Whether it’s planes, trains, or automobiles (or by bike, foot or ferry), everyone’s experienced delight and disdain for any mode of transportation. From a family bike ride after dinner to a crowded train during the morning commute, getting from A to B depends on crucial factors outside of most people’s control, but not outside their curiosity. Yet transit planners are intimately aware of both the challenges and rewards of properly addressing a route’s needs. Considerations are made to address the objective and logistical decisions of a transit route to the very human needs of a vibrant and growing community.
What I often find is difficult for people to understand are the vast amount of complex decision points, because each technical or local factor builds upon the next, leading the transit planners at Davis & Floyd to negotiate an array of logistics that lead to the best solutions. This series will provide an overview of some of the planning methodologies we use when faced with planning new bus routes or addressing issues on existing routes.
To begin with, we identify ridership factors that influence how productive a route can be. Dense communities offer the best opportunities for efficiently ridden routes. And that is not only where the route begins, but also where it goes and where it terminates – is the entire route equally effective for a full bus? A common measure for a productive route is passengers per hour; however, understanding ridership is more than just counting passengers. We have to consider who is riding the bus and where they need to go. Are they transit-dependent? Riders that have no other option to reach jobs, school, shopping, medical, and other trips can include low-income families or those with no access to a vehicle, persons with a disability, senior citizens and those without a driver’s license. These riders often make up the core of ridership on any transit system and are most impacted by the fare and reliability of the service. Census data and GIS applications help to identify where these riders are located.
On the other hand, choice riders are customers that could have driven but chose to ride transit instead. These riders make up the bulk of Express and Commuter bus routes that typically serve park-and-rides in suburban areas and travel to job centers in the urban core. Comfort and convenience are critical to attract choice riders. Surveys of employees along a corridor help us locate these riders. We also see routes that target other groups of riders, like the free Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) Trolley routes in Charleston that carry visitors to hotels and tourist attractions along the routes. Additionally, colleges often operate transit routes to move students through campus or to off-campus housing, parking, and satellite campuses. Thus, understanding the intended riders and where they want to travel is important in planning a route.
Once a big-picture, plausible, effective route based on ridership is identified, more details come into play, like route alignment – an intersection of design, timing and jurisdiction. Look for information on that in Part 2.
About the Author — Sharon Hollis, AICP, is a Senior Transportation Planner with Davis & Floyd who is responsible for project management and planning support for a range of local and regional transit planning studies in rural, suburban and urban settings throughout the country.