Transit Glossary: Bus Terminology

NovaBUS Articulated Bus

(c) 2013 C. Walton

The bus industry, like any other industry, has its terminology for daily operations.  There are exceptions to the rule as well as numerous variations to terms by region, but nevertheless the concepts are the same.

Here’s a listing of a few bus terms used by fans and industry professionals alike.  Note that some of these terms are Bus Rapid Transit specific, but most are applicable to any type of bus service.

  • headway:  Usually referred to as the general amount of minutes between one bus and another bus.  If a local bus is scheduled to arrive at a bus stop at 8:00, 8:10, 8:20, and 8:30, the headway on this route is 10 minutes.
  • interval:  Sometimes used synonymously with “headway,” but can also be one particular bus on the schedule with a set departure at the beginning of the line and arrival at the end of a line.  An operator that is starting is day may be the 8:00 bus at the beginning of the line, while another operator already on duty will be the 8:10 bus.  “Interval” can be used synonymously with “trip.”
  • trip:  Depending on who you talk to, a trip can be described as either operating in service from the beginning of the line to the end of the line or from beginning to end and back.
  • run:  In most bus systems, a run is a bus operator’s piece of work, his assignment for the day.  Some systems refer to a run as a given assignment for several months which includes what work an operator does on specific days of the week (often called a “job” in other places).  A run can involve an operator to do two trips before lunch and one trip after lunch 5 days a week.
  • branch or branch-off:  Some bus routes have more than one destination with regular service, thus having alternating buses serve both terminals or certain trips serve one terminal more than the other(s).  Such an example would be NJ Transit’s #34 from Newark to Bloomfield/Montclair, where the 34B Newark-Bloomfield and 34M Newark-Montclair alternate from downtown Newark.
  • short-trip or short-turn:  Some buses don’t go all the way to the end of a line.  Usually scheduled, but sometimes at will by line dispatchers, some buses terminate just short of the end of the full line.  For example, Los Angeles Metro’s 720-Wilshire/Whittier Rapid runs all the way from Downtown Santa Monica to Downtown Commerce, but many 720 buses only operate as far east as Downtown Los Angeles or as far west as Westwood.  On a busy route like NYC Transit’s M101 Limited, some buses are short-turned at 161 Street/Amsterdam Ave in order to send buses back down for more even headways.  M101 buses travel north on Third Avenue and get caught in traffic in Midtown and East Harlem, necessitating buses to be turned around before the end of the line in Fort George.
  • transit signal priority, or TSP:  This technology allows for buses to keep a green light longer at an intersection for a late bus to get back on schedule.  TSP is also used to shorten the traffic light cycle on a cross-street in order to phase in a green light faster to allow the bus to keep moving and maintain its schedule.
  • swing:  This is basically an operator’s break between the first half of the day and the second half of the day.  The operator’s meal break or lunch hour.
  • tripper:  Sometimes a bus route based out of one garage may not have enough buses or manpower to provide a necessary trip or interval, so a bus and operator from another garage will compensate and return to that garage or to a route based out of that garage.  It is said to do a “one-tripper” or “tripper” on that line.  Trippers can be operated during the rush hours, late at night, or during school hours.  Such an example would include NYC Transit’s Bx40/Bx42 lines, based out of Gun Hill Bus Depot, with an after-school tripper using a bus based out of the West Farms Bus Depot.
  • split-shift or split:  Some bus operators have 3-4 hours one one route in the morning rush hour, and then 3-4 more hours on the same route for the evening rush hour.  The split refers to the several hours in the middle of the shift.  A split-shift is a shift that has this long break in between halves.  Most express or commuter bus lines have runs with split shifts, being that these bus lines primarily serve commuters travelling during the peak hours.
  • deadhead:  Buses often run with no passengers from the bus garage to the beginning of a line or from the end of a line back to the bus garage.  Sometimes, the bus might run out of service from the end of one line to the beginning of another line in order to make a trip that would otherwise not be completed.
  • dedicated bus lane:   One or two lanes designated for the use of buses during the busiest hours of the day to make trips faster.  Usually, they are a different color from the general travel lanes, often red.  When the bus lanes are in effect, only buses can use them, but traffic making the next available right turn may use it as well.  When the lanes aren’t in effect, anyone can use them for parking or general travel.
  • exclusive bus lane:  One or two lanes designated and designed for the exclusive use of buses at all times.  Sometimes, these lanes are painted, while others are marked for exclusive bus usage.  There are some exclusive bus lanes on elevated roadways, often called busways, and some lanes take up entire streets, often reducing roadway width and increasing sidewalk size.
  • paddle:  This is basically an outline of what route the operator will work and what trips he is scheduled to make.  It often shows when his meal period is, when the bus is supposed to reach certain timepoints on the schedule, and when he signs on and off.
  • timepoints:  Timepoints are used to give the bus operator and passengers a reference to where a bus is supposed to be along the route at a given time.

These are some of the more common basic terms used by busfans and bus operators alike.  There shall be another post with more terms if any others come to mind.  For now, though, the next installment will be full of rail terminology.

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