Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Frequency Vs. Coverage

If we lived in a perfect world, a transit agency would not only be able to provide both an extensive network of core bus routes running frequently and a network of lines that is able to blanket the area with coverage.

However, few transit agencies have the resources to provide both and  with as budgets continue to be squeezed and the future of federal funding in doubt, transit agencies are having to squeeze where ever they can. The question that transit agencies and the citizens it serves has to answer do we provide the best service possible to the busiest routes or do they provide the most coverage possible?

People waiting for a bus 
Here are some pro's and con's to each service. Like previous pro and con postings, I will only point out some important pros and cons to each and if you have one that you think should also be considered be sure to throw it out in the comments.

First lets do the pros and cons of coverage:


The one major pro with a coverage network is that most people should be able to access a bus route both at home and to work. Until the 90's many transit systems focused on coverage to ensure that they could serve the maximum number of people possible. Even if you lived in far flung suburbs so long as you lived in the transit area you would have service.


The biggest con is that if you are providing service to far flung areas of the system, the chances are you can only provide mediocre service. Everyone may have service but the busiest routes will not have the resources to have the amount of frequency that is demanded which will lower ridership potential.

A second con is that your bus routes will perform poorly overall. While some routes will have good ridership their ridership will be hampered by the lack of enough frequency while you run routes to areas with limited to no ridership potential.

This leads to a third con and that is the empty bus syndrome. People who already have a bent against transit will see lots of buses running around empty and will guess that they all run empty so "no body rides transit". Of course these people would say it anyway but you are just giving them some added ammunition.

Transit Center in Miami. 
Now lets look at a service network:


The biggest pro is that routes that have the most potential will have the best service. You focus your resources on routes that are winners. By creating a network of frequent service lines you create market synergies because a customer knows that if they miss one bus the next one will not be far away.

The second positive is that performance of the overall network will be better because you will be concentrating your resources where your ridership potential is the highest. Your resources are being concentrated where they will get the most use.


The major con is that there is some people who will lose bus service and of course they will not be happy. Even a route that has week ridership will have people screaming up a storm if you try to cut the route. For those who want to use transit service it can limit the choices you have in housing.

Beaverton Transit Center, Beaverton, Oregon Trimet Route 57 is a frequent service line along TV-Highway from Beaverton to Forest Grove. 
When Seattle first started working on a major revamp of bus service for September the numbers were telling. 4000 riders would be affected by routes being cut. Now I am not saying that these people don't count. However, it was point out that the routes that were going to see increase service with the modifications served about 50 times that number or more.

Sadly some needed decisions in Seattle were put off in order to keep everyone happy and ironically some of the people who complained will have less service (the current service) than they would have if the changes had taken effect.

It would be wonderful if we had the best of both worlds, were we could provide extremely frequent service to the busiest areas of the network and good coverage across the service area. Hopefully the day will come when both types of services can be provided.


busplanner said...

In addition to service network (frequency) and (geographic coverage, I believe there are two other issues to planning a transit system that need to be considered in the debate.

1. Temporal coverage (span of service; days of service). If an employer has an 11 AM to 8 PM shift seven days a week (with rotating days off for employees), service needs to be provided during those time frames seven days a week or you are not going to capture the employees on the system on weekdays; because they need a car for the weekends.

2. Specific attention to major employer shift times. If a company with 300 employees lets out a second shift at 11 PM and the hourly night bus comes by at 10:50 PM or 11:50 PM, it may pay to add a trip at 11:10 pm (assuming ten minutes to punch out and reach the bus stop) or you've lost the second shift workers.

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