How It’s Made: Public Transit Schedules

How It's Made with a public transit schedule in the background

Schedules are a necessity for riding any form of public transit. They not only tell you when the next vehicle is coming, but they also govern the two major operating costs associated with transit: vehicle work assignments called blocks, and operator work assignments called a duty.

Public transit schedules started out and still are printed on paper. This means new schedules have to be printed for every change in arrival time or a route. But with the advent of trip planning apps, the humble paper public transit schedule is a new creation. It’s now a massive digital repository, which puts the world’s transit schedules at your fingertips. Despite the differences in scale, both types of schedules (printed and digital) are still made the same way: in a transit agency.

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Transit’s Need for Speed

Public transit agencies need faster transit

Speed is frequency’s best friend

The “Frequency is Freedom” gospel promoted by Jarrett Walker has quickly spread through the entire public transit industry. His gospel preaches the importance of providing frequent service as a means of “liberating” passengers. Hallelujah.

Frequent transit service reduces wait time, makes transferring easier, and hides reliability problems. More so, the frequency narrative competes with the popular notion that cars are the only mode of freedom. Preaching freedom is much more effective than selling transit on the merits of efficiency, or equity.

I believe in the “Frequency is Freedom” notion, but frequency alone does not make a great transit system. Frequency needs to be accompanied by speed. Speed is the catalyst for achieving frequency.

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Untangling Transit Spaghetti

Untangling Transit Spaghetti

Too often, public transit networks are too complex. On a map, these lines look like a plate of spaghetti. Spaghetti is delicious, but it doesn’t make for a good transit network design. Complexity results from having too many competing route choices. Too much route choice is inefficient, and is overwhelming for users.

A Recipe for Spaghetti

What leads to transit spaghetti lines? One-seat rides, and route-focused design.

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