Information is the best tool a public transportation agency can provide to attract prospective and keep existing patrons. Public transportation agencies in cities around the world realize this as they rush to add Passenger Information Signs (PIS) at transit stations and route stops to display next bus arrival time as well as other information concerning delays. Cities may also be installing GPS systems such as the Vancouver Next Bus which allows patrons to track the real time position of the next bus on for a route. Information is power for transit users as it can give peace of mind, permit time savings, and most importantly allow patrons to decide if their cities’ public transportation system works for them.
According to Jarrett Walker prospective patrons of a cities’ public transportation require several basic pieces of information to determine if it will be useful for them:
1. Does my public transportation network get me where I want to go?
2. When can my public transportation network get me where I need to go? This has two parts:
a) Frequency – How often does a particular public transportation route come?
b) Operating range – What range of times does my public transportation network operate?
3. How quickly can my public transportation network get me where I need to go?
A cities’ public transportation system network maps are often overly complicated, tending to overwhelm prospective patrons without providing the basic information on how effective the system is for a variety of purposes. Often cities will only make the distinction between peak (operating at rush hour) and regular services. The below image was taken from the City of Edmonton system network map.
Snapshot of the City of Edmonton public transportation system network map (City of Edmonton, 2012) – All routes are given equal weight.
The blue lines in the image above represent the various system routes (the magenta are peak services). According to the map it would appear as if all routes are equally useful. However this is not the case, just as how roads have high capacity roads (multi-lane highways/freeways) and low capacity roads (two lane local community roads), transit networks have high quality routes with high frequency and large operating ranges and regular services.
Google Map of Edmonton’s road network – from this map you can clearly tell that some roads are more important others due to the line width and color coding.
One way to provide patrons with the information on these high quality network routes is to construct a frequent network map as I have attempted to do. How does one go about constructing a frequent network map? First you have to define what a frequent route is, in this case it is a route with a minimum frequency of 15 minutes that operates Monday-Friday 6am-10pm, Saturday 8:30am-8:45pm, and Sunday 10:15am-6:30pm. The operating range was determined by looking at the routes that operate at 15 minute frequencies and finding the greatest overlap of operating ranges for all routes. For Edmonton the backbone of the frequent network is made of routes 1,4,5,6,8,9 and the LRT. The full city of Edmonton frequent network map can be found here. This does not mean that these routes do not operate at greater frequency that 15 minutes, or for larger operating ranges. This also does not mean that other routes will not operate at 15 minute frequencies, it does however mean that they do not sustain these frequencies for the the entire frequent network operating range.
City of Edmonton Frequent Network Map – this map clearly shows the most useful and frequent framework of routes (orange).
The same image from above now clearly shows that some routes are more useful than others due to the orange color coding and larger line width. This map clearly demonstrates to prospective patrons the most useful core routes to serve their needs. It answers questions the questions of where and when will my public transportation system take you and with one further step by looking up the route information from the Edmonton Transit System (ETS) website you can determine how quickly you can get there. This network map demonstrates the routes that will most likely support spontaneous public transportation travel matching the ability of the private automobile. The map also displays all the basic information such as route numbers at key network stations and transfer points. In addition to this you can generally determine how easily you can access the frequent network map from areas not serviced by it.
By providing prospective patrons with the key information of how useful the transit network is to them, you save them the frustration that can come from trying to find out themselves. With readily accessible information you increase the chance of attracting new patrons.