Bus congestion, optimal infrastructure investment and the choice of a fare collection system in dedicated bus corridors

Microeconomic optimisation of scheduled public transport operations has traditionally focused on finding optimal values for the frequency of service, capacity of vehicles, number of lines and distance between stops. In addition, however, there exist other elements in the system that present a trade-off between the interests of users and operators that have not received attention in the literature, such as the optimal selection of a fare payment system and a designed running speed (i.e., the cruising speed that buses maintain in between two consecutive stops). Alternative fare payment methods (e.g., on-board and off-board, payment by cash, magnetic strip or smart card) have different boarding times and capital costs, with the more efficient systems such as a contactless smart card imposing higher amounts of capital investment. Based on empirical data from several Bus Rapid Transit systems around the world, we also find that there is a positive relationship between infrastructure cost per kilometre and commercial speed (including stops), achieved by the buses, which we further postulate as a linear relationship between infrastructure investment and running speed. Given this context, we develop a microeconomic model for the operation of a bus corridor that minimises total cost (users and operator) and has five decision variables: frequency, capacity of vehicles, station spacing, fare payment system and running speed, thus extending the traditional framework. Congestion, induced by bus frequency, plays an important role in the design of the system, as queues develop behind high demand bus stops when the frequency is high. We show that (i) an off-board fare payment system is the most cost effective in the majority of circumstances; (ii) bus congestion results in decreased frequency while fare and bus capacity increase, and (iii) the optimal running speed grows with the logarithm of demand.