Include Bus Rapid Transit on Rapid Transit Maps?

Most large transit agencies have a map that shows just their rapid transit services, which are usually rail.  One good test of how an agency thinks about bus rapid transit is whether they include it on their rapid transit maps.  Los Angeles County MTA’s rapid transit map, here, does include the Orange Line, which is exclusive right of way but is hampered by signal delays.  But they don’t show their non-exclusive Metro Rapid product at this scale, which makes sense to me.

Here’s what a bit of the Brisbane’s regional rail map looks like.  Note the busway is shown, extending north and southeast from downtown.

QR rail and bus

Note that they have shown only the exclusive portion of the busway, the segments where buses are coming every few minutes and have an exclusive, separated roadway that protects them from almost all delay.  I would argue strongly that by any service-based or mobility-based definition of rapid transit, that service has to be included.  In fact, it’s much more reliable than light rail on the surface with intersections.  In its speed, frequency, reliability, and station amenity, it does exactly what any rail rapid transit system does.  You can decide that you won’t use it because you don’t like the ride quality, but a lot of people just want to know where they can get to via rapid transit, and this map is trying to be the answer.

24 Responses to Include Bus Rapid Transit on Rapid Transit Maps?

  1. Brent Palmer December 2, 2009 at 5:08 am #

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t show bus route numbers. And the inner area needs to be a larger “scale”, to properly fit the necessary information without trying to cram it all in.
    What’s that grey loop between Roma St and Fortitude Valley, for instance? The answer is that it’s for occasional use only (such as the annual “Ekka”), with the un-named station being called Exhibition. But how would anyone unfamiliar with the system know that from looking at this map?

  2. J.D. Hammond December 2, 2009 at 7:01 am #

    Do the grey-circled numbers represent zones, or frequencies of any kind of service at that station?
    I’ve noticed that Australian rapid-transit services tend more frequently to be “bundled” commuter and bus services than those in the United States, with the possible exception of those in San Francisco and some routes in greater New York City. This certainly is the case in Sydney and Melbourne and would appear to be the case here.

  3. M1EK December 2, 2009 at 9:38 am #

    That busway is, in fact, arguably not more reliable than a light rail line with surface intersections – once you factor in the order of magnitude more likely occurrence of vehicle breakdowns.

  4. J.D. Hammond December 2, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    I didn’t know this was a discussion about whether Brisbane should have built LRT instead, M1EK.

  5. Ceo December 2, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    Boston’s Silver Line is depicted as a rapid transit line, even though most of it is a mixed-traffic surface bus line. Part of the Washington St section has dedicated lanes, and part of the Waterfront section has its own tunnel. Here’s a link (big PDF) to the system map.

  6. Jarrett at December 2, 2009 at 11:48 am #

    @M1EK. Breakdowns are most likely to occur at stations, so a breakdown affects only one bus, and frequency is so high that this won’t be much of a delay. Even if a breakdown happens on the two-lane roadway between stations, other buses can pass carefully using the oncoming traffic lane. By contrast, breakdowns on rail usually block the entire line. So even if incident likelihood is greater on a busway (and I’m not sure about that) incident severity is much, much less.

  7. Jarrett at December 2, 2009 at 11:51 am #

    @JD Hammond. The little grey circled numbers are fare zones, yes.
    @ Brent Palmer. Zoomed out at this scale to show regional structure there’s no way you could show all, or even most, of the busway’s route numbers. But of course that’s partly because there are more route variants than there really need to be.

  8. J December 2, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    As Ceo pointed out, Boston has always included the silver line bus in the rapid transit maps. Whats interesting, is that starting this September, all rapid transit maps are being updated to include the top 15 bus lines (by ridership, so they also have the highest frequency and longest service hours). The commuter rail lines within the city are also shown.
    While the map may seem cluttered at first, I think it’s a fantastic change, as casual users rarely ever have any idea what routes buses actually run, and during the day they run at train-like frequencies (10 minutes or less) so theyre just as important.

  9. Max Headway December 2, 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    “There’s no way you could show all, or even most, of the busway’s route numbers”
    Obviously not, but I meant the main routes.

  10. rhywun December 2, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    Hm, I kinda like the idea of “key bus routes” shown on the Boston map linked above. I am hoping here in NYC we eventually get BRT-like service that fills out the gaps in subway service in the outer boroughs and is depicted similarly on The Map. How much more useful that would be than the stupid box boxes which clutter The Map today.

  11. rhywun December 2, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    Er, “bus” boxes…

  12. Pantheon December 2, 2009 at 11:14 pm #

    I think the answer to this question is relatively obvious and free of controversy. Of course BRT should be included on the map. But here’s a different question. Let’s say you have a BRT service that is rapid along the main line, but then branches out and becomes regular bus service, at which point it loses its status as “rapid” transit. So let’s say you have bus lines A, B, C, D, E, and F, and they all share a high-capacity bus corridor that is a separated grade. But then past point X they all branch out and become regular bus service. Or maybe they each branch out at different points along the route. Do you depict these branches on the frequent service map?
    My take is that it would be strange not to. It would be silly to have a map showing frequent routes without showing where those routes ultimately go. But is there a way to depict visually the fact that these branches are not in fact “rapid” or particularly “frequent”?
    I think there is, and I have two ideas for how it could be done. First, the coloured lines could be relatively thick for the sections that are rapid, and then become pencil thin when it becomes regular service. The map legend would illustrate this meaning.
    However, this solution doesn’t address an even bigger problem. Because the branches are each serving neighbourhoods, their routes may become more complicated at this point, serving obscure side streets and the like. To depict exactly where each route goes on a rapid transit map risks making the making the map too complex and filling it with a lot of unnecessary information. The purpose of such a map is to be simple and easy to read.
    So I propose something else. Let’s say that Line A branches off to a neighbourhood called “Applewood”. B brances to “Baconville” etc. (I know, I’m hungry). At the point where Line A branches, not only should the thick coloured line become pencil thin, it should then simply turn into an arrow with the words “To Applewood”. B’s arrow would of course say “To Baconville”.
    I think this solution would accomplish some good things. It would:
    A) Delineate the “frequent” and “rapid” part of the service from the regular service, while still
    B) Giving people an idea of where these frequent buses actually go when the branch, and
    C) Avoid overloading the map with too much obscure complexity and detail, which would defeat the purpose of such a map.
    If someone needed to go to Applewood and wanted to know the exact routing beyond the branch point, then they could of course rely on the individual route map and timetable.

  13. Pantheon December 2, 2009 at 11:48 pm #

    I just realized that on several occasions in the above comment I used the word “frequent” when I really meant “rapid”, or “frequent AND rapid”.

  14. Jarrett at December 3, 2009 at 12:13 am #

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    @ Pantheon.  This isn't a frequent service map.  It's a rapid transit map.  The busway is served by many routes that branch off onto arterials but cease to be rapid at that point, so a rapid transit map properly shows only the busway. 
    For frequent service maps of the same area see Brent Palmer's work at
    Ugly URL, that.  I'll update the post to link to him.

  15. Pantheon December 3, 2009 at 12:34 am #

    To Jarrett:
    I know, I meant to write the word “rapid” but I typed that comment out quickly and my brain for some reason wrote “frequent” when I meant “rapid”.
    I can understand the argument for excluding the branches entirely from a rapid transit map. But I think there is an argument for depicting in some way the fact that these lines do branch off to different destinations. It would depend on how cluttered the map would become if you did this. But it might work in some cases.
    Technically speaking, it would become more of a full BRT-network map at that point, rather than strictly a rapid service map. So I guess I am saying that I see the merits in having a BRT-network map that gives some idea of where the branches go.

  16. Dan Wentzel December 3, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    “Include bus rapid transit on rapid transit maps?”
    Not if they are marked as designated as if they are same as rail.
    If BRT is shown at all, it should have a different type of marking to separated it from rail. On the Los Angeles Metro map, I’d have the Orange Line and Silver Line to be a series of dots or dahses instead of a full line like the rail lines have to indicate that they are not actually rail lines, but lesser BRT. But then I wouldn’t have branded either of them with official colors in the first place.
    But feel free to include them on “frequent service” maps if they meet the criteria.

  17. EngineerScotty December 3, 2009 at 10:02 am #

    Speaking of Pantheon’s type—
    Generally, there seem to be a consensus definition of “frequent”, with fifteen minute headways widely being cited as the maximum headway (TriMet’s cheating nonwithstanding).
    But what of “rapid” service? A service can be “frequent” (scheduled to come often), but still be slow or unreliable.
    It seems that the term “rapid”, in most uses, implies reliability more than speed. In the interminable debates on, critics of MAX occasionally like to point out that expresses busses from Gateway running down Interstate 84, were faster than the LRT that replaced them–and if the freeway wasn’t clogged with traffic, they were. However, the MAX service (or an equivalent busway; this comment isn’t intended to be about rail vs bus) is more reliable than an express bus running in mixed traffic (even if said bus were to run all day rather than in commute times only) by virtue of its exclusive right-of-way. And the slower average speed is because the MAX stops along the way, whereas the express busses are point-to-point connections.
    The MAX yellow line, which runs in the transit mall downtown and in a street median outside of downtown, fails to average 20MPH over the length of its run. However, it’s generally considered “rapid” because it has a dedicated ROW, and other than the downtown segment, has signal priority over other traffic.
    I’d argue that for “short” trips (things expected to be 30-40 minutes or less), reliability is more important than speed–its more important to minimize the variance of the trip time rather than the mean. Above that amount of time, speed becomes a bigger issue, especially if the alternatives (the freeway) are much quicker.
    With that in mind–what numbers are used to quantify how “rapid” a given service is?

  18. Jarrett at December 3, 2009 at 1:04 pm #

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    @ Scotty.  Lots of room for confusion around "rapid," but I use the term to denote service with a basic high frequency and wide stop spacing, not necessarily exclusive lane.  See here:

  19. Dan Wentzel December 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm #

    Los Angeles Metro has a “12-minute” map.
    Not only is the map helpful, everyone understands what “12-minutes” means.
    It’s a great resource, especially for tourists, who find the huge system-wide map overwhelming.
    There is a map on the webside called the “Metro Rapid Map”, but it isn’t too useful.
    It contains red lines indicating where the Metro Rapid buses run (in mixed traffic). It does not include the BRT lines and does not contain any numbers. Furthermore, it’s out of date. There are some lines which are shown as being “in development” which are already running. I’m not sure why Metro has it on its website other than to confuse people.

  20. Dan Wentzel December 3, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    Here is the current Metrorail and Metrolink map:
    I prefer this version which designates the BRT Lines as different than the LRT and HRT lines, which I think is fair:

  21. Peter Smith December 5, 2009 at 5:43 am #

    I prefer this version which designates the BRT Lines as different than the LRT and HRT lines, which I think is fair
    i agree with this sentiment. i see it as ‘truth in advertising’.
    outside of that, though, the phrase ‘rapid transit’ seems very odd to me. when i first read it, i thought, “Oh…it’s probably just some word that transit people use to mean ‘trains’.” and i thought, “Rapid? Rapid compared to what? My car? My bike? Walking? Is there a ‘non-rapid transit’?” Apparently there *is* a non-rapid transit — it’s called ‘transit’. i guess…??
    i guess that explains where the phrase/term ‘bus rapid transit’ comes from. in theory, it is ‘rapid transit’ — i.e. a train — but it’s a bus, instead. got it! i’m a little slow sometimes. you learn something new every day! :)
    According to the wiki, ‘rapid’ seems to (mostly) require grade separation. I guess that kind of makes sense, but only a little bit. Maybe the wiki page needs updating, since segregated right-of-ways would seem to achieve many/most of the same effects of grade separation. and the number of stops. (and why would one want grade separation at ground level? isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron?)
    in any case, i like to think of transit as…transit — not ‘rapid’ or ‘regular’. ‘rapid’, to me, is just a function of time and space — it’s all relative. commuter rail running on an express schedule is ‘Rapid Transit’, whereas commuter rail running on a local schedule is just ‘Transit’.
    if i look at a transit line on a map, if it has 100 little stations/stops indicated on that line, then i know that’s not going to be all that ‘rapid’ compared to the lines with fewer stations/stops indicated, or compared to a car, or possibly even bike. i know some maps show express stops in double-rings (nyc, maybe?) — that seems useful — if you want to catch an express, those are the stops you can catch it at.
    if you want to get to the other side of town quickly, you take the subway. if you just need to go three blocks down, you take the streetcar. both should get you to your destination in some ‘reasonable’ amount of time, whatever that is. and both should be included on maps, because they’re both generally high-quality transit options.
    not necessarily arguing with the term ‘rapid transit’. if professionals need to use it for convenience or exactness or whatever, go fer it!

  22. Matt Fisher July 7, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    I second Dan Wentzel’s motion by saying “NO” on the subject.
    Here in Ottawa (and it’s hot today at the time I’m writing this), OC Transpo does the same by branding the Transitway as part of a “Rapid Transit Network”:
    Needless to say, as a “map-o-phile” when I was a kid (and still have a tendency for today), I don’t believe that BRT should be given the same type of “official” colour coded designation nomenclature “similar” to rail. This is from someone who (sorry, Jarrett) admits to having a tad more pro-rail perspective. Busways will never be “just as good” as rail.

  23. Matt Fisher July 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    Oh yeah. About my earlier comment, Jarrett, this is in our local time, rather than the time it is in where you’re living in, Australia.

  24. Jarrett at July 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Matt.  Yes, it depends on whether you want a map of "just as good," which is totally subjective and unmeasurable, or "just as useful," which we can at least take some steps to quantify.  I admit to a bias toward usefulness for that reason.