Different streets, neighborhoods, and cities have different transportation needs, and a wide range of service types are available to meet them. Likewise, service can be complemented by a range of design elements depending on service needs and street context.
When prioritizing street investments, differentiate between “structural” and “non-structural” transit routes. Structural routes form the bones of the transit network, and yield the greatest results from upgrades. Non-structural routes serve to fill gaps in the transit network.
Robust evidence-based service planning using realistic data can identify new service and growth opportunities, especially opportunities to add rapid routes. These can be supported by street design to create broader transit benefits.
Downtown local routes, often frequent, serve an area with a very high demand for short trips and are sometimes operated by a city transportation department or civic group. Unlike conventional loop circulators, downtown locals provide a core transit function for short distances, sometimes parallel to longer local or rapid routes. If planned to complement rather than compete with other structural routes, they can become a permanent feature of the city.
Downtown locals can be used to connect a high-capacity node (such as a commuter rail terminal) with a broader destination area.
Downtown locals provide extra capacity where dense residential areas are close to major employment or education centers.
Local routes, whether served by bus or rail, are the basic building blocks of urban transit. Local service must balance access—usually considered in terms of stop frequency—with speed. For passengers and operators alike, reliability is often more important than running time. To be effective, local service must be as direct as possible. Deviating from a direct route to serve areas of relatively low ridership will degrade the quality of service.
Appropriate for all urban contexts, local service serves trips within and between neighborhoods, downtowns, and other hubs.
Provide stop and intersection investments, potentially tied to modest increases in stop distance, to reduce delay on local routes.
With less frequent stops and higher capacity vehicles, rapid (or “limited”) service can provide a trunkline transit service for longer trips and busy lines, or can run along the same route as a local service. Most bus rapid transit, light rail transit, rapid streetcars, and limited-stop bus lines run on this service pattern.
On long, direct, or high-demand transit routes, especially on priority corridors such as those connecting downtowns to dense neighborhoods.
Rapid service can make transfers worthwhile to more passengers on routes that intersect many other transit routes.
In low-density areas, or where street networks are poorly connected, basic transit accommodation often results in indirect or infrequent service. In these areas, routes have to be circuitous to serve small pockets of ridership. This is best done by using a coverage route rather that adding a deviation to a local route. Keeping coverage routes as direct as is reasonable can be a prelude to a more productive service as density and demand increases.
In less densely populated urban edges, coverage service provides a functional connector to regional hubs and destinations, and to the full transit network.
If coverage service is provided to a planned development corridor, include transit-supportive design in initial capital projects.
Provide direct point-to-point service with few stops using limited-access highways, sometimes in dedicated or HOV lanes, to reach destinations quickly. Express bus operation is usually more expensive per passenger than limited service, since it often uses one central boarding/alighting point. Many express services run coach buses.
Connecting neighborhoods with peak-period ridership directly to downtown or other destinations such as airports.
Where freeways or other limited access routes are available.
Primarily serving long-distance commuter routes.
Stop Frequency: Non-stop “express segments” between service areas that have more frequent stops.
Service Frequency: Scheduled, often infrequent and concentrated at peak periods. Schedule adherence is critical.