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October 16, 2007
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APTA > Industry Information > Transit Statistics > Bus and Trolleybus Statistics  

Bus and Trolleybus Definitions

The vast majority of scheduled fixed-route transit service operates in bus and trolleybus modes on streets and highways using rubber-tired vehicles.  In all but about 50 metropolitan areas and small cities, bus service is the only fixed-route transit service available.

A mode is a system for carrying transit passengers described by specific right-of-way, technology and operational features.  Major fixed-route roadway modes are:

Bus mode uses vehicles powered by diesel, gasoline, battery or alternative fuel engines contained within the vehicle.

Trolleybus mode uses vehicles propelled by a motor drawing current from overhead wires via a connecting pole called a trolley from a central power source not on board the vehicle.

Only 4 transit agencies in the Boston, MA, Dayton, OH, San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA areas use trolleybus service. Although Southeastern Pennsylvania Trans-portation Authority in Philadelphia, PA reported trolleybus data for fiscal year 2003, all of these routes are now serviced using motor buses.

Jitney is a transit mode comprised of passenger cars or vans operating on fixed routes (sometimes with minor deviations) as demand warrants without fixed schedules or fixed stops.  There is currently one jitney service in Laguna Beach, CA and a number of unofficial and often illegal jitneys are known to exist as well.

In Puerto Rico, there is a mode similar to jitney called a publico, which is comprised of passenger vans or small buses operating with fixed routes but no fixed schedules.  Publicos are a privately owned and operated mass transit service which is market oriented and unsubsidized, but regulated through a public service commission, state, or local government.  Publicos are operated under franchise agreements, fares are regulated by route, and there are special insurance requirements.  Vehicle capacity varies from 8 to 24, and the vehicles may be owned or leased by the operator.

Types of Service

Local service, where vehicles may stop every block or two along a route several miles long, is by far the most common type of bus service.  Trolleybuses, unless bypass overhead wiring is available, cannot pass the trolleybus in front of them, and thus generally operate in local service only.

When limited to a small geographic area or to short-distance trips, local service is often called circulator, feeder, neighborhood, trolley, or shuttle service.  Such routes, which often have a lower fare than regular local service, may operate in a loop and connect, often at a transfer center or rail station, to major routes for travel to more far-flung destinations.  Examples are office park circulators, historic district routes, transit mall shuttles, rail feeder routes, and university campus loops.

Express service speeds up longer trips, especially in major metropolitan areas during heavily-patronized peak commuting hours, by operating long distances without stopping.  Examples include park-and-ride routes between suburban parking lots and the central business district that operate on freeways, and express buses on major streets that operate local service on the outlying portions of a route until a certain point and then operate non-stop to the central business district.

Limited-stop service is a hybrid between local and express service, where the stops may be several blocks to a mile or more apart to speed up the trip.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) is a type of limited-stop service developed in the 1990s that relies on technology to help speed up the service. It can operate on exclusive transitways, high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, expressways, or ordinary streets. A BRT line combines intelligent transportation systems technology, priority for transit, rapid and convenient fare collection, and integration with land use policy in order to substantially upgrade bus system performance

Types of Vehicles

A transit bus has front and center doors, normally with a rear-mounted engine, low-back seating, and without luggage compartments or restroom facilities for use in frequent-stop service.  (By far the most common bus used for local service, these buses are mostly 40 feet long, but 35-foot and 30-foot versions are also common in smaller cities and on lightly-patronized routes.)

A trolleybus (trolley coach, trackless trolley) is a rubber-tired electrically powered passenger vehicle operating on city streets drawing power from overhead lines with trolleys.

A dual-mode trolleybus is a trolleybus that also has an on-board power source that can be used in emergencies or to extend the route beyond the end of the overhead wires.  Only one city (Seattle) operates such vehicles.

An articulated bus or articulated trolleybus is an extra-long (54 to 60 feet) vehicle with two connected passenger compartments. The rear body section is connected to the main body by a joint mechanism that allows the vehicle to bend when in operation for sharp turns and curves and yet have a continuous interior.  (Such vehicles are normally operated in local service in the very largest metropolitan areas on extremely heavily-patronized routes.)

An intercity bus has a front door only, separate luggage compartments, and usually restroom facilities and high-backed seats for use in high-speed long-distance service.  (Such buses are 40 or 45 feet in length and are used by the largest transit agencies and private companies on express and limited-stop routes.)

A suburban bus has front doors only, normally high-backed seats, but no luggage compartments or restroom facilities for use in longer-distance service with relatively few stops.  (Such 40 and 45-foot buses are used in the same manner as intercity buses.)

A trolley replica bus (trolley) has an exterior (and usually an interior) designed to look like a streetcar from the early 1900s.  (These specialized buses are generally shorter--22 to 32 feet--and are used mostly on historic district and tourist-oriented circulator or shuttle services.)

A double decked bus is a high-capacity bus having two levels of seating, one over the other, connected by one or more stairways.  Total bus height is usually 13 to 14.5 feet, and typical passenger seating capacity ranges from 40 to 80 people.  Although common in older cities of Europe and Asia where street capacity is very limited, only a handful of such buses are used in U.S. transit service.

A van is a vehicle having a typical seating capacity of 5 to 15 passengers and classified as a van by vehicle manufacturers.  A modified van (body-on-chassis van) is a standard van that has undergone some structural changes, usually made to increase its size and particularly its height.  The seating capacity of modified vans is approximately 9 to 18 passengers.

Automobiles such as station wagons and sport utility vehicles may also be used on extremely lightly-patronized routes in remote rural areas.

Although most service is operated with new vehicles, a small proportion is operated by rehabilitated vehicles.

Rehabilitation is the rebuilding of revenue vehicles to original specifications of the manufacturer.  Rebuilding may include some new components but has less emphasis on structural restoration than would be the case in a remanufacturing operation, focusing on mechanical systems and vehicle interiors.

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