Speeding

Speeding would seem to be a natural response to the tight schedules that dominate the routes in many public transportation sectors. This is less so in general education pupil transportation, largely because the stops are relatively close together, and multiple passengers often board and alight at many or most stops. (This is less true, obviously, in rural and other low-density areas.) But safety, in general, is a higher priority in the pupil transportation sector, and particularly with respect to special needs students who often travel separately in smaller vehicles.

In contrast, disabled passengers are the bane of complementary paratransit service: Complementary paratransit is an “unfunded mandate,” generally farmed out to private contractors. And the routes and schedules are typically provided by a third party: software developers. Their agenda is to keep the vehicles moving as quickly as possible, consistent with speed limits, which most of their software is designed to respect. But drivers can still fall behind schedule in this rigid framework, and speeding is an obvious way to catch up.

The worst perpetrators of speeding are the transit sector, the paratransit sector and, far worse, the NEMT sector. NEMT providers’ ability to even “break even” is increasingly undermined by the field’s domination by “brokers” introduced into the field, because most states’ and counties’ hapless healthcare agencies simply can’t cope with the corruption, fraudulent billing, and other “tricks-of-the-trade” which this minimally-regulated member of the public transportation community employs to eke out a living. Plus, few NEMT providers understand how to schedule efficiently — and most recently, at least one broker began to literally penalize them for this, refusing to reimburse them for more-efficient overlapping “shared rides.” Understandably, speeding is rampant in this sector.

In fixed route transit, by contrast, most stops are relative close together, freeway segments of routes are heavily trafficked (in transit service, freeway segments are almost always “close-in” segments adjacent to urban areas), and opportunities for speeding are limited to rapid movement only between stops on those limited roadway segments where it is even possible.[1] Further, even with schedules too tight, arriving early at a bus stop is a taboo in the transit industry, since doing so forces many passengers to miss their connecting buses.

In pupil transportation services, arriving early is a similar taboo, particularly with young students. In the morning, if their buses arrive and depart early, the passengers might chase them down the street — a response that leads to a number of types of accidents involving both their buses and third party vehicles. In the PM period, kindergarten and many other elementary school-age students are often met by parents and guardians, especially if they must cross dangerous streets from the bus and otherwise during their walks home. So when buses arrive before these parents or guardians do, and the passengers are released into the traffic stream, all manner of mayhem (mostly crossing accidents) may occur. In fact, for many reasons (many of which are not safety compromises), more schoolbus students are killed or injured while off the bus (i.e., while crossing to and from their bus stops) than are injured on it. Regardless, for these reasons, speeding is not a major problem in pupil transportation service.

In contrast, just as with NEMT service, speeding is rampant in taxi service — largely because of a payment formula that makes these overworked and underpaid drivers frantic. This condition has worsened even more since about 2014, when “Transportation Network Companies” (e.g., Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Gett and Juno, among the largest) have swelled into taxi service areas, and “thinned” the densities of existing taxi services (see “Bad Regulations, Worse Responses, Part 1;” Bad Regulations, Worse Responses, Part 2;” Bad Regulations, Worse Responses, Part 3;Bad Regulations, Worse Responses, Part 4,” and Bad Regulations, Worse Responses, Part 5 in National Bus Trader.) With thinner densities, fewer passengers and more “deadhead time,” taxi drivers are even more frantic than they were before the TNC Invasion.

Finally, in special education service, complementary paratransit service, NEMT and taxi services, the vehicles do not follow a fixed route. Instead, they follow a presumably-efficient path between stops. In other words, only the sequence of pickups and drop-offs is predetermined — i.e., the driver’s schedule (or in taxi service, by a dispatcher — unless the taxis “cruise”). Largely because of the driver compensation formula in NEMT service, and particularly when brokers are involved, more incidents of speeding occur with this pool of underpaid and under-monitored (if not unmonitored) drivers than occur in other forms of public transportation that are “demand-responsive.” While not industry-wide, some taxi systems are actually monitored: Local or county regulations typically include “directness-of-routing” requirements, and violations are occasionally reported to regulatory authorities by passengers driven around in circles. Plus savvy taxi company owners want their drivers to maximize “passenger miles,” for which they are paid (usually according to rates generated by taxi meters).

While speeding can be dangerous in general, its biggest problem involves speeding around turns. This is because centrifugal forces become exaggerated. The faster the speed around the arc of a given turn, the higher these forces will be. In worst-case scenarios, speeding around tight corners can result in a rollover. Far more commonly, passengers are thrown out of their seats. Even more common, and usually resulting in much greater injuries, wheelchairs tip over. (See wheelchairtipovers.com.)

[1]  As an illustration of the context for transit operating speeds, the average speed of a transit bus in the NYCTA has been estimated to lie below eight mph. — including stops, traffic jams and other constraints.