Human Transit: Preface and Contents of the New Edition

(Note:  New material appears below this post.)

The new edition of Human Transit is now on sale!  You can buy direct from Island Press or through your favorite bookstore.  Below is the preface, which explains what’s new in this edition.  (If you don’t know the book, you can also read the introduction to the first edition online, but alas, I’m not authorized to release the introduction to the new edition, which is recognizably similar but does have a lot of updates.)

Tell your friends!  Buy the book!

Preface to the Revised Edition of Human Transit

This book, aimed at a nontechnical reader, explores the challenging questions that you must think about when planning or advocating for public transit in your community. Ever since the first edition was released, public transit professionals have been thanking me for giving them something they can ask others to read, to help them form clearer expectations of public transit and see its real possibilities. Some public transit authorities have given copies to the elected leaders who make the big decisions. Over a decade later, the book is still widely read and used.

Why update it, then? The world has changed since the book came out in 2011, so there are some new issues to address. The new popularity of working from home, which began with the COVID-19 pandemic, has changed the patterns of travel demand. Some issues have become more urgent, such as land use planning and the suburbanization of poverty, so they are featured more. Rising concerns about racial and social justice have also driven an increased interest in free fares in some countries, so the chapter on fares is expanded to explore that issue.

Another big change since 2011 has been the flood of venture capital funding for companies attempting to “transform” or “disrupt” public transit in some way. These companies have unleashed enormous public relations campaigns to make us all focus on their inventions. They have produced both great innovations and a lot of hype and distraction, so in the opening chapters, I’ve put some energy into helping the reader sort through their claims.

Since the book first came out, I’ve continued working as a transit planning consultant, so I have another decade of experience to draw on. Our consulting firm, Jarrett Walker + Associates, now works in more parts of the world, so I have more international examples.

It’s become more obvious that people need help thinking about the diversity of people who find transit useful and resisting the urge to assign them to narrow categories, so I’ve added a new chapter on that, whose title comes from an instructive outburst by Elon Musk. There’s also a new chapter on my own specialty, bus network redesign.

The single most important change, though, is that in the last few years, I’ve become convinced of the importance of freedom, not just as a feel-good word but as a thing we can measure and plan for. So there’s a new chapter about access to opportunity—your freedom to go places so that you can do things—and many of the book’s arguments are restructured to refer to it.

But despite all these changes, the core idea of the book remains. The most important things to know about public transit—the purely geometric facts about why it matters and how it works—will always be current as long as we have cities. Explanations of these facts throughout the book are improved but need no correction. You can count on these things always being true, no matter what world events and technological disruptions come along.

I’m immensely grateful to everyone who’s told me how useful Human Transit has been for them, and those who have given me the feedback I needed to make it better. I hope this book is useful to you for many years to come, even after the next event or invention that seems, at first, as if it will change everything.

Table of Contents

NOTE:  Bolded chapters are entirely new, but there are new sections and/or significant edits in almost every chapter.


  1. What Transit Is and Does
  2. What Makes Transit Useful? Seven Demands and How Transit Serves Them
  3. The Wall Around Your Life: Access to Opportunity
  4. A Bunch of Random Strangers: Planning for Diversity
  5. Lines, Loops, and Longing
  6. Touching the City: Stops and Stations
  7. Peak or All Day?
  8. Frequency is Freedom
  9. The Obstacle Course: Speed and Reliability
  10. Ridership or Coverage: The Challenge of Allocating Service
  11. Can Fares Be Fair?
  12. Connections or Complexity?
  13. From Connections to Networks to Places
  14. Network Design and Redesign
  15. Be on the Way!  Moral Implications of Location Choice
  16. On the Boulevard
  17. Take the Long View
  18. Epilogue: Geometry, Choices, Freedom


A Great New Book on North America’s “Lost” Rail Transit Systems

If you are looking for a gift for a transit-lover or urbanist, here’s something even better than an ugly sweater.  I can heartily recommend Jake Berman’s beautiful and engaging book The Lost Subways of North America.

Berman has constructed beautiful period maps of North America’s many “lost” rail systems, including the original streetcar networks of many cities and the numerous rapid transit maps that were sold to voters, often unsuccessfully, over the years.  But this is also a fine introduction to the history of rail transit in 23 North American cities.  The chapter on each city tells some aspect of the story of how the rail transit, or lack of it, came to be.

The book has a blurb from credentialed transit historian Nicholas Dagen Bloom (The Great American Transit Disaster), so you can feel confident in Berman’s work as history.  The tale of each city’s transit wars is both truer and more interesting than the old conspiracy theory about General Motors.  Throughout the middle and late 20th century, countless leaders worked hard to create the transit renaissance that they knew had to happen sooner or later, and that in many cities is finally happening now.  The failure of some of these schemes, and the success of others, makes for a lively read.

Berman is fully aware of the dangers of his title, and his section on terms suggests that he’s done time in the trenches of grim arguments over what subway, streetcar, and light rail really mean. The title Lost Subways suggests an ideal world of fast underground transit that’s routine in Europe and East Asia but that was abandoned or stillborn in most of North America.  But much of North America’s rail transit is on the surface or elevated, and it moves at a variety of speeds, from giant BART trains rushing under San Francisco bay to cable cars and streetcars in traffic that are sometimes not much faster than walking.  Rail, in short, is a poor shorthand for speed or even usefulness, and in a few cases, as in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, Berman acknowledges where busways have become a critical part of the rapid transit network, as they are across much of the developing world.  But Berman gracefully deploys the hook of his title without being hung up on it himself.  At the end, you’ll come away with an appreciation for the diversity of North American transit problems, and it will be clear why “subways everywhere” has never been the right answer to every city’s needs.

Ultimately, all transportation problems are land use problems, and these problems were created by zoning and other development policies.  Berman takes every opportunity to point out where these policies have shaped cities to be better or worse transit markets.  The point is most dramatically made in comparing Dallas and Houston.  The Dallas area built the nation’s largest light rail network but maintained a culture of strict zoning controls that prevented much development from happening around the suburban stations.  The result is an overstretched low-ridership network that currently runs only every 20 minutes, and a huge need for a robust bus network to go where the development actually is.  Houston has much less light rail but more permissive zoning laws, which has allowed development to respond to transit more rapidly and at scale.  So while Houston’s network goes fewer miles, the stations it serves are more likely to be your destination.  Berman weaves the zoning story into the transit story in a way that must be done to explain why North America’s transit situation is what it is.

While it tells many frustrating stories, this is not a sad or angry book, as many books on this topic justifiably are.  The short chapters and beautiful maps make it a pleasant browse, arousing curiosity and encouraging the reader to want to know more.  It’s a beautiful addition to a library, or a coffee table, in any home where people care about cities.

Miami: El “Better Bus Network” (La mejor red de autobuses) ya se implementó


Una rebanada de la nueva red.  Consulte el enlace abajo para ver todo el mapa.


[Read in English here.]

El 13 de noviembre, Miami-Dade tuvo la transformación más grande desde que Metrorail empezó hace casi 40 años. No fue una nueva línea de tren, sino un rediseño enorme del sistema de autobús que hace que el servicio sea más útil para más personas y más viajes en todo el condado.

Los autobuses de Miami-Dade operaban en patrones que se habían mantenido iguales por décadas, incluso con el crecimiento del condado y más destinos importantes construidos. Es difícil cambiar el servicio de autobús porque incluso las rutas más ineficientes tienen personas que dependen de ellas y se oponen a cualquier cambio. Por lo tanto, para rediseñar un sistema de autobús, tenemos que mostrar grandes beneficios para que valga la pena. Eso es lo que hace este rediseño.

Nosotros (Jarrett Walker + Associates) ayudamos a liderar conversaciones sobre el Better Bus Network desde nuestro trabajo con Transit Alliance y el Condado de Miami-Dade en el 2019. Llevamos a cabo una conversación alrededor de preguntas claves, conceptos para mostrar lo que significaría enfocarnos en diferentes metas y desarrollamos un Plan Borrador en el 2020. El Plan estaba en el proceso final de participación ciudadana cuando Covid descarriló casi toda la industria del transporte público.

Desde el 2020, el condado siguió trabajando para terminar el plan y publicó el Plan Final en el 2021, con 30% más servicio. Desafortunadamente, la industria del transporte público tuvo problemas con falta de choferes justo después de Covid y el plan se tuvo que reajustar con menos choferes de lo que se habían imaginado. Incluso con los cambios, el nuevo plan sigue ofreciendo excelentes resultados para grandes partes del condado, sus residentes, trabajadores y visitantes.

Con el nuevo rediseño, una nueva cuadrícula de rutas frecuentes cubre grandes partes del condado y provee grandes beneficios. El indicador más simple para medir estas mejoras es el número de personas y trabajos cerca del servicio de transporte público. La tabla a continuación muestra el cambio de residentes y trabajos cerca de servicio según la frecuencia del servicio al mediodía lunes a viernes. El número de residentes que viven cerca de servicio frecuente (cada 15 minutos) aumentó de 380,000 (14% de los residentes del Condado) a 814,000 (30%). El nuevo sistema provee servicio frecuente a cerca del 60% de hogares sin vehículo privado—eso corresponde a 20,000 más hogares sin vehículo privado que están cerca de servicio frecuente. Trabajos cerca de servicio frecuente aumentaron de 29% a 43%.


Una medida clave de cuan útil es el transporte público es el acceso que provee—a cuantos destinos puedes llegar dentro de un tiempo razonable. El siguiente mapa muestra un ejemplo de este cambio desde la Pequeña Haití.

En rojo se muestra la zona que podías acceder con el Sistema Antiguo en 45 minutos. En azul se muestra la zona que puedes acceder con el Better Bus Network. La zona azul es más grande, pero más importante es que ahí hay más destinos: 30% más trabajos y 60% más residentes. Por lo tanto, si vives cerca de este lugar, eres 30% más libre. Si tienes un negocio aquí, ahora tienes acceso a 60% más clientes o 60% más trabajadores.

Podemos medir esto una y otra vez a través en todo el condado y si resumimos los resultados vemos que el residente promedio puede acceder a 28% más trabajos (u otros destinos útiles) en 45 minutos. Este beneficio es aún más grande para residentes de bajo ingreso y minorías. Esto significa que más personas al evaluar un posible viaje, encontrarán que el tiempo de viaje es razonable.

Para leer mas sobre esta medida, consulte aquí.

La otra mejora del nuevo sistema es el gran aumento en la frecuencia de servicio en los fines de semana. Hemos trabajado en planes alrededor de todo Estados Unidos que han aumentado el servicio durante las noches y los fines de semana y suelen ver aumentos en el uso del transporte público. La gente valora flexibilidad y espontaneidad. Todo el mundo quiere tener la habilidad de volver a su casa fuera de las horas laborales tradicionales, 8am a 5pm. Además, las horas pico tradicionales de ir al trabajo son menos importantes hoy ya que más gente trabaja remoto. Aún más importante, personas que trabajan en tiendas o restaurantes usualmente tienen que trabajar los fines de semana. Una ruta que no es frecuente en los fines de semana no está ofreciendo servicio adecuado para las horas pico de estas industrias. En Miami hay muchas, muchas personas que trabajan en estas industrias.

Implementando Grandes Cambios

Igual que en el Condado de Suffolk (Long Island en Nueva York), hemos estado colaborando con Miami-Dade Transit en la implementación. ¿Cómo se hace un cambio tan grande de un día para otro? Meses, a veces años, de planificación nos preparan para un día como este. Grandes partes de la planificación incluyen:

  • Coordinación entre los grupos de planificación, programación, comunicación y todo el gobierno del condado para preparar materiales claros de comunicación con el público.
  • Comunicación continua con oficiales públicos y municipios.
  • Planificación de Title VI, nuevas paradas de autobús, detalles de programación de rutas, preparación de horarios nuevos, mapas del sistema, y mucho más.
  • Ensayo de rutas nuevas, revisión de la ubicación de las paradas, trabajo con los choferes para que se aprendan las rutas nuevas, y mucho más
  • Contratación de empleados para orientar a los usuarios y explicar los cambios.

Un proyecto así requiere un esfuerzo enorme en equipo y los empleados del condado han trabajo mucho y por bastante tiempo para hacer que este día sea una realidad.

Transit Alliance ha seguido trabajando con el condado para comunicar los cambios del sistema al público y nos alegra poder colaborar en este proceso. Nuestro equipo contribuyó de varias maneras:

  • Creamos un nuevo mapa del sistema donde los colores de las rutas representan su frecuencia. Este mapa pronto estará en las paradas de autobús por todo el condado.
  • Desarrollamos una herramienta interactiva para ayudar a los usuarios a entender cómo pueden hacer sus viajes en el nuevo sistema.
  • Diseñamos los rótulos de paradas de autobús para informar a los usuarios sobre los cambios de rutas en cada parada.

Nos entusiasma ver cómo la gente responderá a este nuevo sistema y esperamos que genere un marco para muchas mejoras al transporte colectivo mientras el condado implementa el plan de largo-plazo (SMART) y otras inversiones en el sistema.


Miami: The Better Bus Network Is Here!


A slice of Miami-Dade’s Better Bus Network. See the link below for the full map.

On November 13, the greater Miami area will see the biggest transformation in where you can go on public transit since Metrorail opened almost 40 years ago.  Not a new rail line, but a huge redesign of the bus network that will make it useful to more people for more trips, all over the County.  A complete map of the new network is here.

Miami-Dade County’s buses run in patterns that have often been the same for decades, even as the county has grown and many new destinations have appeared.  It’s hard to change bus service, because even the most inefficient bus route has people who depend on it and will object to any changes.  So, to redesign a bus network, we have to show big benefits that make the change worth the trouble, and that’s what this redesign does.

The plan is the result of a planning project that begin in 2019.  In an unusual partnership, Transit Alliance Miami funded much of the work and hired us (Jarrett Walker + Associates) to lead the planning process in partnership with the County. We led a public conversation around key trade-offs, by sharing contrasting network design concepts that showed the consequences of different possible goals.  Based on the response to that process, we developed a Draft Plan in early 2020.  We were then rudely interrupted by Covid-19.

Since 2020, the County has worked to finish the plan and as published a revised plan, with 30% more service, in 2021. Unfortunately, the transit industry was hit by the labor shortages of the post-Covid era, and the plan had to be reworked to manage with a smaller workforce than previously imagined. Even with the changes, the final plan now being implemented still delivers great results for huge swaths of the county, its residents, workers, and visitors.

With the new design, a frequent grid will cover large parts of the county with huge benefits. The simplest measure of that improvement is how many people or jobs are near service. The chart below shows the change in residents or jobs near service by the frequency of service at midday on weekdays. The number of residents who live near frequent transit will increase from 380,000 (14 of the County’s residents%) to 814,000 (30%) during weekday service. The new network will bring frequent service near almost 60% of households without cars; that’s 20,000 additional households without cars near more frequent service. And jobs near frequent service will increase from 29% to 43% on weekdays.


A key measure of a network’s usefulness is the access it provides, or how much stuff you can reach in a reasonable travel time. The animated map below shows an example of this change from Little Haiti.

In pink is the area you can reach in the Existing Network in 45 minutes. In blue is the area you can reach with the Better Bus Network. The blue area is larger, but more importantly it has a lot more stuff in it: 30% more jobs and 60% more residents. So if you lived near this place, you would effectively be 30% more free. And if you owned a business here, you’d now have access to 60% more customers, or 60% more workers.

We can measure this exact thing over and over again across the whole county and when we summarize the results we find that the average resident will be able to get to 28% more jobs (or other useful destinations) in 45 minutes. The benefit is even greater for lower-income residents and people of color.  That means more people, when they look up a trip they might make, will find that the travel time is reasonable.  For more on why we use this measure, see here.

The other big improvement in this new network is a major increase in frequency of service on weekends. Across the country, we’ve worked on network plans that have increased service on evenings and weekends and they’ve often shown huge ridership gains. People value flexibility and spontaneity. Everyone wants the ability to get home outside of the traditional 8-to-5 workday. Critically, though, people working in retail or restaurant jobs often need to work on weekends. A route that runs infrequently on the weekends is missing the peak time for people in these industries, and there are many, many people in these industries in Miami-Dade.

Implementing Big Change

Our team has been working closely with Miami-Dade staff to assist with a range of implementation needs. How does a huge change like this happen overnight? Months, sometimes years, of planning leads up to a big day like this.  These efforts included:

  • Work by staff across County government to help people find out about the change, and can learn about it easily.
  • Briefings of elected officials including partners in the city governments.
  • An analysis of compliance with Title VI, the US Civil Rights law that ensures racial equity in transit planning.
  •  Siting of new bus stops and removing old stops.
  • Writing new schedules for customers and bus operators.
  • A big effort by operations and safety teams working on testing turns, reviewing stop locations, working with operators to learn new routes, and much more.
  • Finally, an infusion of temporary staff near the change date, to be out on the street helping people find their way.

It takes an enormous team effort and County staff have worked hard for a long-time to make this day happen. Transit Alliance has continued to partner with the county to help with communicating the network changes to the public and we’ve been please to assist in that process. Our team has contributed in a few key ways:

  • A new system map with routes color-coded by frequency. These maps will start showing up in shelters around the county soon.
  • An interactive trip comparison tool to help folks find out how they can make their trips on the new network.
  • Developing bus stop signage to inform riders at each stop about which routes are changing.

We’re excited to see how people respond to this new network and we hope it helps set the stage for many transit improvements to come as the County implements its long-term SMART plan.

Basics: Why Aren’t the Buses Timed to Meet the Trains?

Short answer:  Because the buses are timed to meet each other, and this is harder than it looks.

Long answer:  If you’ve used public transit in an area that has infrequent trains, including the suburbs of many cities, you’ve probably wondered why the bus and train schedules aren’t coordinated.  Why didn’t they write the bus schedule so that the bus would meet the train?

First of all, let’s gently note the bias in the question.  Why didn’t you ask why the train wasn’t scheduled to meet the bus?  We assume that because trains are bigger, faster, and more rigid, they are superior and buses are subordinate. You’ll even hear some bus routes described as “feeders”, implying that they have no purpose but to bring customers to the dominant mode.

But it’s rare for an efficient bus route to have no other purpose than feeding the train. Public transit thrives on the diversity of purposes that the same vehicle trip can serve.  At a busy rush hour time, you may encounter a true feeder bus that’s timed to the train and will even wait if the train is late.  But most bus services carry many people locally in their area, on trips that don’t involve the train connection.  For these networks to work, they have to connect well with themselves, and this is harder than it looks.

We’re talking here about infrequent bus routes (generally every 30 minutes or worse) and infrequent trains.  When frequency is high, no special effort is needed to make the connection work.

Pulse scheduling. Buses of many lines are coordinated so that buses meet at the same time each hour, allowing fast transfers despite low frequency.

Infrequent transit networks have a huge problem.  There’s not just a long wait for the initial bus or train.  There’s also a long wait for any connection you may need to make to reach your destination.   We often combat this problem with pulse scheduling.  At key hubs, we schedule the buses to all meet at the same time each hour or half hour, so that people can make connections quickly even though frequencies are low.  We design the whole network around those connections, because they are so important to making the network useful.

That means that the whole schedule has to have a regular repeating pattern.  As much as possible we want this pattern to repeat every hour, so that it’s easy to remember.  We even design route lengths to cycle well in this amount of time, or multiples of it.

If the train schedule has a similar pattern, we will certainly look at it and try to match our pattern to it.  But the timing of a pulse determines the schedules of all the routes serving that point.  Sometimes we have lattices of interacting pulses at several points, which can make an entire network interdependent.  You can’t change any of these schedules without changing all of them, or you lose the fast connections between infrequent bus routes that makes suburban networks usable.

Sometimes, an infrequent trunk train service will also present a repeating hourly cycle in its schedule, and if so, we’ll look at that and try to coordinate with it.  But at most this will be possible at a couple of stations where the timing works well, because of the way the local bus schedules are all connected.

More commonly, especially in North America, we face an irregular regional rail or “commuter rail” schedule, where there may be a regular midday pattern but there’s often no pattern at other times.  The pattern may often shift during the day for various reasons that make sense for the train operation.  All this is toxic to timing with the local bus network.  Local bus networks need that repeating hourly pattern to be efficient and legible.  For example, if at 1 PM the train pattern suddenly moves five minutes earlier, the bus network can’t adapt to that without opening up a gap in its schedules that will affect lots of other people.

Usually, the regional rail network and the local bus network are part of different transit authorities, which makes this an even bigger challenge.  A particular problem in multi-authority region is that different authorities may have different schedule change dates, sometimes baked into their labor agreements, and this prevents them from all changing together at the same time.  But the core problem isn’t just institutional.  Merging the authorities won’t solve it. No efficient bus system – working with sparse resources and therefore offering infrequent service – can make timed connections with a train schedule at every station, and especially not if the train schedule is irregular.  It’s just not mathematically possible.

The best possible outcomes happen when the rail and bus authorities have a relationship that recognizes their interdependence rather than one based on a supposed hierarchy.  That means that the rail authority recognizes that the local bus authorities can only connect with a repeating hourly schedule pattern, and tries to provide one.  It also means that rail schedule changes are made with plenty of warning so that there’s time for bus authorities to adapt.

With the decline of rush-hour commuting due to increased working from home, transit demand is even more all-directions and all-the-time.  It no longer makes sense to just assume that one trip – say, the commute to the big city – is superior to another, like the local trip to a grocery store or retail job.  All possible trips matter, and we get the best transit network when authorities coordinate to provide the best possible connections for all of them.








New York: A New Bus Network for Eastern Long Island

Great South Bay Bridge near Babylon, NY,  Photo: Adobe Stock

by Scudder Wagg

Suffolk County is a vast and variegated place covering the eastern two-thirds of Long Island, New York. It includes a range of historic towns like Babylon, Huntington, and Port Jefferson, many of which grew up around the Long Island Rail Road. The western two-thirds of the county is largely developed in an car-oriented suburban pattern.  That area includes about 90% of the county’s 1.5 million people and 520,000 jobs. The eastern third of the county is much more rural and includes the famous Hamptons, summertime retreat for many elite New Yorkers, the well-known Montauk Lighthouse, and protected Pine Barrens Forest.

On Sunday, October 29, Suffolk County Transit will implement a new bus network that we’ve worked with them to design. The redesign process began in mid-2020 with our team working with County staff to analyze the existing system. One key issue that arose in our initial work was the extent of reliability problems across the system due to outdated speed and travel time assumptions. The need to correct for slower speeds, sparked a conversation about investment more in transit to achieve better outcomes in many ways.

In early 2021, we worked with staff, stakeholders and the public in a conversation sparked by our Choices and Concepts Report. This report focused on key trade-offs, like ridership versus coverage, and showed two contrasting concepts for how to redesign the bus network, and assumed 15% more service to account for slower speeds. Based on feedback from the public, stakeholders, and staff, we developed a Draft Plan that prioritized higher ridership, and resulted in some loss of coverage. A key feature of the Draft Plan was much more consistent spans of service, with more evening and weekend service across most key corridors in the county.

While overall response to the Draft Plan was very positive, there were some specific concerns about coverage loss on some roads and the Final Plan was tweaked to add service back to a few areas. To address these coverage needs, and maintain the improved frequency and span , the County has made a commitment to increase overall service levels by nearly 30%, joining agencies like Tri-Met in Portland, Santa Cruz Metro, and Dallas’s DART in expanding service in the post-Covid transit recovery period.

While the increased service is a major boon, it is not enough to create a network of every 15-minute service in the vast areas of moderate density across western Suffolk County. A major focus of the plan, therefore, is to build a series of timed connection points, or pulses, in strategic locations across the county, like Amityville, Central Islip, Patchogue, and Riverhead. You can see those location on the network maps below as they are marked with a clock icon.

You can compare the old and new networks at this cool data viewer that we developed.  Below are static maps of the existing network followed by the new network.  Note the frequencies in the legend, without which these maps make no sense.

Old Network. Line colors indicate frequency. (See legend.)

New network. Line colors indicate frequency (see legend).



With more frequent service on many corridors, and timed connections, the average resident will be able to get to 50% more jobs in 60 minutes and low-income residents see an even bigger gain.

In addition to developing the network plan, we’ve been thrilled to provide continuing support to County staff as they’ve worked to implement this new network. We’ve helped to develop

  • New schedules and printed timetables with more reliable travel times and clearer maps and information.
  • An updated detailed network map for use at information kiosks across the county.
  • A new schematic map (below) showing the overall structure of the network.

We’ve also provided a range of technical support and other materials to help County staff prepare to roll-out the new network and two of our staff will be on-site to help riders learn the new network in the first week.

So, thanks and congratulations to everyone at Suffolk County who worked hard to get this done. We hope that everyone who lives in, works in, or visits Suffolk enjoys the SCT New Network and we encourage locals to stay involved in advocating for more and better transit, as there are plenty of ripe opportunities to increase frequency, span, and coverage with more investment in transit in Suffolk.

Scudder Wagg is a Principal with Jarrett Walker + Associates and the head of our Arlington, Virginia office.

PS by Jarrett:  If you’re wondering why the buses aren’t scheduled to meet the Long Island Rail Road trains, there’s an explainer for that!

Portland: Good Outcomes from “BRT-Lite”

Photo: TriMet

Portland’s transit agency TriMet has some good news to report from its “light Bus Rapid Transit” project on Division St.  It’s especially good news because lots of North American cities have streets that look like Division, namely:

  • A segment of a few miles through the inner part of the city where the street is too narrow for bus lanes, but where redevelopment is driving up densities and thus travel demand.  This part of Division is increasingly lined with four story buildings — residential over retail — with historic small-lot single family homes behind them.
  • An outer segment in “inner ring suburbia” where the street is wide enough for bus lanes, and where the critical issue is the unsafe environment for pedestrians.

The Division FX project consisted of the following changes, probably in roughly declining order of importance.

  • Wider spacing of stops (up to 1/2 mile in some places) with no underlying local-stop service alongside it.
  • A 12-minute frequency, instead of the usual 15 for Frequent Service Network lines.
  • Signal priority at signals along the line.
  • Improvements to sidewalks and pedestrian crossings in the outer segment.
  • A short stretch of bus lane in the area that had room for one.
  • Articulated buses (60 feet long, with a hinge).
  • Nicer shelters with signage identifying the location and a realtime information display.
  • A special green paint scheme.

But it’s still in mixed traffic on the narrow and congested inner segment.  There was a lot of reason to doubt how much improvement could be achieved in that situation.

So I’m pretty impressed with the results:  Overall travel times are up to 20% shorter.  That’s 20% more access to opportunity for people traveling along the line.  And of course, this line is part of a frequent grid, which spreads these benefits over this whole side of the city.

Ridership is up dramatically as a result, almost 40% for the first year of operation (September 2022 – August 2023) compared to the year before.  Total transit system ridership grew about 8% over that time, so some of this is background growth due to ongoing pandemic recovery.  But still, even if the effect of these changes were only a 30% increase, that would be spectacular.

There are many, many streets like Division where this quality of service is needed and possible.  I hope we can aspire to a time when all frequent bus lines have at least this level of quality.



More Microtransit Marketing Confusion

Just found this ad through APTA‘s members-only Knowledge Gateway, from Passio Technologies. Ignore the words. Look at the picture.

But that’s not a photo of microtransit.  That is a photo of an elite fixed route commuter bus called Leap that existed in San Francisco for a few months in 2016-17.  I wrote about that project here. You’ll recognize the bus from the video at that link.  I wonder what the folks at Passio were thinking.

Greensboro: A North Carolina City Imagines a “Car-Optional” Future

Greensboro, North Carolina is a pleasant city of 300,000 with two big universities, located in the Piedmont Triad northeast of Charlotte.  The city has  already adopted a goal to be “car-optional” by 2045.  What kind of public transit would that goal require?  Working for the City (who runs the local transit service through the Greensboro Transit Agency), we at Jarrett Walker and Associates are seeking public input on two alternative conceptual transit networks.  Both conceptual networks have than twice as much service as today.

How would this giant increase in service be funded? In North Carolina, larger counties are allowed to ask the voters for a half-cent sales tax to fund the expansion of transit. Voters in Mecklenburg (Charlotte), Orange (Chapel Hill), Durham, and Wake (Raleigh) have endorsed transit sales taxes in the last 25 years. Our firm was part of the planning process that helped lead to the successful 2016 referendum in Wake County. Here in Guilford County, the potential funding would be split between Greensboro Transit Agency (GTA), High Point, Guilford County, and the regional agency: Piedmont Authority for Regional Transit (PART). The GoBORO Concepts show what could be done with the slices of funding for Greensboro and PART.

The Greensboro News & Record has an article summarizing these Concepts, and it particularly highlights the low level of transit service in Greensboro today.

We often frame transit conversations around a ridership-coverage trade-off, instead of starting with recommendations. That framework can be as relevant in this visionary plan with more resources, as it is in a budget-neutral redesign. We are asking what it means for transit to be an option to cars. Does it mean that:

  • Most people have a transit option that is very useful for reaching many places in a reasonable time? Or
  • Everyone has a transit option, but it may not be very useful for many people for reaching many places in a reasonable time?

Here’s the existing network.  Remember, the colors indicate frequency, as shown in the legend.  It’s all half-hourly and hourly routes, converging on a downtown transit center.

(Line 73 is a shuttle funded by the University of North Carolina. Route numbers starting with P are the regional transit agency, PART.)


Here’s the Ridership Concept. It has a lot of service focused on frequent corridors in the densest, busiest parts of Greensboro, though it also covers a slightly larger area.

The Coverage Concept focuses instead getting service close to more places, including industrial destinations in the far northeast of the city.   At this service level, we can still afford some very useful frequent service on a few corridors.

As always, these are two ends of a spectrum, and not an either-or choice.

If you’re used to seeing this tradeoff mapped using the low existing service budgets of agencies, as we did in Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, and many other cities, you are used to seeing painful choices, where the Ridership concept removes low-ridership services that a few people depend on.  This is a different exercise.  We are trying to create a vision of a future network that the people of Greensboro can get behind, so we are asking the community to help us define the balance of ridership and coverage goals that should drive that vision.The large service increases such a tax can fund would have dramatic effects on the usefulness of transit. The Ridership Concept increases median access to jobs within 45 minutes by 140%, and the Coverage Concept increases job access by 86%. Both Concepts also invest in vastly better evening and weekend service. Today, all GTA routes run hourly service on weeknights and weekends. By using these outcomes to demonstrate the effects of investing more in transit, we want to ask the public: “Do you want to invest more in transit?”

If you know anyone in Greensboro, send them to the project website so that they can explore further and provide their input on the Concepts. We also encourage people to read the Choices & Concepts Report that details existing conditions, these Concepts, and the outcomes of service increase and the choices that shape transit networks.

Santa Cruz County: A Growing Transit Agency in a Beautiful Place

While you’ve heard plenty about big US agencies facing a “fiscal cliff,” some agencies are doing well and expanding their offerings as their staffing permits.  That includes Portland and Dallas, where we’ve been working, but here’s a similar story from a smaller agency in an outrageously beautiful place.

Santa Cruz County, just south of the San Francisco Bay Area, is known for its beautiful beaches, towering redwoods, college-town ambience, and expensive housing, but the county also contains Watsonville, on the edge of the agricultural Salinas Valley, which has cheaper housing and is over 80% Hispanic or Latino/a.  The University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) generates huge demand to its hilltop campus at the west end of the region, but Watsonville generates strong demand for travel both locally and to jobs in Santa Cruz.  Meanwhile, the City of Santa Cruz is trying to encourage denser housing along frequent transit corridors in order to address their problems of housing affordability.

Like many US agencies, Santa Cruz Metro had to make cuts during the pandemic to match the service to their shortage of bus drivers.  In the last year, though, the pace of hiring has picked up, and the agency can do its first substantial expansion.  They asked us to analyze the network and develop some concepts for improvement.  We drafted a couple of alternatives, and had a public conversation about them.  Finally, last Friday, the agency’s Board adopted a Phase 1 restructuring plan. By then, it turned out, hiring had gone even better than expected and some hard choices that we had feared would have to be made turned out not to be necessary.

Phase 1, now scheduled for implementation this December, will change the network completely.  It currently looks like this.  (As always, click maps to enlarge and sharpen.)

Starting in December it will look like this.

Look at the legend! As always, colors on these maps represent frequency, and that’s fundamental to understanding how this network is better than the old one.

The existing system has no service running better than every 30 minutes, but it also has no timed connections, so waits are long, not just for your initial bus but also for the bus you may be connecting to.  The redesign increases frequencies, improves the timing of connections, and streamlines and simplifies the network.

It’s an especially big change in Watsonville, whose confusing tangle of overlapping hourly routes was especially useless for most trips.  There, service is restructured to put a majority of the population and jobs near half-hourly service, mostly on lines that run through to the other cities to the west.

In Santa Cruz, the big change is the restoration of 15-minute frequency on the main lines that connect the University of California (“UC Santa Cruz” on the map) with the westside and downtown.  This is important not just for the university, but also to support the City’s goals for denser residential developments in the existing neighborhoods south of the campus.

The spine of the network linking Watsonville and Santa Cruz is a braid of four hourly routes currently called 69A, 69W, and 71.  In the new network the same resources go into simpler routes 1 and 2, and they’re more precisely scheduled to provide a 15-minute frequency on their westernmost segment where they run together.  Halfway between Santa Cruz and Watsonville, these two routes combine again to serve Cabrillo College, the only community college in the county.  We have shown the frequency there as every 20 rather than every 15 because if Routes 1 and 2 leave downtown Santa Cruz spaced evening every 15 minutes, they won’t be as evenly spaced at Cabrillo College, since Route 2 will have taken a longer path.  Still, this is a significant frequency improvement for the county’s biggest transit destination outside the University.

Santa Cruz Metro is rolling out this change very fast, aiming to have the new service on the street in December.  Meanwhile, this is just the first phase of a more ambitious expansion that will be discussed with the public soon in hopes of further frequency expansions in 2024.  That next phase would extend high-frequency local-stop service to Watsonville, while also adding an all-day Santa Cruz-Watsonville Express.  It will also look at new continuous service from the University to the east side of Santa Cruz.  We look forward to a robust public discussion of that next phase.

At our firm, we are ready to help any transit agency work with its financial situation, whatever it is.  But it’s especially exciting to see a transit agency that’s able to grow its services to match the values and ambitions of the communities it serves.