Transit-Supportive Guidelines

Section 3.1 System Service and Operations

3.1.1 Transit Service Types

Select a transit service type that provides the capacity and service quality appropriate to local population and employment densities. Service types should be designed to support the function and character of the environments they serve.

The type of transit service selected is a primary determinant of system capacity, quality of service and attractiveness to transit riders. By nature of the transit rights-of-way, and stop and station locations, the selection of a service type will also have a significant impact on community structure, the movement of pedestrians and vehicles as well as the potential for new transit-supportive development.

Transit providers may select from an array of service types ranging from demand-responsive transit services to conventional buses in mixed traffic with fixed-routes and schedules, to vehicles on dedicated lanes or guideways, such as bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit (LRT), subways and/or commuter trains. Moreover, different service types may complement each other, such as the combination of conventional bus and BRT services or the use of feeder services along LRT routes. Each service type differs in its appropriateness, capital costs, permanence and route flexibility, as well as its impact and influence on the character of a community.

The chart above identifies a series of person-capacity ranges for various transit modes (adapted from TCRP 100 Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual – 2nd Edition, 2003, page 1-21).

The chart above identifies a series of person-capacity ranges for various transit modes (adapted from TCRP 100 Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual – 2nd Edition, 2003, page 1-21).

Strategies:

selection of service type

  1. When exploring the introduction or expansion of transit service, agencies should consider a range of factors including:
    • population and demographic trends;
    • economic forecasts, future land use and travel patterns;
    • ridership forecasts;
    • funding availability;
    • parking management practices;
    • the potential impact of the new service type on community character and design; and
    • the impact of the transit service on the movement of other transportation modes.
  2. For large centres with varying urban forms and densities, consider providing a family of transit services, ranging from bus rapid transit systems to community buses appropriate to the land use and travel patterns of individual communities (Guideline 1.2.2). These should be reviewed and augmented with higher levels of service and/or service types over time in response to increased ridership.

Winnipeg Transit has developed the following standards for new route development and coverage:

  • Introduce new routes or extend routes under these conditions:
    • When a new development has at least 600 housing units;
    • When most of the housing units in the new development are located more than 800 m from existing transit service; and
    • When at least 200 of the housing units in the new development are occupied.
  • Establish express routes if:
    • it will result in significant reduction in travel time for customers; and
    • if all seats in the vehicle will be used at the maximum load point.
  • For express routes, locate bus stops only at transfer points with other routes.

rural settlement areas

  1. In rural settlement areas, where population densities are low and activity locations dispersed, a range of bus service options should be considered, including:
    • running shuttles, a limited bus service to key markets, such as areas with student or employee concentrations, in order to increase ridership and to keep costs low;
    • adding capacity through use of taxis or vans to provide shared rides, as a feeder service in outlying areas;
    • forming inter-municipal partnerships with neighbouring municipalities or larger municipalities/regions to provide more integrated service, or to purchase transit services;
    • offering community bus service with flexible routes, where customers can make a requested stop or request a scheduled pick-up. Vehicles may travel along defined routes or to defined stops, while making limited deviations to provide more customized service without incurring excessive schedule delays;
    • using fully demand-responsive services, such as dial-a-ride, that provide curb to curb service. This may be used in sparsely populated areas where trip patterns are unpredictable, or to serve the disabled community (Guideline 3.1.3).

bus service

  1. When considering establishing or extending a bus route, expanded coverage should be supported by sufficient ridership potential to keep service affordable. Use density thresholds in new developments to determine when new service should be introduced. Geographic information system (GIS) data may be used for spatial analysis of population and employment densities, as well as distribution of services and activities. See Guideline 1.1.7 for more on service in new developments.
  2. Consider running a pilot test of a new or expanded route to test ridership potential and ridership needs before committing to new service. The pilot test should last 1-3 years, since it often takes new routes about this much time to achieve full ridership potential. Pilot tests should be monitored closely, for example, every 3 months to identify issues early and measure progress.
  3. Monitor ridership along routes and route segments, and re-allocate service from low-demand routes to those with higher potential ridership. Restructure routes to accommodate new travel patterns or to improve efficiency by:
    • avoiding circuitous routes;
    • consolidating routes;
    • eliminating transfers.
  4. BRT systems may be appropriate for communities where:
    • there is a built-up downtown core that facilitates concentrated service from outlying areas;
    • there are several developed downtown areas that require rapid transit connections between them;
    • there is an established reliance on existing transit and demonstrated new demand that will support high service frequencies of between 8 and 10 minutes during peak hours;
    • there are lower-density neighbourhoods with existing bus routes on either side of a corridor that could feed into the bus-way to reach community destinations;
    • current and projected levels of ridership may not support higher expenses associated with fixed rail service; and
    • route flexibility is required as BRT systems can operate without fixed rights-of-way.

A feeder bus, such as this one in Waterloo, picks up and delivers passengers to a rail rapid transit station or express-bus stop or terminal.

A feeder bus, such as this one in Waterloo, picks up and delivers passengers to a rail rapid transit station or express-bus stop or terminal.

Light rail expansion in Portland, OR, has spurred the development of new residential neighbourhoods along the length of the route.

Light rail expansion in Portland, OR, has spurred the development of new residential neighbourhoods along the length of the route.

The MUNI system in San Francisco has been designed to operate within a variety of urban contexts throughout the city.

The MUNI system in San Francisco has been designed to operate within a variety of urban contexts throughout the city.

higher order transit

  1. LRT systems may be appropriate for communities where:
    • there are higher densities and a concentration of uses along a corridor capable of supporting bi-directional service;
    • there are a number of major activity centres that could benefit from more efficient connecting transit service;
    • levels of ridership suggest that multi-unit operation would result in higher service and labour productivity over running multiple individual buses; and
    • there is a desire to leverage an investment in rapid transit to change development patterns and promote higher-density, transit-supportive environments.
  2. Subway systems may be appropriate for communities where:
    • there are multiple major activity centres that would benefit from stronger transit connections;
    • existing and/or future levels of transit ridership are high enough to support subway service; and
    • existing levels of ridership are high and there are significant redevelopment opportunities along the route which could be triggered by an investment in a subway system.
  3. Commuter rail services carry passengers from the lower-density suburbs or smaller municipalities to and from the city centre, typically in a radial network. These passengers travel longer distances, so vehicles offer more seating and less standing room. Commuter rail tends to have lower-frequency service, typically focusing on peak-hour travel in peak directions. Commuter rail vehicles also often share track rights-of-way with freight rail, which may cause delays.

community context

  1. Tailor different segments of a service to the community context of each segment by allowing buses to move from mixed traffic in areas of low congestion, to priority lanes and dedicated BRT facilities in areas where high congestion could impair transit travel time and reliability. Similarly, LRT services can be tailored to different community contexts by running alignments below grade through busy downtown cores, in mixed streets through residential or commercial areas, on dedicated lanes along busy arterials, or through parks and squares, as needed.
  2. The need for an ideal, “typical” rapid transit cross section should not drive routing decisions. These should instead be based on the potential to attract and grow new ridership and the ability for new investments in transit to result in more transit-supportive environments.
  3. Plan transit in a way that complements or enhances existing community form. Provide connections across dedicated transit rights-of-way, where appropriate, to prevent transit infrastructure from acting as a barrier within the community.

3.1.2 Transit Scheduling

Schedule vehicles to provide frequent service that meets local demand, minimizes passenger transfer waiting times and reduces overcrowding.

Transit scheduling can have a significant impact on the level of convenience and comfort experienced by travellers, minimizing wait times and reducing crowding on local services. In an environment where transit is in constant competition with other modes of transportation, adjusting the frequency of transit service can play an important role in affecting traveller mode choice. In many places, the automobile is often chosen over transit because it is more convenient and comfortable, can be taken at any time of the day, and always offers a guaranteed seat. Transit service, on the other hand, is often limited to certain hours of the day, and even during those hours may require the rider to adjust their personal schedule or accept a longer wait for a vehicle. Moreover, on busy routes, vehicles may be crowded, forcing many passengers to stand.

Timely and comfortable service with minimal transfers is critical to attracting and retaining riders. Scheduling frequent service during periods of high demand and minimizing transfer waiting time are important strategies for increasing transit ridership. Higher-frequency service can also result in increased vehicle capacity, increasing passenger comfort on crowded routes.

The MUNI system in San Francisco has been designed to operate within a variety of urban contexts throughout the city.

Bunching can delay vehicles and preclude any advantage that an increase in service might provide. Measures such as signal priority and automatic vehicle location can keep vehicles evenly spaced.

Strategies:

service level targets

  1. Service level targets should be established, defining maximum vehicle ridership loads, wait times and transfer wait times. Different targets may be set for different vehicle types, geographic areas, seasons or times of day (peak or off-peak). They should reflect the transit agency’s ridership growth plan, as well as the service goals outlined in regional and municipal transportation master plans.

Evening service can help to boost overall ridership levels, enabling riders to take transit during the day and return via transit in the evening.

Evening service can help to boost overall ridership levels, enabling riders to take transit during the day and return via transit in the evening.

Mini-bus services at the Appleby GO Station in Oakville are coordinated with train arrival times to provide convenient, quick transfers for passengers heading to dispersed local businesses.

Mini-bus services at the Appleby GO Station in Oakville are coordinated with train arrival times to provide convenient, quick transfers for passengers heading to dispersed local businesses.

expanding service

  1. Service frequency or vehicle capacity (30-foot to 40-foot or articulated vehicles) should be increased if passenger counts exceed the transit agency’s established maximum acceptable capacity. Capacity may be measured in terms of average number of customers on-board or percentage of seated capacity at the busiest period.
  2. Bus bunching can arise due to a number of factors, such as traffic congestion or difficult road conditions. To avoid bus bunching, transit providers should consider implementing automatic vehicle location or conditional signal control and other transit priority measures (Guideline 2.2.5), especially when increasing service frequencies on routes with congestion or bad road conditions.
  3. Extending or increasing service in the evenings may boost ridership during the daytime by capturing trips that start during the day, but return late in the evening.

facilitating transfers

  1. Coordinate services and timetables between operators’ connecting routes when regular service changes are planned.
  2. Where multiple services are being coordinated at a transit node, focus coordination efforts on routes that are most heavily used and where transfers are common. Arrival of the first service should occur within 10 minutes or less of the departure of the connecting service, while still allowing enough time for passengers to transfer and accommodating late-running vehicles.
  3. Connections for services with high regular demand that serve a key destination should be scheduled for wait times of 5 minutes or less between the first service and the connecting service.

service review

  1. Develop a regular program of route reviews to evaluate a route’s service quality and set targets for service levels, frequency, overcrowding and transfer wait times. See more on performance monitoring in Guideline 3.2.1.

Route Service Frequencies

Vehicle Loading Standards

York Region Transit’s Service Frequency and Vehicle Loading Standards establish targets to evaluate the ridership loads and wait times. York Region Transit’s Service Frequency and Vehicle Loading Standards vary based on the type of transit service. Bus rapid transit VIVA Routes have frequent and limited stops. Base grid routes are available 7 days per week on all major east-west and north-south arterials. Local routes serve as feeder or neighbourhood circulation that feeds to the grid network and community buses provide dial-a-ride service.

 

  1. Performance data and observations should be compared to established service levels. Connection wait time data may be obtained from electronic fare payment (EFP) systems, while ridership load data for routes and route segments may be obtained from:
    • manual counts;
    • automated passenger counts;
    • EFP systems;
    • passenger surveys;
    • observations from operating staff; and
    • customer complaints and suggestions.

Winnipeg Transit’s Maximum Seated Capacity Practice

Weekday Peak: 150%

Off-Peak: 100%

Winnipeg Transit establishes service target levels based on different periods of the day. While off peak the standards aim to ensure that everyone can get a seat, during peak periods the standards are based on an assumption that it is acceptable for up to 1/3 of riders on each bus to have to stand.

Recommended Resources

The Canadian Transit Handbook, 3rd ed. – Chapter 6 (Canadian Urban Transit Association)

Traveler Response to System Changes – Chapter 9 (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

Transit Scheduling: Basic and Advanced Manuals (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

Elements Needed to Create High Ridership Transit Systems – Chapter 5 (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

reducing service

  1. If demand does not support the minimum frequency, decrease frequency or vehicle capacity, and invest operating savings on other routes in need of service improvements. However, transit systems should be aware that reducing service frequency may further reduce ridership. To maintain ridership, operators should set a minimum frequency standard for routes regardless of demand.
  2. Evaluate service changes regularly to ensure there is customer benefit. Recognize that customers perceive each component of a transit trip differently, so not all improvements are equally beneficial. For example, time spent waiting at a stop is considered more onerous than time spent on a moving vehicle.

Examples of Maximum Load Capacity:

Maximum numbers of riders on Toronto Transit Commission Vehicles

Maximum numbers of riders on Toronto Transit Commission Vehicles

3.1.3 Demand-Responsive Transit Services

Provide demand-responsive transit services for people who cannot use conventional fixed-route, fixed-schedule transit or to serve areas where conventional transit cannot be efficiently provided.

Demand-responsive transit refers to transit services with no formal designated routes or schedules. Instead, customers are picked up and dropped off at locations and times that are agreed upon by the customer and the transit agency. Transit providers may provide advance reservation for pick-ups and drop-offs, regular pre-arranged trips (subscription service) or same-day requests for service. Flexible transit systems are a variation of demand-responsive systems, where a main route or series of stops is designated, but deviations are permitted to respond to customers’ specific requests.

Demand-responsive and flexible transit may be more efficient alternatives where low population densities exist, or where trip-making is low during certain times. Demand-responsive service with fully accessible vehicles is essential to providing specialized transit for persons with disabilities and others who are not able to use conventional transit. This section describes strategies for improving operations of flexible and demand-responsive transit services. The Accessible Transportation Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will also require service improvements to specialized transit. Accessibility improvements for conventional transit are described in Guideline 3.4.1 of the document.

In 1998, fourteen Community Support Service agencies formed a partnership called Toronto Ride to provide community transportation services for seniors to healthcare appointments, programs such as adult day services, social outings and shopping. The agencies share resources to meet unmet rides by posting unmet rides on a shared information system and picking up rides as they are able according to a Memorandum of Understanding and Standard Operating Terms agreed on by its members. Approximately 185,000 rides are provided to about 5,000 clients annually.

In 1998, fourteen Community Support Service agencies formed a partnership called Toronto Ride to provide community transportation services for seniors to healthcare appointments, programs such as adult day services, social outings and shopping. The agencies share resources to meet unmet rides by posting unmet rides on a shared information system and picking up rides as they are able according to a Memorandum of Understanding and Standard Operating Terms agreed on by its members. Approximately 185,000 rides are provided to about 5,000 clients annually.

Strategies:

assessing demand

  1. Examine demographic and population characteristics along with patterns of land use to determine whether flexible or demand-responsive transit could be implemented to serve areas (or periods) with few trips, or riders with special mobility needs.

North Bay’s Dial-a-Cab Service

North Bay Transit serves about 50,000 people, providing about 45 rides per capita in 2003 with a 57% cost-recovery ratio. To minimize operating costs it offers a flexible dial-a-cab service in some areas of North Bay where fixed-route service does not make financial sense. Cab rides connect riders to bus routes. Riders who are travelling to or from dial-a-cab areas call the dispatcher to inform her/him of the bus stop they will be waiting at and at what time. Taxi pick up is coordinated with bus schedule times. Riders pay an additional $5.00.

Dial-a-Cab Service (City of North Bay)

Recommended Resources

Case Study: Rural Transit

A Guide to Preparing a Ridership Growth Plan (Ontario Ministry of Transportation)

The Canadian Transit Handbook, 3rd ed. – Chapter 3, Chapter 6 (Canadian Urban Transit Association)

Access ON (Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services)

Public Transit and Small Communities (Canadian Urban Transit Association)

Traveler Response to System Changes – Chapter 5, Chapter 6 (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

Toolkit for Integrating Non-Dedicated Vehicles in Paratransit Service (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

Guidebook for Rural Demand-Response Transportation: Measuring, Assessing, and Improving Performance (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

A Guide for Planning and Operating Flexible Public Transportation Services (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

enhancing access

  1. Subscription services such as vanpools or shuttle services may be provided to riders making trips on a regular schedule.
  2. Advance reservation systems should be used to organize and cluster trips at certain times for cost efficiency.
  3. To improve the usability of flexible and demand-responsive transit services, transit agencies should consider:
    • expanding reservation hours, reducing required pre-booking time or allowing reservations for multiple trips;
    • introducing same-day service;
    • introducing online trip booking or improving telephone booking, (e.g. decrease call hold time);
    • developing an interactive telephone system; and
    • working with employers to match services with schedules.

community outreach

  1. Community access to information can be improved by:
    • providing user-friendly online, telephone or paper information that provide general information, booking information, other service policies, etc;
    • providing real-time trip planning information and arrival times to customers and informing clients of delays;
    • offering information and education programs in collaboration with health care providers, senior citizen facilities, social services agencies, shopping centres, etc.; and
    • posting information on Dial-a-Ride and contact phone numbers on bus stop signs and at transit stations.
  2. Community outreach can be enhanced by providing forums for dialogue with the community and advocacy groups.

coordinating service

  1. Consider expanding the service area by improving inter-municipal trips and coordinating a common service policy, including harmonized hours, routes, transfer points and timing.
  2. All public transportation services within a community should be coordinated to expand or provide more efficient transit service. This can include coordination between conventional or specialized transit agencies; long-term care agencies; social service agencies; hospitals, ambulance and patient transfer operators; school boards and school bus companies; intercity bus companies; taxi operators; and volunteer groups.
  3. The level of coordination between agencies should be tailored to local conditions, and can include shared public information or referral, joint acquisition and sharing of supplies and services, use of excess capacity, joint use of resources, and centralized services for intake and dispatch.

3.1.4 Transit Travel Time

Minimize the impacts of travel delays by implementing transit priority measures, more efficient boarding procedures, and computer-aided dispatching.

Congestion, variable dwell times and unexpected incidents can cause transit travel times to be slow and unpredictable, making transit less attractive to travellers who will naturally compare travel times against those of private vehicle users. Vehicles that travel in (or cross through) mixed traffic, such as buses, bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit (LRT) or streetcars, are susceptible to these delays. Vehicle dwell times at stops and stations are another source of variable and unpredictable delay.

The travel time uncertainty of these delays is often exacerbated by bunching of vehicles. This happens when delayed vehicles pick up more passengers and experience increasing dwell times. Fewer passengers are then left for the next transit vehicle, which thus experiences shorter dwell times and eventually catches up to the delayed vehicle.

By providing transit priority in mixed traffic conditions, such as dedicated lanes, queue jump lanes or signal priority, transit travel time can be reduced, and travel time reliability can be improved. This can be particularly effective and have the greatest impact in areas of existing congestion. Measures to speed up boarding times such as efficient fare payment systems can also improve travel time while computer aided dispatch (CAD) and automatic vehicle locator (AVL) systems can improve response to vehicle delays, collisions and breakdowns.

Pre-pay boarding facilities, such as this example in London, can greatly shorten boarding time for passengers.

Pre-pay boarding facilities, such as this example in London, can greatly shorten boarding time for passengers.

Strategies:

transit priority in mixed traffic

  1. Dedicated lanes and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes give transit vehicles a clear route to bypass congestion. If a continuous dedicated lane is not available, right-turn lanes may be used as queue jump lanes for buses, so that they may reach intersections or bus stops more quickly. Buses in queue jump lanes should be provided a priority signal to proceed ahead of the regular traffic stream (Guideline 2.2.5).
  2. Consider setting signal timing plans to suit transit schedules and travel speeds. This strategy is referred to as “passive signal priority”.
  3. Active signal priority, where traffic signals are activated by a street-located sensor or by an in-vehicle transmitter, may be implemented. The priority logic may consider transit vehicle schedule adherence, for example, providing priority only for transit vehicles that are behind schedule, or may be implemented only at certain times or for certain routes, such as express routes. Signal timing plans may also be optimized to consider real-time general traffic conditions.

Multiple-door boarding found in proof-of-payment systems allows for quicker boarding times.

Multiple-door boarding found in proof-of-payment systems allows for quicker boarding times.

Grand River Transit’s iXpress is a limited-stop express bus service. By limiting the number of stops to 13 stations along a 33 km corridor, the system is able to provide a convenient, efficient service connecting the centres of Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge.

Grand River Transit’s iXpress is a limited-stop express bus service. By limiting the number of stops to 13 stations along a 33 km corridor, the system is able to provide a convenient, efficient service connecting the centres of Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge.

Recommended Resources

Case Study: Mid-Sized Community Transit

Case Study: Growing Transit Ridership

A Guide to Preparing a Ridership Growth Plan (Ontario Ministry of Transportation)

The Canadian Transit Handbook, 3rd ed. – Chapter 14 (Canadian Urban Transit Association)

Arterial HOV Facilities in Canada (Canadian Urban Transit Association)

Traveler Response to System Changes – Chapter 2 (Transit Cooperative Research Program)

boarding efficiency

  1. Allowing passengers to board and alight through multiple doors can greatly shorten passenger boarding times. To enable this, a proof-of-payment system must be in place so that the driver is not required to collect and inspect fares, transfers and passes for users that enter through rear doors.
  2. Boarding efficiency may be improved by implementing electronic fare payment (EFP) systems, which reduce fare handling requirements of the driver. EFP also reduces fare evasion.
  3. Low-floor vehicles can reduce dwell times and improve travel times by enabling passengers to board more quickly.
  4. Consider implementing precision docking technology to enable vehicles to align themselves in the correct position at stops and stations. The vehicle doors will open at the same place every time, so passengers can align themselves correctly and thus speed up boarding. At stations with platforms, a level, gap-free alignment will allow for direct wheelchair access from the loading platform (without a ramp).
  5. Where appropriate, increase the distance between stops by consolidating stops or providing limited-stop or express service to increase bus travel speeds, and to improve passenger comfort by reducing the amount of acceleration and deceleration required. This strategy should be balanced against longer travel distances to stops, as well as longer dwell times resulting from more passengers boarding and alighting at each stop. Locating bus stops at the far side of the intersection allow buses to move through a green signal speeding up travel time.

responding to delays

  1. Consider using a CAD system with AVL to enable dispatchers and supervisors to monitor and respond to delays, improving schedule adherence, and protecting transit connections.

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