Effect of transit signal priority on bus service reliability

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, operations - frequency, operations - reliability, infrastructure - bus/tram priority, infrastructure - traffic signals


Public transit, Bus operations, Signal priority, Reliability


As every user knows buses tend to bunch. To alleviate this problem, transit agencies introduce slack into their schedules and then hold buses back to schedule at pre-established control points along their routes. Unfortunately, this practice retards buses and only works with low frequency systems; i.e., when the headways are long. For higher frequency systems, which effectively operate without a schedule, headway-based control strategies show promise but unfortunately, they also retard buses. To alleviate bus retardation in all its forms, transit signal priority (TSP) is commonly used. Curiously however, the potential of TSP to enhance bus control practices has not been explored in detail. This paper evaluates a form of TSP designed for this purpose. In this version of TSP, which we call conditional signal priority (CSP), buses send priority requests only when the requests improve reliability. The evaluation includes both scheduled (low frequency) systems, and unscheduled (high frequency) systems operated by headways. A mathematical model based on Brownian motion is proposed for the former. This model allows us to optimize the CSP strategy and to develop formulas for the expectation and variance of the steady state deviations from the schedule–with CSP, with conventional TSP and with neither. Simulations confirm the accuracy of these findings. It is found that CSP improves reliability considerably and that it is better for traffic than TSP because it reduces the number of priority requests. For high frequency systems operated with a fixed number of buses CSP is shown to not just improve reliability and reduce the number of priority requests of TSP (by about 50%) but also to reduce the average headway by speeding up the buses.


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


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