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Sergio R. Jara-D az Antonio Gschwender

Published online: 16 September 2008

Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2008

Abstract Recent experience with the design of bus services in Santiago, Chile, seems to

conrm Janssons (1980) assertion regarding observed planned bus frequency and size

being too low and too large, respectively. We offer an explanation based upon the relation

between cost coverage, pricing and optimal design variables. We recall that average social

cost decreases with patronage, which generates an optimal monetary fare below the

average operators cost, inducing an optimal subsidy. Then we compare optimal frequency

and bus sizethose that minimize total social costswith those that minimize operators

costs only. We show that an active constraint on operators expenses is equivalent to

diminish the value of users time in the optimal design problem. Inserting this property

back in the optimal pricing scheme, we conclude that a self-nancial constraint, if active,

always provokes an inferior solution, a smaller frequency and, under some circumstances,

larger than optimal buses.

Keyword Public transport Subsidy Optimal frequency Optimal bus size

Self-nancial constraint

By means of a simple bus line model it is possible to show that social cost mini-

misation results in a pattern of service characteristics which is radically different

from most present services, mainly in these respects: given the demand, more buses

should be run, and the buses should be much smaller. (Jansson 1980)

After more than 30 years of discussion and theoretical development, the main (and

somewhat embarrassing) question is: why is optimal bus transport pricing applied in

hardly any urban area of the world? (Jansson 2005)

S. R. Jara-D az (&) A. Gschwender

Universidad de Chile, Casilla, 228-3 Santiago, Chile

e-mail: jaradiaz@ing.uchile.cl

1 3

Transportation (2009) 36:6575

DOI 10.1007/s11116-008-9182-8

Introduction

Recent experience with the design of bus services in Santiago, Chile, seems to conrm that

Janssons (1980) assertion regarding observed planned bus frequency and size being too

low and too large, respectively, is still a problem. In this paper we offer a rigorous

explanation for this, which rests upon the relation between cost coverage, pricing and

optimal design.

At the tactical level, as dened by Van de Velde (1999), the optimal design of scheduled

public transport services includes three elements: the structure of the lines in a network, the

frequency and the vehicle size of each line. We have shown that these design variables do

depend on the way in which users costs are taken into account (Jara-D az and Gschwender

2003a). On the other hand, users costs cause an average social cost that decreases with

patronage, which in the end generates an optimal monetary fare that falls below the

average operators cost (Jansson 1984; Jara-D az and Gschwender 2005). This suggests

that the external imposition of a non-optimal fare level should have an impact on the

optimal design. In the following section a brief review of the underpinnings of socially

optimal public transport pricing is offered, highlighting the roles of both users and

operators costs. In Sect. 3 we examine the optimal design variablesfrequency and bus

sizethat underlie the cost schemes. These are obtained for two objective functions:

minimizing total social costs (users plus operators) and minimizing operators costs only. It

is shown there that in this second case frequencies are smaller and vehicles are larger than

in the rst case. In section four we link the optimal design with the nancial conditions,

showing that imposing a constraint on operators expenses when searching for the optimal

design is equivalent to a reduction of the users time value by a factor that increases with

the nancial constraint. Inserting this property back in the optimal pricing scheme, we

conclude that a nancial constraint, if active, always provokes an inferior solution, a

smaller frequency and, under some circumstances, larger than optimal buses. Section 5

concludes.

The pricing-relevant cost analysis

Two types of resources have to be taken into account in the microeconomic analysis of

public transport: those provided by the operators and those provided by the users, namely

their time. Considering the inputs supplied by the operators, there are operational and

capital costs. The former include energy, crew, maintenance, and administration, and the

latter are infrastructure and rolling stock costs. Engineering cost studies nd that, in the

absence of vehicle congestion, the average operators cost decreases with demand Y

(Meyer et al. 1965; Boyd et al. 1978; Allport 1981). Regarding the inputs supplied by the

passengers, these so-called users costs are the money values of their travel times (waiting,

access and in-vehicle). Waiting time decreases with demand Y if frequency is optimally

adapted. If the routes design can be modied, demand expansions will induce a densi-

cation of the system, yielding reductions in access time as well. In-vehicle time grows with

demand, because the more boarding and alighting the larger the cycle and travel times.

However, the effects on waiting and access times prevail, generating a decreasing average

users cost. The conclusion is that the sum of the operators and users costs yields a

total cost that grows less than proportional with the demand, as found by Boyd et al.

(1978) and Allport (1981). This means that the total average cost decreases with demand Y,

which implies that there are scale economies.

66 Transportation (2009) 36:6575

1 3

If scale economies exist, total average cost AC

T

is larger than the total marginal cost

MgC

T

. This property yields a relevant nancial result for optimal monetary fares P*. As

known, the optimal price should equal MgC

T

. However, just as in the cars optimal

congestion pricing charge, the optimal public transport fare P* should be obtained by

subtracting from MgC

T

what the users already perceive, i.e., the money value of their time

given by the average users cost AC

U

. Thus, P* should be calculated as the difference

between MgC

T

and AC

U

, dened by Jansson (1984) as the pricing-relevant cost. As shown

by Jara-D az and Gschwender (2005), the average operators cost AC

O

is larger than the

resulting fare, which induces an optimal subsidy s* to cover operators expenses. For

synthesis, and noting that AC

T

= AC

O

? AC

U

,

P

+

= MgC

T

AC

U

P

+

AC

O

= MgC

T

AC

T

\0 )s

+

= AC

T

MgC

T

(1)

This optimal priceoptimal subsidy relation is shown in Fig. 1. There, demand is a

function of generalized cost dened as the sum of the money price that passengers pay plus

the individual (average) users cost, i.e., P ? AC

U

.

To investigate the connection among costs, pricing and design, we will examine next

the technical characteristics of public transport systems that translate into the cost curves

depicted in Fig. 1.

Optimal frequency and bus size behind the cost analysis

In order to link the design variablesas frequency and vehicle sizewith the relevant cost

analysis behind optimal pricing, in this section we construct a model for the operation of a

bus service. Following Jansson (1980, 1984), let us consider an isolated corridor served by

one circular bus line of L kilometers long, operating at a frequency f with a eet of B

vehicles. This circular route is used by a total of Y passengers per hour homogeneously

distributed along the corridor, where each travels a distance l. Note that this is just a

reasonable way to describe a route with no singularities, which makes it equivalent to look

at a portion of that route, as done also by Mohring (1972). If T denotes time in motion of a

vehicle within a cycle, and t is average boarding and alighting time per passenger, then

cycle time t

c

is

t

c

= T t

Y

f

; (2)

which improves over other microeconomic models for transit operations that consider

cycle time constant, as Mohring (1976), and simplies more complex ones where the buses

Fig. 1 Optimal fare and subsidy

in public transport (Jara-D az and

Gschwender 2005)

Transportation (2009) 36:6575 67

1 3

have a probability of skipping bus stops (Mohring 1972). On the other hand, frequency is

given by the ratio between eet size and cycle time (B/t

c

), which combined with Eq. 2

yields

B = fT tY: (3)

The operator cost per bus-hour (c) can be written as a linear function of the vehicle size (K)

c = c

0

c

1

K (4)

where c

0

and c

1

are constants. There are models that consider the constant part only, as

Janssons (1980) and Mohrings (1972) original single period formulations, and other

models that include cost per kilometer instead (Oldeld and Bly 1988) that can be con-

verted into (4) through average speed. Therefore, expression (4) permits a meaningful

analytical treatment while improving on the former and encompassing the latter.

If P

w

and P

v

are the values of waiting and in-vehicle time, respectively, then the total

value of the resources consumed (VRC) per hour is

VRC = B(c

0

c

1

K) P

w

Y

2f

P

v

l

L

t

c

Y: (5)

The rst term of the right hand side of Eq. 5 corresponds to the operator expenses; the

second and third are users waiting and in-vehicle times expenses, respectively. Note that

access time is not included in VRC because route design is not a variable and, therefore,

access cost is a constant that is not relevant to optimize the service. Also, waiting time is in

general a fraction of the headway (the inverse of frequency) that depends on the way buses

and passengers arrive to the bus stop; here we are using the case of regular rates of bus and

passengers arrival. Using Eqs. 2 and 3, we can write expression (5) as a function of f:

VRC = f T tY ( )(c

0

c

1

K) P

w

1

2f

Y P

v

l

L

T

tY

f

Y: (6)

This expression shows that, ceteris paribus, increasing frequency diminishes users

costs but increases operators costs. Users cost reduction occurs because increasing fre-

quency diminishes waiting and in-vehicle times, this latter because fewer individuals board

and alight per bus.

Vehicle capacity should be enough to accommodate passengers inside each vehicle,

given by

k f ( ) =

Y

f

l

L

(7)

Then optimal frequency f* and bus size K* can be obtained by solving the following

problem:

Min

f ;K

VRC = fT tY ( ) c

0

c

1

K ( ) P

w

1

2f

Y P

v

l

L

T

tY

f

Y:

subject to k f ( ) _K

(8)

Note that the vehicle capacity constraint will always be active in this model, since the

objective function VRC does not improve when K increases (the derivative of VRC with

respect to K is positive).

Solving (8), the following expressions for f* and K* (=k*) are obtained:

68 Transportation (2009) 36:6575

1 3

f

+

=

Y

Tc

0

1

2

P

w

tY

l

L

P

v

c

1

( )

s

; (9)

K

+

=

l

L

Tc

0

Y

1

2

P

w

tY

l

L

P

v

c

1

( )

1

s

: (10)

The optimal frequency follows the square root formula (Mohring 1976; Jansson

1980, 1984). It is relevant to mention that this type of result has been extended to simple

networks by Jara-D az and Gschwender (2003b). Replacing (9) and (10) into Eq. 6, the

minimum of VRC is obtained, i.e., the cost function C

C = tc

0

Y 2

c

0

TY

P

w

2

tY

l

L

P

v

c

1

( )

s

TY

l

L

P

v

c

1

( ): (11)

From this, the total average cost AC

T

= (C/Y) is given by Eq. 12. As anticipated in the

representation of AC

T

in Fig. 1, AC

T

decreases with the number of passengers (Y).

AC

T

= tc

0

2

c

0

T

P

w

2Y

t

l

L

P

v

c

1

( )

s

T

l

L

P

v

c

1

( ): (12)

Users costs play a key role in the results represented by Eqs. 9, 10, 11, and 12 along

with their pricing implications. What if users cost were not considered? Let us now

analyze the case in which the design is commanded by a minimum cost service to carry a

given demand Y. In this case, as only the operators cost is considered in the optimization

problem, it becomes

Min

f ;K

VRC = fT tY ( ) c

0

c

1

K ( ):

subject to K _k f ( )

(13)

This yields the following expressions for the optimal values f

op

and K

op

(=k):

f

op

= Y

tc

1

l

Tc

0

L

r

; (14)

K

op

=

Tc

0

l

tc

1

L

r

: (15)

In this case the resulting frequency f

op

is proportional to the number of passengers (Y)

and vehicle size does not depend on Y. In other words, operators would adapt to demand

increases purely through frequency increases. Simulation of Eqs. 9, 10, 14, and 15 using

simplied Santiago type parameters (Appendix 1) yields the curves presented in Fig. 2.

The intuitive interpretation is that any given passenger volume can be served with different

combinations of frequency and vehicle size, but users costs would be lower for high

frequency-small vehicles combinations while operators costs are favored by low fre-

quency-large vehicles combinations, up to a limit. Optimal frequencies and bus sizes have

been obtained for other models that represent users perception in a more complete way,

for example, considering the effect of crowding on the value of in-vehicle time (Jara-D az

and Gschwender 2003a), which increases the difference between the curves.

So what is the link between the design variablesas frequency and vehicle sizeand

the cost analysis behind optimal pricing? As stated earlier, even if operators cost exhibited

Transportation (2009) 36:6575 69

1 3

constant returns to scale there are scale economies in the total costs because the average

users cost decreases with the number of passengers. As shown in Sect. 2, these scale

economies imply that a subsidy would be necessary if the pricing-relevant cost was

charged. One could choose to suppress the subsidy imposing the entire burden on the users,

which means that the money price should be equal to AC

O

. If this was the case, the

minimum fare that would actually cover cost for the operator would happen under the

operating conditions that hold when one solves problem (13). On the other hand, note that

if P

v

= P

w

= 0, then Eq. 9 becomes Eq. 14 and Eq. 10 is equivalent to Eq. 15, i.e., f* and

K* collapse into f

op

and K

op

. Intuitively, then, if the actual money price (whoever pays it)

varied between the minimum AC

O

(that makes the service feasible for a demand Y) and

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000 12000 14000

Y (pax/hr)

f

(

v

e

h

/

h

r

)

0

20

40

60

80

100

120

140

0 2000 4000 6000 8000 10000 12000 14000

Y (pax/hr)

K

(

p

a

x

/

v

e

h

)

f *

K *

f

op

K

op

Fig. 2 Optimal frequency (f*) and vehicle size (K*) as a function of the number of passengers (Y),

compared with those considering only operators cost (f

op

and K

op

)

70 Transportation (2009) 36:6575

1 3

P

*

? s

*

as dened in Sect. 2 for this demand level, we would expect f and K to move

within the area between both curves in Fig. 2. Let us explore this more rigorously.

Optimal design and cost analysis under a nancial constraint

Let us now impose a nancial constraint that restrains the operators cost to a maximum of

A, exogenously given because of, say, budgetary reasons or general policy (e.g., an

exogenously imposed fare and no subsidies). Then, if active, this constraint will induce

different optima for frequency and bus size. Let us examine this. The restricted social

optimisation problem can be written as

Min

f ;K

VRC = fT tY ( ) c

0

c

1

K ( ) P

w

1

2f

Y P

v

l

L

T t

Y

f

Y

subject to k(f ) _K

fT tY ( ) c

0

c

1

K ( ) A_0

(16)

where A represents the sum of fare revenues and a subsidy, not necessarily optimal:

A = P s ( )Y: (17)

Again, the vehicle capacity constraint will always be active, as explained earlier.

Therefore, K = k given by Eq. 7 and the problem can be rewritten as

Min

f

VRC = fT tY ( ) c

0

c

1

Y

f

l

L

P

w

1

2f

Y P

v

T t

Y

f

l

L

Y

subject to fT tY ( ) c

0

c

1

Y

f

l

L

A_0

(18)

If l is the multiplier of the nancial constraint, then the rst order condition for

frequency in problem 18 is

T c

0

c

1

Y

f

l

L

fT tY ( )c

1

Y

f

2

l

L

P

w

1

2f

2

Y P

v

t

Y

2

f

2

l

L

l T c

0

c

1

Y

f

l

L

fT tY ( )c

1

Y

f

2

l

L

= 0

(19)

From this, the frequency

~

f and bus size

~

Kresulting from problem 16 can be obtained as

~

f =

Y

Tc

0

1

2

P

w

1 l ( )

tY

l

L

P

v

1 l ( )

c

1

s

; (20)

~

K =

l

L

Tc

0

Y

1

2

P

w

1 l ( )

tY

l

L

P

v

1 l ( )

c

1

s

: (21)

Note that the optimal frequency and bus size in Eqs. 20 and 21 replicate the solutions

found in Eqs. 9 and 10 but users values of time are now divided by (1 ? l).

Now we use the following Property 1: the multiplier l increases as A diminishes (see

Appendix 2). This means that the tighter the budget, the larger is l, diminishing the role of

time values on both frequency and bus size. For l = 0 (which occurs for P ? s C AC

O

)

Eqs. 9 and 10 are recovered. For l?? (which occurs when A is set exactly at the

Transportation (2009) 36:6575 71

1 3

minimum operators cost for each Y level), Eqs. 14 and 15 are recovered. Therefore,

diminishing A moves frequencies and bus sizes from their optimal values f* and K* to f

op

and K

op

in Fig. 2 for all levels of demand.

Equations 20 and 21 help explaining explicitly the missing link between design and

nancial policies. If active, imposing a nancial constraint acts on the optimal design

diminishing frequency and increasing bus size for all levels of demand. This happens

because the constraint operates in such a way that it is equivalent to reduce the importance

of users time in the design problem, a hidden property that has now been unveiled.

Let us investigate now how the cost curves associated with

~

f and

~

K look like, going back

to the cost curves depicted in Fig. 1, where only the case of l = 0 is represented. When

l[0 (i.e., the budget constraint is active in problem Eq. 16), by denition of the problem

the total cost is no longer the minimum; it increases for all levels of demand, which raises

the AC

T

curve to AC

/

T

: On the other hand, as it is the operator cost the one that is

constrained, AC

O

diminishes for all demand levels. As AC

U

is the difference between AC

T

and AC

O

, the new average users cost curve, AC

/

U

; raises above the old one by an amount

that is larger than AC

/

T

- AC

T

. In Fig. 3 we have represented these new AC

/

T

and AC

/

U

curves, which we will now use for the new pricing analysis.

Let us begin at the socially optimum point where demand equals MgC

T

, with users

paying P

*

= MgC

T

- AC

U

, which requires a subsidy s

*

to cover operators costs. Let us

now assume that the government does not want to subsidize the service. In this case, the

users will have to cover total cost by paying a larger amount P = AC

T

- AC

U

= AC

O

,

which will happen at a demand level Y8 \Y

*

. According to Eqs. 9 and 10, also represented

in Fig. 2, at Y8 optimal frequency and vehicle size will be lower than at Y

*

. If P8 is

considered unacceptably large by the users or politically inconvenient by the government,

then an exogenous lower price P

a

\P8 can be imposed. In this case, however, operators

costs could be covered only by redesigning the service making the budget constraint active

in problem 16; as deduced above, AC

T

rises to AC

/

T

and AC

U

rises to AC

/

U

, up to a point

where P

a

= AC

/

T

AC

/

U

: This will happen at a demand level Y

a

\Y8 such that frequency

is even lower than at Y8 because of two effects: because demand diminishes along AC

T

(Eq. 9) and because total average cost increases at Y

a

reaching AC

/

T

by diminishing

frequency according to the effect of l in Eq. 20. Note that, following the same path, K

diminishes by Eq. 10 but then increases by Eq. 21; the former effect is smaller the more

inelastic the demand and the latter effect is larger the smaller P

a

.

The relation between price and the design variables becomes even more important when

one realizes that setting a price below P8 induces a fall in demand because of the rise in

AC

U

due to the newconstrainedcombination of frequency and vehicle size. This

Fig. 3 Pricing and cost analysis

under a budget constraint

72 Transportation (2009) 36:6575

1 3

makes the welfare comparison between the two non-optimal points quite interesting. Total

welfare is given by the area between demand and the total marginal cost curve, which

clearly diminishes when P8 is charged instead of P

*

, but it falls even more if the price P

a

,

smaller than P8, is exogenously imposed. And this occurs because of the reduction in

quality (frequency).

Conclusions

Imposing a nancial constraint on the operation of scheduled public transport systems acts

as if the values of waiting and in-vehicle time savings were less than the ones intended,

something that is not at all evident for a general policy maker (and even for transport

analysts and modelers). Making the users bear the whole cost of public transport provision

unambiguously diminishes frequency regarding its optimal social level and affects vehicle

size in such a way that it can increase depending on the price level and on demand elasticity.

This is a relevant result for the structural design of public transport policies, as it links

operational variables such as frequency and vehicle size with nancial policies usually

decided outside the transport eld. This helps explaining the effect that overall economic

policies may have on the operation of such an important public service, as seems to have

been the case in Santiago, Chile, where the need of a subsidy was originally dismissed

carelessly and a limit to the fare was exogenously imposed at the beginning of the Tran-

santiago plan, causing a eet reduction by some 30% with larger buses, a process that is now

being partially reversed. It would be interesting to analyze in the future the impact of non-

optimal subsidies or its absence on the shape of the bus network, something that could be

studied using the framework developed by Jara-D az and Gschwender (2003b) to compare

the relative advantages of direct services versus those with many transfers.

Acknowledgements This research was partially funded by Fondecyt, Chile, Grant 1080140, and the

Millennium Institute on Complex Engineering Systems. We would like to thank Roberto Cominetti for help

with Appendix 2.

Appendix 1

Values of the parameters used in Fig. 2

Parameter c

0

(US$/h) c

1

(US$/h) t (s) l (km) L (km) T (h) P

w

(US$/h) P

v

(US$/h)

Value 10.65 0.203 5 10 60 2.72 4.44 1.48

Appendix 2

Proof of Property 1.

Let us consider the convex optimization problem

Min

x

f x ( )

subject to g x ( ) A_0

(A1)

If k is the multiplier of the constraint, problem (A1) is equivalent to

Transportation (2009) 36:6575 73

1 3

Min

x

Max

k _0

f x ( ) k g x ( ) A ( ) [ [ (A2)

Max

k _0

Min

x

f x ( ) kg x ( ) kA [ [ (A3)

As kA does not depend on x, the internal minimization yields an optimum x

*

(k) such

that

f x

+

(k) ( ) kg x

+

(k) ( ) = p k ( ) (A4)

Then problem (A3) can be re-written as

Max

k _0

p k ( ) kA [ [ (A5)

Let k

i

be the optimal value of k for constraint level A

i

in problem (A5). Then

p(k

1

) k

1

A

1

_p(k

2

) k

2

A

1

= P(k

2

) k

2

A

2

k

2

A

2

k

2

A

1

_p(k

1

) k

1

A

2

k

2

A

2

k

2

A

1

(A6)

Taking the rst and last terms in (A6), we obtain

0 _ k

1

k

2

( ) A

1

A

2

( ) (A7)

that proves Property 1, i.e., if A decreases k increases.

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Oldeld, R.H., Bly, P.H.: An analytic investigation of optimal bus size. Transport. Res. 22B, 319337

(1988)

Van de Velde, D.: Organisational forms and entrepreneurship in public transport. Part 1: classifying

organizational forms. Transport. Pol. 6, 147157 (1999)

Author Biographies

Sergio Jara-D az is Professor at Universidad de Chile. Holds a PhD and MSc from MIT, where he has

taught during various terms. Author of Transport Economic Theory (Elsevier, 2007) and some 80 research

74 Transportation (2009) 36:6575

1 3

articles on transport demand (income effect, value of time, users benets, time allocation), multioutput

analysis in transport industries, public transport modeling and pricing. Resides in N

only wife. http://www.cec.uchile.cl/*dicidet/sergio.html.

Antonio Gschwender (Civil Engineer and MSc, U. de Chile; PhD, U of Wuppertal) presently assigns his

time to professional work at the public transport authority in Santiago (Chile), teaching and doing research

in public transport planning at the Universidad de Chile, and to board games, music, and being a husband.

Transportation (2009) 36:6575 75

1 3

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