Comment of the Week: Connection or Intersection?

In an early but still timely post, I argued that we should abolish the depressing American verb to transfer, and replace it with to connect.

Peter Parker of Melbourne on Transit came back with a useful clarification:

Connecting sounds good, but it must be used with care. In my mind ‘connecting’ makes some warranties regarding scheduling and waiting time. This is a very useful distinction to maintain.

At the very least a genuine connection implies both repeatability (through headway harmonised timetables) and a waiting time appropriate for trip type (e.g. 28 minutes is too tight for flying, terrible for suburban transit but probably OK for between two [inter-city] trains).

Absolutely.  An acceptable connection time is short enough that the whole trip still feels fast.  In general, the further you’re going, the longer a connection time is tolerable.  (The same is true of waiting time at the start of the trip.)

Apart from scheduling a connection there may also be an obligation to honour it, even if services are running late.

Where neither level of connectivity is provided, and service is not frequent enought to render it meaningless, I don’t agree that we should claim these services are ‘connecting’.

I agree.

Here in Melbourne we seem to use ‘connecting service’ in circumstances when ‘intersecting services’ might be more appropriate (ie a guarantee of physical access but no warranty regarding the transferred to service ‘connecting’ or even operating.

‘Intesecting’ sounds cold, clinical and like lines on a map. However we do need something to differentiate it from connecting, which should only refer to services with genuine timetable co-ordination and (possibly) even guaranteed connections where services are held back. This is where ‘change’ is good as I don’t think it implies a scheduled connection as much.

Peter goes into more detail in a post of his own, with useful Melbourne-specific detail that I’ve edited out of his comment here.  But it’s not just Melbourne that represents intersecting services as connecting services.  I’ve seen many low-frequency suburban systems that present two routes as connecting if they serve the same spot, even if they aren’t even running at the same time of day, let alone timed for the connection.  Peter’s right; where two routes intersect, but no self-respecting person would connect from one service to the other because of (a) an unreasonably long wait or (b) inadequate reliability, these should be called “intersecting,” not “connecting.”

6 Responses to Comment of the Week: Connection or Intersection?

  1. James D June 16, 2009 at 7:09 am #

    Then there are true metro services where timetable co-ordination becomes essentially redundant. One you’re running a train every four minutes or so, the average wait time ceases to be much of a penalty.

  2. Aaron M. Renn June 16, 2009 at 7:16 am #

    Maybe it is just because Americans can be easily impressed with foreign languages, but I’ve always liked the term “correspondence”

  3. Teresa June 16, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    More and more lately I’ve seen “intersection of” used in place of “corner of” on maps and web sites giving directions in [usually] large cities. Possibly because we don’t have corners anymore, as such, but we do have intersections.
    As for connection, I agree with Peter on the implications. E.G.: in the Amtrak schedule for the Adirondack [traveling between NYC and Montreal] it says “connection” to the VIA train to Halifax, for example, may be made, but the Adirondack NEVER arrives on time, so that the “connection” to the VIA train must be made the next evening, there being only one per day.
    We might be stuck with “transfer”, Jarrett.

  4. anonymouse June 16, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    In the UK, the preferred verb seems to be “change”, as in “This is Kings Cross St. Pancras. Change here for the Piccadilly, Victoria, and Northern lines, National Rail services and Eurostar international services”, or in the expression “all change” used to indicate that this train has finished its journey. In the NYC subway, meanwhile, both “transfer” and “connection” are used, with “transfer” referring to an in-system transfer to other subway lines, and “connection” referring to non-NYC Subway services such as commuter rail and Amtrak.

  5. Jarrett at June 17, 2009 at 5:51 am #

    James, yes, high frequencies guarantee good connections. In fact they’re the best guarantee because nothing needs to be timed. That’s how most networks work in dense cities.
    Aaron, I assume you mean the French word correspondance? Yes, I love it too.
    Teresa, no, I think “to connect” just needs to be used diligently. One can properly complain that the train connection you describe is falsely called a connection, because it can’t be made reliably. I think it has this meaning at hub airports as well.
    Anon, yes, I mentioned “to change” in my original post.
    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Alon Levy June 18, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    LIRR commuters use the phrase “to change at Jamaica.”
    And 28 minutes is a reasonable wait for intercity trains only if you intend to run them with Italian punctuality, or if the trains are so cramped that people can only get a decent snack or drink at the station.