed similar effects when bicycling: cross streets will be clear until you’re at the intersection and lights turn red just as you arrive (this one also happens when driving). It goes on and on. Fortunately, I try to keep positive and not become bitter, angry and jaded.

  2. In the last month I have been standing at bus stops and had the bus drive right by me as if I was invisible. All three were different stops on Columbia. One driver saw me was as he went by and stopped further down the street. There are too many large trucks in front of the buses and "hidden" stops. I feel like I need a flag to wave the buses down.

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