Why do we prefer trains over buses? Maybe there is magic in steel wheels, but there are also practical reasons. The more that buses can mimic trains, then they might get more riders per dollar spent than trains!

Say you see a random bus. Is it an option for you? Not if you don’t know where it came from, where it is going, or how often it comes by. A train track passively informs us where we can get on and off. How can buses be more like trains? Here are Metro Analytics’ “8-Fs” for creating “bus tracks” nearly as visible and potentially much more popular and influential on economic development, per dollar spent, than trains.

  1. Frequent – Make sure service is frequent enough for the market you are targeting.
  2. Familiar – Branded “bus tracks,” etc., help more people become passively aware of their transit options.
  3. Fares – Match the market rather than repel it.  “Free” should be considered, as it can double riders.
  4. Fast – Reduce time spent stuck in congestion, waiting at stops, getting to stops, and boarding.
  5. Focused – Avoid circuitous routes and low-value diversions. Direct routes are easy to remember.
  6. Fun – Attractive vehicles, stops, & creative marketing remove stigmas.
  7. Fusion – With land use.  Create walkable, high-density, connected infill near stops.
  8. Frugal – Avoid ribbon-cutting glamour. Minimizing COM cost per rider = more riders for same cost!*

*COM = Annualized Capital + Operating + Maintenance costs, or the “full cost”

We elaborate on these concepts in this white paper entitled “The Eights” of Making Buses More Like Trains! Additional topics in the paper include:

  • 8 Rules for Creating Multi-Route Branded Corridor Segments (a strategy for creating an “almost no-cost track” where 2 or more routes happen to overlap).
  • 8 Transit Enhancements to Attract Riders
  • 8 Strategies to Minimize Operational Costs and Acquire Operating Funds
  • 8 Rubber-Tire Vehicle Styles That Could Work Well for Circulation
  • 8 Examples of Branded Bus Corridors in the US and Australia

To be clear, trains may well be the right solution for many situations.  We are not “anti- train!”  These are ideas to help you get greater return on your investment in buses – the lion’s share of most systems.


Mike is president of Metro Analytics and frequent author at Strong Towns. Strengths include Travel Demand Forecasting, Data Visualization, Place-Making Intersections, and Big Picture multi-modal solutions.

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