Napkin Calculations

I ride the bus to work and ride my bike home.  I really enjoy the 8 mile ride on the way home — expect when it’s freezing like yesterday!  I haven’t decided whether or not it’s because (1) I’m cheap and don’t want to buy another car, (2) I work at the National Renewable Energy Lab, or (3) I like the evening workout.  To be honest, it’s probably a combination of all three.

Anyway, there are a few things that piss me off about the 28 route in Denver.  However, nothing, and I mean nothing, pisses me off more than the little side journey that the bus takes when we get to Yates and 26th.  As you can see in the link, we go south to Byron Pl, over to Sheridan, and then back north to 26th.  Why does this little sojourn piss me off you ask?  Because nobody ever uses the Byron Pl stop!  OK, there are a few people, but they should walk the 1.5 blocks to either 26th and Sheridan or 26th and Yates!

Here’s my back of the envelope calculation for how much this side trip costs RTD on its weekday routes.


  1. A bus gets 5 mpg.  Is this a good assumption?  Who knows.  I really don’t care.  I’m just bored and want to blog about this.
  2. Google maps puts this side trip at 0.4 miles.
  3. There are 36 eastbound and 40 westbound trips per day that utilize this ridiculous Byron Pl stop.  (Note: There could be more, but I’m not dealing with the routes that start at Byron Pl.)
  4. To keep things simple, let’s say that there are 250 ‘weekdays’ for the 28 route.

What does this all mean?  Using these figures, the trip uses about 0.08 gallons of fuel for each trip down to Byron Pl.  Maybe that’s not entirely fair, because the bus would still go 0.1 miles if it doesn’t take the stupid trip.  So adjusting point 2 above, let’s say that the trip costs 0.3 miles and, hence, uses 0.06 gallons of fuel.  That’s 86.4 gallons per day or about 21,600 gallons per year!  Assuming $2.50 per gallon of fuel, RTD spends about $54,000 on this unnecessary trip!  Holy shit, that doesn’t even include the weekends!

Any thoughts?


Filed under Basic Statistics, Rambling, Uncategorized

11 responses to “Napkin Calculations

  1. Steph

    This was interesting, Ryan. I can just feel you getting irritated every time the side journey starts. You could bike to work both ways – it might lower your blood pressure. Is there an RTD website where you can post comments such as this?

    • Ryan

      It turns out that somebody got off and another person got on at Byron Pl this morning! D’oh! I still object to the extra 0.3 miles…

  2. Thanks for sending this blog link to us. I enjoy reading transit blog comments, but would never get other work done if I read all the potentially interesting ones. It usually works better if people send their comments to RTD first (then blog about our answer if need be).

    You may be surprised to know that we’ve thought about this very idea since the 1980’s, but nothing has changed to make it feasible. The current set-up started in 1987, but service has been running on Yates Street for over a century in various combinations. As is often the case with transit routes, there are a bunch of small reasons that all pile up on one side of the equation or another. I’ll try to list them in brief. Numbered for reference, not in a particular ranking.

    1. Buses stopping on 26th Avenue at Sheridan during the years when we tried this were obstructing traffic. That is particularly disliked on trips that originate at Sheridan, or which have layovers there at night. Why don’t we do that somewhere else? The only solutions all cost operating money or provoke residential areas into fury.

    2. I haven’t checked to see if the structures on the south side of 26th Avenue have been torn down since I last was by, but I’ve been there in the winter and found those sidewalks to be sheets of ice in the shade. That applies to the proper location for a stop near transfer connections at Sheridan, or if we were to move the stop east next to a fence.

    3. The Byron Place location fits with the urban landscape in terms of transit-oriented development which grew up around the streetcar loop there. The streets and businesses all fit together. There is room on Sheridan, too, at 25th/Byron Place for Rte 51 buses to wait if need be for transfering passengers.

    4. The points east for alternate locations clear of the intersection would result in buses waiting for time idling next to residential areas, especially early in the morning or late at night.

    5. I know that some customers think it’s funny, but there is no other restroom available to operators in a long stretch east and west of that point. That is even more a concern on trips that do not go all the way to Applewood. We have customers who like to alight at the store on Byron Place on their way home, but we also have operators who need access. Previously, we also had our own operator restroom in the trolley loop on the south side of Byron Place, but that was needed by Denver Parks for more auto parking.

    6. At the time of our big restructuring in North Denver / Wheat Ridge in 1987, Edgewater was concerned about being bypassed on 26th or 29th Avenue. I don’t know if they still care or not, but I do see people using this stop who head into their business district.

    I’ll check the latest passenger counts and post them separately, but until 26th Avenue is widened enough for a bus to dwell without stopping all traffic, I would say that is the biggest factor.

    And a note: Americans in particular like to spit at historical references as being meaningless, but that doesn’t matter in urban development. When all of the streets and property are developed in a certain pattern, it usually takes something cataclysmic to change them.


    • Ryan

      Thanks for the feedback. Obviously, you know the history behind how and why RTD does various things, so I value your input.

      I’m curious to know why buses can stop other places along 26th and not near Sheridan? Does 26th vary in its width? I would think that idling near 26th and Yates wouldn’t be a huge problem.

      One other thing — are there plans to put GPS on the buses so that we don’t have to wait so long to catch a bus when it’s not on time? It would be nice so that somebody could build a smartphone app that tells you exactly when the bus will arrive (see, e.g., San Francisco Muni). An unreasonable amount of time is wasted at bus stops for this reason — not to mention, it’s freaking cold in the winter and this probably discourages some potential riders from using RTD.

      I would imagine that the ~50K saved on the Yates excursion could be used on a GPS system…

      • In regard to GPS– RTD buses already have it. However, the system we have was state of the art when new, but accuracy has advanced greatly since it was purchased. At present, a lot of human interpreting is still needed to use the data in real time, so the system is limited in what it can do. In fact, I’ve run into that issue on one of the more modern systems in Portland (the bus arriving sooner than predicted on a cellphone, which a knowledgeable dispatcher could have guessed).

        Because RTD also has to restructure its radio network due to changes in the radio frequency spectrum allocation, we’ll be getting to what you want in the costly equipment replacement project.

        I’m amused to see the Muni mentioned. I used to live there and in following them since have noticed that they still have a terrible struggle staying on time. With the exception of weather disasters, everything in Denver moves easier. From what I can tell, we’ve put more effort into running on time. They face a variety of obstacles yet to be overcome, so have put more effort into telling customers what today’s times are.

    • Here are some statistics about usage of these stops from the January 2010 “runboard” (the schedule that was in effect from 10 January 2010 through 1 May 2010). We have newer data, with all figures a bit lower for May without the school kids. August runboard data, of course, is not finished yet.

      Westbound is the less-used stop, with 3 people boarding and 31 people alighting. It splits the activity with the smaller stop farside of Sheridan Blvd. on W. 26th Avenue. 182 passengers rode through the stop. Buses stopped 49% of the time at this stop and there was “ramp activity” at this location (the technology can’t tell us what type it was yet).

      Eastbound is the bigger stop, with the shelter that these customers would lose on West 26th Ave. The Automatic Passenger Counter (APC) data shows an average of 43 boardings and 10 alightings. 61% of the buses stopped there, there were ramp events, and we learned that is the 9th busiest stop for boardings on this route. We also learned that this is one of the longer stops, averaging 40 seconds, which would consume all of the green time for following traffic on West 26th Ave.

      Because all of the data is subject to effects of the economy, I also checked a matching period during the recent boom. We had good data handy from the January 2007 runboard.

      Westbound, the stop was used for 7 boardings and 37 alightings, with 198 passengers traveling through. Eastbound, the stop was used for 44 boardings and 19 alightings, with 198 passengers traveling through. Buses stopped 37% of the time westbound and 71% of the time eastbound. And, again, it was the 9th busiest boarding stop.

      Except for Applewood, the other stops busier than this location are on the east side of the river, with 30th & Downing Station being #1.

      I should add — since you mentioned — fuel. When that was last taken seriously on a national scale, in 1942-45, this type of service was not discontinued. Instead, the spacing between stops was doubled. This sped up service and saved the energy used in stopping and starting.

  3. The transit in Auburn makes many of these same ridiculous stops. Many of these stops are on the route, but they lose their money in the required stopping, thus reacceleration. I don’t ride this system anymore, but I still feel the sting much more personally. Now I’m paying for fuel in my own car behind these pointless stops.

  4. Ryan, I keep waiting for your next post?! 🙂 Later,

  5. Very astute Dr. Elmo. Keep them coming

  6. It is amazing how a little frustration and a brain dump on line can lead to some really interesting information. Two thing really jump out at me here. One the last time fuel comsumption was look at was in the 1940s and number of stops was a significant factor in fuel consumption. I would have thought with the amount of emphasis put on public transportation as a green alternative there would be much more work done on this particularly in a city like Denver.

    • Ryan

      I totally agree, Kirk. It’s disappointing that Denver doesn’t evaluate the routes more often for green-type savings.

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