Richard Kwasneski, chairman of Pace, said the system has looked into bus rapid transit or another idea to overcome severe congestion on I-55, but they decided to try the bus on shoulder system because IDOT and the Illinois lawmakers had a willingness to do something to mitigate the traffic problem now. The success of the routes means Pace will add more routes in May to accommodate riders.
“The good news is that because of the success of bus on shoulder on I-55, we’re working with IDOT to look at other areas where there are high traffic areas,” Kwasneski said. “It has been kind of a learning curve for all of us and there was a lot of skepticism on a lot of people’s parts that it would be successful.”
Kwasneski said reliability is a big factor for transit riders, so by improving on-time arrivals to more than 90 percent, it has led to continued ridership growth. Between press about the improvements and the fact potential customers now watch the bus whiz by as drivers are stopped in traffic, Kwasnecki said it makes Pace a much more appealing option for commuters. Newjahr said safety is always a concern when a transit district is contemplating bus on shoulder service. During one case of studying the implementation of bus on shoulder service in Miami, Newjahr said they did a test run and videotaped the trek to determine safety risks and issues raised by operators.
“There was a little bit of a push off from the operators about the concerns they had with how wide the lane was and getting the bus through some of the pinch points,” he said. “We went through extensive driver training sessions and we agreed the system would be a pilot initially, but now it’s considered an acceptable way of getting from the west side of Miami to the east side.”
Despite safety concerns cited by critics of bus on shoulder service, Siqveland said there has only been one major incident involving a bus using the shoulder in the Minneapolis area, which happened right after the service was first introduced.
“One thing is shoulder lanes have a cultural piece to it,” he said. “Transit agencies moving forward with bus on shoulder who have reached out to us, we’ve had to tell them it’s a cultural shift for users of freeways to see buses bypassing traffic on the shoulder lanes.”
Expansion of BOSS Expected
Kwasneski said Illinois is also looking to do a reconstruction of I-90 out of Chicago, which is another major expressway into the city, and Pace is working with IDOT and the Illinois Tollway Authority on possible solutions for quicker bus service, which could also include bus-only lanes. Pace Spokesman Patrick Wilmot said in an email that cost projections haven’t been developed yet and right now Pace is concentrating on making the current shoulder routes successful in order to make the case to make them permanent and expanded.
“Once we know what the future holds for the program, we can have more serious discussions with IDOT and the Illinois Tollway regarding bringing shoulder riding accommodations into their future reconstruction plans,” he said.
While bus systems using bus on shoulder are seeing ridership increases, leaders in suburban communities who have the service or may get the service, could see more benefits to their communities by having it available, especially if they’re not serviced by commuter rail or other transit options.
Claar said he doesn’t know what kinds of long-term impact having quicker bus service for the village of Bolingbrook, but having the bus on shoulder service has made mass transit an option more residents there want to consider for their commutes into the city.
“Quite honestly, it’s an innovation that makes a whole lot of sense,” he said.