Transit Glossary: Bus Service

B6 Bus

The fundamentals

We have all ridden buses at some point in time.  Whether in a large city like New York, NY or a small town like Reading, PA, the concept of a bus is practically the same:  to transport people from point A to point B, sometimes with a transfer at point C.  While buses aren’t convenient for everyone, they often pick people up or drop them off close to home, school, work, or play.  There are many different types of bus services, many different types of buses, and many different types of bus clientele.  Yet, the fundamentals are the same.  There are two main types of transit bus service:

  1. Fixed-route bus service.  This basically means that a bus or buses are assigned to work a route which has a starting point, multiple stops along the way, and an end point on a route that does not change, except for detours.  The buses can be any size depending on the ridership needs.  Service usually runs 5-7 days a week and can either have a set fare or can be determined by distance.
  2. Demand-response or flexible bus service.  This basically means that a bus can go almost anywhere within a given service area without a particular route or direction and is based on where a person or group of of people want to go.  This type of bus service usually employs smaller buses or vans and taxis to allow for travel to areas where regular bus service isn’t feasible.  Some demand-response services have a generic fixed route to follow but allow for deviations of a quarter of a mile off the route to pick up and drop off passengers closer to their destination.

Fixed-route bus service

Most of the world is served by fixed-route bus service, whether it’s a local bus or an express bus of sorts.  Here is a breakdown of bus service in North America:

  1. Local bus service.  This is your typical run-of-the-mill bus service.  Runs 5-7 days a week (in some cases less than that), makes frequent stops, usually every 2-3 city blocks or every 300-600 feet, and with various service frequencies.  Local buses can run every 2 minutes or every 120 minutes, can run all day or only 5 times a day.  Some local buses have multiple branches, while some buses on a line travel a shorter distance than others.
  2. Limited-stop service.  This is a lot like a local bus, but makes less stops than a local, can run 5-7 days a week (in some cases less than that), and sometimes runs more frequently than a local bus.  In most places, limited-stop buses run the entire length of a local bus line, while some only travel along the busiest part of a local bus line.
  3. Express bus service.  Express buses vary from city to city, but most express bus service offer faster service than local or even a limited-stop service with longer spacing between stops.  Most express buses run less often than local or limited-stop, but some cater to those who are travelling longer distances as opposed to shorter distances otherwise provided to local buses.
  4. Commuter bus service.  Commuter buses, sometimes called express buses in some cities, offer near-non-stop service from a suburb to the central business district of a city in the morning peak hours and from the city to the suburbs in the afternoon peak hours.  These buses are usually more comfortable and more amenities than a local bus.  Usually, no local passengers are taken as this service is marketed strictly to people needing an alternative to driving to work.
  5. Bus Rapid Transit bus service.  More like a train than a bus, this term is given to limited-stop or express bus service that is flexible in terms of providing access from many locations but has the speed and reliability of a rail system without huge upfront capital costs.  Bus rapid transit, or BRT, can be rail-like with a guideway strictly for buses or simply dedicated bus lanes on major roadways.  The vehicles are usually high-capacity standard or stylized buses but can be standard buses with stylized looks for a more attractive-looking service.  Sometimes, BRT systems have a brand associated with them, while others are integrated into the bus network.

Demand-response bus service

The rest of the bus world consists of demand-response bus service.  These buses can be deployed or dismantled at any time, but are usually simpler and less involving than fixed-route bus systems with regards to infrastructure.  Here are some types that are used in North America:

  1. FLEX bus service.  This type of bus service can have a fixed route from a major transit center or rail station to outlying areas where regular bus service isn’t feasible.  The difference, however, is that buses can deviate off the route for a given distance, usually 1/4 mile, to better serve remote destinations.  Fares are usually the same as local buses or can be distance-based.
  2. Paratransit.  Professional-assisted transportation is usually available in most cities, which allows elderly or disabled persons to use transportation that can take them wherever they need to go within a transit system’s service area.  This service cost the same as a local fare or can be twice to three times the local bus fare for door-to-door service.  This service is reserved for those who cannot take regular buses or rail service for medical or physical reasons and usually requires an application for the service.  This isn’t a bus service, per se, but most transit systems do have paratransit as an option for those who cannot use regular transit.
  3. Campus shuttles.  Depending on the type of shuttle provided, some are fixed route, but most are operated at the request of the student body or the administration to best transport students to their classes or dormitories.  They are usually free to students and faculty only, but some services are also open to the public.  These are usually run by the college or contracted out to a charter company.
  4. Corporate shuttles.  These are usually run by major corporations for their employees who wish not to commute entirely via public transportation.  They are usually charter, luxury, or “cutaway” buses with motorcoach amenities.

So where do motorcoach services fall?

There are two types of services used exclusively by motorcoaches:

  1. Line-Haul bus services.  This can be grouped under the fixed-route bus service category.  Whether intercity or intrastate, these bus services us motorcoaches for the purpose of providing scheduled express bus service between multiple cities and between cities and major tourist attractions.  These services run daily with non-stop service or with a few stops, not including rest stops on the highway.
  2. Charter services.  This is a demand-response service, where groups can call charter or tour bus companies and request a bus for their transportation needs anywhere in the country and into Canada or Mexico.  Most charter buses are 47- to 55-seaters (40- to 45-footers), though some buses are smaller for more intimate charter experiences (usually about 20-40 people per bus).  Most charter bus companies, mainly those who are licensed to do interstate charter work, allow for buses to be chartered for the day or for several days, but intrastate companies usually offer bus transportation for the day or a weekend.

In the next installment, I will go over some terms used in the industry and even among busfans.  Stay tuned…

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One Response to Transit Glossary: Bus Service

  1. Click Here says:

    I love how detailed your post is.

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