Improving High-Frequency Transit Performance through Headway-Based Dispatching: Development and Implementation of a Real-Time Decision-Support System on a Multi-Branch Light Rail Line

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, mode - tram/light rail, operations - performance, operations - reliability, technology - intelligent transport systems


Service reliability, operations performance, Real-time control


Service reliability is a major concern for public transportation agencies. Transit services experience natural variability in operations performance, due to factors such as congestion, changes in demand, and operator behavior. This variability leads to irregular headways, resulting in longer passenger waits and decreased effective capacity as gaps in service form. Real-time control strategies allow controllers to regulate service and improve performance. This research tested the effectiveness of a headway-based dispatching strategy at a terminal on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line in Boston, a complex, four-branch light rail line. Terminal personnel were provided with tablet computers showing departure times optimized by an even-headway policy. When optimized departure times were adhered to, peak period headway variability was reduced by 40%. The average wait was shortened by 15% (30 sec), and the 90th percentile wait was shortened by 21% (90 sec). The results show that adopting headway-based dispatching at terminals of high-frequency lines promises significant benefits to service and passengers if operational changes are accompanied by improved supervision.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by SAGE, copyright remains with them.