Waiting for the bus or walking the distance?

Appetiser #1 – the commuter’s dilemma (a.k.a. wait/walk dilemma)

You want to go somewhere travelling by bus, you get to the bus stop…but nothing happens, the bus isn’t approaching and you don’t exactly know what time it will arrive. You may also be in a hurry and your destination is not very far. So the commuter’s dilemma arises in your mind: should you wait or should you walk?

Take a look at video appetiser then continue reading : )

Typical behaviours

The bus moves faster than you, but you don’t exactly know how much time you will wait.

If you walk you are sure about how long is your travel time. But you would move much more slowly, with the risk to see the bus speeding by your side along the road.

You could decide to wait for the bus, or to walk immediately, or to wait a while and, if bus does not arrive, then walk the distance.

So what is the best choice to reach your destination as soon as possible?

The choice

First point, your choice should be immediate and definitive, that is: the better thing is to decide your strategy as soon as you get to the bus stop. The choice “waiting a while then, eventually, walking” is not the best one, from the statistical point of view. In fact if you have decided to wait, with stronger reason you would better wait also later, since the bus is coming more and more close to you.

Otherwise, if you have decided to walk, then hurry up and go straight to destination without pausing. Ok, you could catch the bus in one of the intermediate stops, but your chances are very low. Pausing at each stop could make you lose time in vain. Moreover if it was cheaper to go by bus, then it would be just as well if you waited for it at the starting stop.

Second point: well, but waiting or walking?

Typically you do not know how long is the waiting time, that is the reason why the dilemma arises. However science helps you to find out that time spent in waiting is statistically very short, compared to the time saved travelling by bus! This rule depends on your trip distance and on buses frequency. The nice matter is that the solution of the dilemma is always the same for everyday trips:

wait for the bus at the first stop is always the winning strategy : )

This solution breaks down in extreme cases. If your journey is very short and you are sure that your bus comes infrequently. But since the most of your bus trips will be of medium-long time and with reasonable frequencies, do not panic: a quick bus trip will pay off the wait.

Only extraordinary events could change your opinion (i.e. a strike or an accident) where an excessive waiting time is probably due to those events. Hence you could walking the distance.

A couple of comments

Some transportation company provides cool systems aiming to provide real time bus arrival information. This info can help you in manage your waiting choices. But the dilemma solution remains the same one.

When your decision is based on a statistical element (in this dilemma: the waiting time), you could choice the strategy that seems to be the better one. The best choice from the statistical point of view is not necessarily the successful one because events could be different from typical behaviour. It is like a game of cards, you can always calculate your winning chances but you don’t actually know which card you are going to pick.

Sure…but are just the surprises that make everything funnier…isn’t it? ; )

When the appetiser is not enough!

Still hungry? Continue the analysis with the in-depth scientific study.

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