by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©2007 by Paul Niquette. All rights reserved.
Inspired by Streetcar Mystery in Puzzles with a Purpose
back centuries in nautical history, the word 'headway' was originally a
contraction of the phrase 'ahead-way' representing forward motion of a
vessel, as distinguished from 'lee-way', which referred to lateral drift.
In common usage, the word 'headway' has come to mean "progress toward a
goal," and 'leeway' implies flexibility, freedom. In transit systems,
headway means the time between successive buses or streetcars or trains.
Headway ranks alongside speed as a key indicator of service performance. Policy-makers in public transit systems have learned that ridership decreases sharply when headways are made longer than about 15 minutes. The psychology is elementary. Time spent standing around waiting to get on is far more annoying (see the The Grumble Factor) than time spent in motion waiting to get off. With headways less than, say, 12 minutes, planning is unnecessary; most patrons won't even bother to consult the time-table.
Nowadays, private automobiles compete
successfully with public transportation in urban settings -- but by offering
flexibility ('leeway', so to speak) more than speed. Congestion and
parking see to that. With transit headways longer than 30 minutes,
patrons abandon public transportation and take to the automobile -- hey
in 'droves'. This, despite much higher cost for commuting by car.
pproaching the end of the Petroleum Age, economics will doubtless become more significant in the choices people make for their personal transportation. One might expect public transportation systems in the U.S. to become as popular as they were a hundred years ago -- indeed, as popular as they are today in many countries.
Private automobiles will not be able to compete, despite all of their 'leeway', so to speak. Congestion will become merely an unpleasant memory. Nevertheless, policy-makers in public transit systems may have no choice but to make headways longer and longer for petroleum-powered buses. They won't run empty, though.