NACTO. (2022). Move! That! Bus! Tactics for Transforming Transit in Two Years.
One important action to improve transit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions may be getting riders on the bus. Bus trips produce 82 percent fewer GHG emissions than a personal car trip. More than half of American car trips are less than five miles, and effective bus service could replace a substantial number of these trips.
The bus offers exceedingly cheap and flexible service that is quick to implement. A new bus service can be fully activated within two years utilizing existing infrastructure. In comparison, rail infrastructure can take several years and significant amounts of capital and land to build.
In 2021, NACTO gathered transit professionals from 89 cities and identified the bus as one of the key components to substantially upgrade transit and reduce climate impacts. The NACTO working group identified four principles to be followed, and three actions to be taken, to increase reliability and accessibility of bus service and bring in new riders.
First, the principles:
Transit is a public service not a business. Service should be prioritized over the farebox; effective service attracts more riders, making transit more safe, accessible, sustainable, and equitable.
More frequent bus service means more freedom. Frequencies of 15 minutes or better and all-day service substantially increase the attractiveness of the service and give people the freedom to access the service at any time.
People have jobs, lives, and transportation needs outside of 9-to-5. Our pandemic experience has shown us that traditional commuting isn’t the only travel need to be served. The vast majority of trips (84%!) are not commuting, but bus service often focuses on the “peak” rush hours. Adapting service to focus on all riders brings them onto the bus.
Streets that work for transit work better for everyone. Transit streets allow buses to move more quickly and to maintain schedules. Well-designed streets can substantially reduce the number of conflicts for all road users.
With these principles in mind, NACTO recommends three steps (actions) to achieve bus service at an effective level within two years:
1. Offer frequent all day service.
All day frequent service makes transit more accessible and accessibility drives ridership. Frequent all-day service substantially reduces wait times and potential crowding on peak buses.
To better provide all-day service transit agencies should:
Change service to increase frequency and service span. Adding buses to routes increases predictability. This change can be active within months of taking action and results can be easily tracked with data.
Redesign bus networks to expand access. Buses need to go where people go; routing buses to reflect where people live, work, and engage in daily activities draws ridership. Implementation can take time as agencies should fully engage with the community to see how route changes affect current riders.
Invest in More Service. To achieve high frequency, all-day service, and effective coverage, significant investment must be made in transit agency operations. Cities may directly invest money into the agency to improve service levels. Funding referendums that utilize taxes and fees on sales, property, or other fiscal sources can be another source of transit funding.
2. Redesign streets to prioritize transit service.
Getting buses out of traffic is key to having a system that is predictable and effective. Partnerships between the agencies with road jurisdiction and transit agencies can leverage efforts that allow buses to run more efficiently. Agencies can work together by coordinating staffing and budgets, standardizing tools and design standards, and sharing data. NACTO identified five main tools to improve streets for better bus service:
Dedicated Bus Lanes. Bus lanes provide a permanent space for buses to operate outside of traffic. Dedicated lanes allow buses to operate more like rail and indicate ongoing transit activity in the area, helping people to recognize routes. Such lanes can be quick to plan and build, implemented first with paint and then upgraded with barriers and other infrastructure over time.
Spot Improvements. Utilizing shared data, agencies can identify conflict points that hinder the movement of buses. Partners can quickly address these delay hotspots by utilizing signage, paint, and bollards—work that can evolve into more permanent structures. Other improvements include turn restrictions, sizing bus stops to allow for acceleration, and short bus lanes that allow buses to bypass traffic in certain areas.
Transit Signal Priority. Buses move at a pace different from personal automobiles and often traffic signal timing designed for the movement of cars negatively affects bus operations. Transit agencies and local governments can coordinate to adjust light cycles to give buses signal priority.
Bus Stop Balancing. When bus stops are too far apart, people are less likely to use the stop as they find it too far of a walk. When bus stops are too close to each other, the bus travels too slowly as it makes frequent stops. When finding the balance for stop distance, the partners can prioritize other bus routes, major points of interest, and high priority areas that serve individuals who need transit, such as older adults and people with disabilities.
Safe Connections to Bus Stops. A key component to riding the bus is getting to the bus stop. Making the paths to the stop safe and secure for all bus riders can make people feel comfortable getting there, and providing shade and seating allows people to wait comfortably.
3. Adopt policy reforms that support transit.
Policies that support people living closer to transit can help promote the use of transit and limit the impact of cars. When people and opportunities are closer together, transit can function more effectively and better serve its riders. Such changes can also help transit function better financially.
NACTO recommended three policy improvements to improve ridership:
Price Parking Based on Demand. Free parking does a disservice to local transit by providing an incentive to drive; drivers contribute to congestion when looking for those free spaces. Managing the curb through effective pricing policy helps to dissuade people from driving into busy transit-heavy areas and encourages them to use other transportation modes like the bus.
Price Congestion. Space on our city streets is limited. One way to reduce the number of vehicles on our streets is through congestion pricing, or charging when a vehicle enters an area. Increasing the cost of driving in congested locations encourages people to take transit or to carpool when traveling to these places. Reducing the number of vehicles on city streets opens up more space for buses to operate more effectively.
Adopt Zoning Reforms. A key to encouraging transit is developing land uses oriented toward transit. Transit-friendly zoning would require no parking or less parking for new buildings and support more density near transit facilities.
With more people and opportunities near transit and fewer places to park for free, people will be more likely to use transit as a part of their daily lives.