The Importance of Successful Bus-Rail Interfaces
In the past twenty years many new light and heavy rail systems have come on line in the United States, including lines in Los Angeles , St Louis, Minnneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte. Others have expanded existing systems, including San Diego, Sacramento, and Dallas. However, since light rail can serve only a small number of the total transit destinations in a given area, bus service will continue to remain important even in cities with robust rail systems. In order to make the most out of both transit modes, effective intermodal connections must be present at rail stations. Without effective connections, transit passengers will at best be stranded at the station and at worst have to endure unnecessary additional transfer time.
Low Frequencies Make Intermodal Connections Imperative
The need for intermodal connections has become even more imperative due to the relatively low frequencies at which these new systems for the most part operate. While traditional heavy rail networks such as the New York subway operate trains as often as every two minutes in the peak period, the norm for light rail lines that have opened in the past twenty years has been to operate every fifteen minutes, even during rush hours. A poorly times bus - rail connection could leave passengers waiting up to fourteen minutes for a train during the peak period; choice riders, whom most agencies desire to attract, are unlikely to put up with that kind of service for long.
The Number of Park-and-Ride Lots Is Likely to Decline in the Future
Many agencies seek to avoid this problem by constructing large parking lots at especially terminal stations. However, the provision of parking conflicts with the stated goals of many of these systems to increase transit oriented development: after all, there is limited space within walking distance of the station platform. In addition, the presence of a rail line often increases nearby property values , meaning that a parking lot may not be the "highest and best use of the land". As dense transit oriented development seems to meet the goals of the now popular "smart growth" trend better than large parking lots catering to the automobile, it is likely that future rail systems will offer less parking than is available now. Because of this trend, more passengers are likely to at least desire to arrive at stations in the future by bus rather than driving; in fact, better bus service at stations that currently have a large number of parking spaces may drive a shift in the modal share of how passengers arrive at rail stations from car to bus.
Bus-Rail Interfaces Negatively Affected by Lack of Service Span Coordination
There are at least two major problems that currently impede adequate bus / rail connections at light rail stations. The first problem is the lack of service span coordination. Many light rail systems operate later into the evening than the bus service that serves the stations, leaving people who did not park their cars at the station no alternative but to walk to their final destination in potentially unsafe areas. Two recent systems that epitomize this problem are Phoenix and Salt Lake City. In both the above cities, light rail lines operate as late as 1 AM on the weekends. However, in Salt Lake City bus service ends around 10:00 PM Monday through Saturday and as early as 7:00 PM, if the route is even operating that day. Phoenix does a little better: its' routes operate until 11:00 PM in the city of Phoenix and later in Tempe. On the other extreme, the Toronto Transit Commission operates all bus routes on the same service span as the subway. In Toronto, as long as you board a subway train then you are guaranteed you will be able to take a bus to your final destination. Los Angeles is in between the two extremes: some stations feature timed transfers to the end of the train service day (most notably North Hollywood), while others have no bus connections after a certain time or even at all.
Bus-Rail Interfaces Negatively Affected by Lack of Route Coordination
The other major problem is lack of route coordination between the light rail line and the local bus network. Often the local bus network is not realigned to allow passengers the opportunity to take advantage of the rail system; in extreme cases the local bus network competes with the rail system. Both of these issues can cause ridership along the rail line to not be as robust as originally anticipated. A great example of how this lack of route coordination can hinder ridership is found in Los Angeles. The Orange Line, which is operated by buses but is in all other respects similar to a rail line, is paralleled throughout its length by Rapid Route #750 on Ventura Blvd. Both routes start at Warner Center and end at a subway station on the same line. In fact, actual riding experience shows that Route #750, which operates along a surface street, is a faster way to arrive at the subway than the Orange Line, which has its own right of way. More importantly, even if the Orange Line were faster there is no easy way to travel to the high density districts along Ventura Blvd. from the Orange Line. Again, the Toronto Transit Commission offers a great example of rail / bus route coordination: not only do 99% of bus routes connect with one of the Toronto subway lines, many bus routes are designed to feed into the subway as quickly as possible. Many major streets parallel to a subway line have different bus routes running along them every couple of miles so that passengers can reach a subway station as quickly as possible. While through traffic along the street is impacted, as most passengers desire to ride the subway few riders are negatively impacted by this particular route design.
Three Tips for Better Bus-Rail Interfaces
In conclusion, to make the most out of your expensive rail line your bus system must have good connections to it to ease transferring. Three good practices to achieve these connections are as follows:
- If the bus route and/or rail line operates less frequently than every ten minutes, then schedule a timed connection between the bus route and the rail line at the station. Of the recently built light rail systems Denver does an excellent job of providing these connections.
- Consider expanding the service span of at least some of your bus routes to match the service span of the light rail line. Not only will the additional connections make late night and early morning rail service more productive, but the presence of additional people and vehicles at often deserted late night stations is likely to improve security at the stations as well. If you have already spent $1 billion to construct your rail line, then is it not worth an additional $100 per bus revenue hour to make the most of it?
- Consider redesigning your bus route network to better serve your rail stations. Certainly all bus lines perpendicular to the rail line should serve a station. In addition, deviating parallel bus lines to certain heavily utilized stations up to one mile away from their regular path could significantly improve connectivity of the entire network.