One Year of Comparison

May 3, 2023

One year ago, I wrote a post on this very blog, introducing the Eliot Deviation Index. Here I am, one year later, wondering… where has this brought me? When I first created the EDI, I had thought it was useless. I didn’t create it with a purpose in mind. I created it for the hell of it. At that point, my op-ed in CommonWealth had just been released and my ideas for the fare zones went more public. I gained a bit of a following from that.

In August, I spoke to a group of rising seniors (who will be graduating on May 13!) at my high school, at their summer retreat on leadership. I was fortunate enough to have been asked to speak at this retreat, on the topic of “getting your hands dirty.” I had a number of topics I could have chosen, but I chose to speak about creating the Eliot Deviation Index. This was right before the EDI blew up in popularity in September. Here’s a handful of lines from that very talk that I gave:

“Some had thought it was impractical to go through a whole complicated mathematical process for a ratio when the distances compared can either be quickly found online or quickly found through Google Maps.”

“However, there were still friends of mine who believed that the new deviation index had potential, and inspired me to keep going with it.”

“With a group of transit nerds constantly discussing various transit-related things over the internet, there is occasionally an odd, usually suburban, bus route that gets shared with us. I just mentioned that there are friends of mine who support the growth and continued use of the new deviation index. These are the same friends who usually ask me what the EDI - the short-hand abbreviation for the Eliot Deviation Index - for any particular route is.”

“I didn’t create the deviation index to put it on some application or resume or to give a big talk or presentation on it. I created it because I wanted to.”

“When I created it, I didn’t know where it would take me.”

So why did I choose to cover this for “getting my hands dirty?” Immediately after, I hopped on a bus and did some farm cleanup work. Well, here’s another quote: “While the service won’t be coding a deviation index calculator, it may have similarities to my own experience creating it. The effect of our service today may be felt immediately, by those on-site, and by us doing the work. The effect may be felt in the coming days and months, when the community starts seeing the work that we have done, and appreciating our efforts. And just like the deviation index, you never know what could happen in the future with the work you do today.”

The full potential of the EDI wasn’t known to me on May 4th. It wasn’t known to me on August 17th, when I gave this talk. It still isn’t known to me. Who knows where this will take me?

I was right, though. I didn’t create this to put it on some application or resume. My current resume doesn’t include it (though that could change). My college application didn’t include it (wait - that was before). My part-time job doesn’t know about it. My school doesn’t know about it. I don’t plan on trying to make a living off of it.

What have I learned from one year of comparing bus routes? A lot, actually. I’ve learned about many different bus routes in many places. I used to think that a 2 was high… until I started seeing higher… and then I saw a 24. Then a 14. Now there’s a 19 somewhere in the pending mix.

I don’t have a threshold of what EDI makes a bad bus route. Most of the time, I’ll say a 3 is the line, but that can vary, especially outside of cities. If a route has a significantly higher EDI than surrounding routes, then yes, it should be reconsidered what it is doing. (As of publication, the mean EDI is 1.66, and the median is 1.37.)

Most importantly of all, I have learned how popular this is. Remember that this was once useless, and questioned why this should even be calculated, instead of just looking at one resource. (To be fair, that is from when we had one agency and 300 stops.) Our longest contributors are people who were by my side when these questions arose, and continued wondering what an EDI of a particular bus route was. These were the people challenging the rules, getting more clarifications added, so that there could be a unified way to compare transit routings all around.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak at TransitCon 2023 about the Eliot Deviation Index. My audience included some of my team members behind the EDI, other transit geeks, advocates, and professionals alike. At the very end of the presentation, I answered a few questions. That’s when I realized the purpose of the EDI. I was asked “how can the EDI be used in advocacy?” I had mentioned that I was a transit planning advocate (at least that’s my byline in CommonWealth).

The EDI is a really good tool for advocacy actually. A more direct route, therefore a lower EDI, helps people get places faster. Adding a deviation, raising the EDI, leads passengers to spend longer times traveling, so that someone can be closer served by a bus line. Instead, if agencies ran buses along major corridors, like in many cities, people get places down the line faster. These deviatory routes typically exist in suburban areas, where it is often unsafe to walk from the bus to a final destination, so the bus deviates. We can instead create more direct routes and invest in better first/last mile connections, like bike lanes and sidewalks.

What do people think of me now? I’ve gotten the chance to put myself out there in transit spaces. Here are the reactions!

“The presentation made me want to calculate more EDIs instead of working on my final paper so I will do that” (Stormy… I do not support this.)

“WOOO AWESOME JOB” (Cedric… back at it again with the very honest reactions)

“Great job! It was very interesting!”

“Your talk was great! I’ll have to give your calculator a try on our suburban system sometime.” (This agency has since been added.)

“I can’t wait to watch the YouTube video of your presentation. I saw your slides but couldn’t tune into the live session. I love your passion and energy.”

Seems like you all enjoy this. I’ll keep going, and wonder “where will year two take me?”

One final quote from August: “Currently, the calculator includes 50,000 stops from 23 agencies, mostly small ones, in 5 different states.” Today? That’s 307,000 stops, 101 agencies, in 22 states, 3 Canadian provinces, and DC. Oh, and 1,600 EDIs calculated.

Published: May 3, 2023 12:48