“Get a move on driver!” – Why buses sometimes wait at stops

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this situation when a bus pulls up at a stop, and then proceeds to wait for a few minutes, while some impatient/frustrated passenger starts repeatedly pressing the ‘Stop’ button, sometimes accompanied by some “colourful” language.

While I appreciate that many of you do understand why this happens, I thought I’d pen this short article for the benefit of those that don’t.

“Why have you stopped? Get moving!”

In case you are unaware, buses run to a schedule otherwise known as a “timetable”.

Timetables for all bus services operating in the West Midlands can of course be found at the TfWM website, as well as bus operators websites, and on other services such as BusTimes.

Even for very frequent services, each stop on the route has a scheduled time that the bus should arrive at. I emphasis the word ‘should’ as most people believe that buses just run whenever they feel like it.

Now of course there are numerous reasons why buses end up running late, but that is not really the point of this article.

If traffic conditions are favourable, and buses are able to run to schedule, believe it or not but they can’t run early!

People moan and complain when buses run late, but just as equally, people also moan and complain when they miss their bus because it came early.

So this is where the concept of “timing points” comes into play. Various ‘main stops’ along any route may be designated as “timing points”.

What is a “timing point” then?

If a bus is running on time or slightly earlier, the timing points are where they need to wait until they can leave at the time specified on the timetable. This allows them to get back ‘on time’ and avoid disappointing intending passengers further along the route who may not be at their stop in advance of the arrival of their bus.

Basically, bus drivers can get into trouble if they depart a timing point over a minute before they are scheduled to, and also a service is marked as ‘late running’ if it leaves more than five minutes after it is scheduled to.

So I’m wasting my time banging on the Stop bell button then?

Basically yes. Repeatedly bashing the Stop bell button isn’t going to inspire the driver to get the bus moving. It will probably annoy other passengers, as well as the driver, who knows they may well decide to depart a couple of minutes late to spite you (knowing they’ll probably still arrive early at the next timing point)

Relax and chill out – if the bus is waiting at a timing point because it is early, the good news is that it is running to schedule, and is therefore very likely to arrive at your destination stop at the time you would have expected to anyway.

So where are these “timing points” then?

That’s a good question, and it always pays to know this kind of stuff!

Probably the quickest and easiest way to find this out is to search for your timetable at the BusTimes website. By default this will only show the ‘main’ stops (ie the timing points) along that route, as in the example below for my local 3 service.

Of course, if you tick the ‘Show all stops’ box, then it will show scheduled times for all the intermediate stops along the route.

It needs to be stressed that the times shown for these ‘intermediate’ stops are for guidance only, and there is always the possibility that if conditions are favourable then the bus could come a few minutes earlier than scheduled, so it always pays to be at the stop a good few minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive, just in case it is running early.

But in the above example, if the 3 gets to the Palmerston Road stop in Sparkbrook at 08:15, the driver will have to wait there until 08:18 because they are early.

TfWM Timetables

When searching for timetables from the TfWM website, by default the PDF download link is for the ‘full’ timetable, which shows schedules for all the stops on that route.

Depending on your PDF viewer, you may have available in the list of contents a ‘link to main stops timetable’:

This will of course then present a PDF showing the main ‘timing points’ for that route.

Which is pretty much what is shown on the BusTimes website.

Now depending on the service and the length of its route, there may be several ‘timing points’ along that route, I only picked out the 3 as it is a relatively short route with only four timing points.

Oh, I see now

Yes, a bus may depart from or pass by any stop along the route early, but it can’t do so if that stop is a timing point. If it is early, then the driver has no choice but to park up and wait time, before they can leave. There’s nothing you can do about this, and repeatedly pressing the Stop bell button and/or hurling insults at the driver isn’t going to change matters unfortunately.

You might be running late, but at least the bus isn’t!


About WMBU

Stu is the founder of this West Midlands Bus Users website.
He is not a bus enthusiast, but as a regular passenger takes an interest in public transport related matters, having relied on buses to get around for over twenty-five years now.

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