» Lyon’s bus network is enlivened thanks to reorganization and new branding.
The advantages offered by street-running bus operations, such as offering a variety of routes and the ability to alter them at will, can sometimes be a curse. Many individual routes may provide direct service to and from specific destinations, but if they are not able to attract enough riders, the resulting low frequency of service makes them ultimately difficult to use for both those dependent and those choosing to use transit.
The New York Times‘ story last week on the cancellation of a bus route in Los Angeles raised a number of questions about the manner in which bus routes operate. The Times signaled out L.A. Metro for supposedly being willing to sacrifice the mobility needs of a heavily transit-dependent community, forcing riders onto indirect buses that require transfers. But Metro’s efforts — intended to concentrate users on its most frequent services — will likely improve the quality of public transportation for far more people than are being hurt by the loss of a direct route that only comes every half hour or so. As Jarrett Walker noted, the poor frequencies offered by bus service on the cancelled route meant it was only quicker if the bus was there exactly when you needed it; more frequent services built on transfers will bring better transit for more people at all times of the day. And they mean better access to parts of the city not directly along the route of the local bus.
Indeed, reconfiguring operations to put different services in an understandable hierarchy, focusing better services on a grid of routes, is a tool transit systems must take advantage of to improve the ability of locals to get around by transit. Yet L.A.’s reforms have clearly not been well-enough publicized or justified to attract the understanding and support of much of the public.
In Lyon, France’s second-largest metropolitan area, a rebranding of the local bus system to come on line in late August offers the possibility of reworking the transit network so that it avoids many of these problems and improves service. Lyon already has high transit use, the region’s 1.76 million inhabitants using buses, trams, and the metro 1.24 million times a day. (Compare that to similar-sized U.S. regions Indianapolis and Charlotte, whose transit systems carry 30,000 and 83,000 passengers daily, respectively.)
For that city’s transit operators, there is room to grow — and certainly ways to make the system more convenient for its existing users, which explains why the transformation plan is being put into effect. Bus service kilometers will expand by 6%, but the TCL transit agency hopes that other reforms in service will be even more effective in encouraging increased ridership. A campaign building up to the change is designed to alleviate public concerns.
There are four basic components to the transformation plan: A reduction in the complication of bus routes by ensuring that the most-used routes always have the same origins and destinations and are branded uniformly all day; reliable, 10-minute all-day frequency on about a third of the bus corridors that complement the metro and tram networks; expanded circumferential bus routes that allow people to get from periphery to periphery without having to pass through or transfer in the center and produce a citywide grid of bus lines; and better connections between bus and rail at tramway and TER regional rail stops. The bus service change is branded atoubus, which, depending on how you read it, can mean either “bus for everyone” or “bus with assets.”
The introduction of 26 major bus routes branded “C” — just like the “M” for the metro, “F” for funicular, and “T” for tram — is perhaps the most significant change. Though bus rapid transit was introduced in Lyon in 2006, it only extended to two routes. Now this collection of branded routes, complemented by 71 more typical bus lines, fills out the network. On the maps, C routes are easily visible thanks to bolder line weights and clear, labeled station stops. One hopes the frequent network maps, including the C lines and the rail corridors, is positioned around the city.
For the sake of understanding, the network revision also takes an important step forward by eliminating attenae or partial termini from routes, a frequent source of irritation for users. Instead, all major bus routes in Lyon will have one origin and one terminus at all times of day. No longer will customers be caught confused by a bus number whose meaning changes seemingly at random.
Finally, the introduction of additional circumferential lines — five of the seventeen will be C lines — will allow better navigation of the city by those whose destination is not downtown. Since most of the rail lines are radial in nature, this improved bus network can in many ways fill the gap — as long as customers understand it, which explains the emphasis on new graphics, signs, and labeling.
As the maps below show, the improved network is designed to emphasize to users the equivalence of the frequent bus routes with the metro and tram. Though most of the routes have not been significantly changed, the map has been reworked to show which bus routes are most frequent. Buses that run only occasionally have been deemphasized, had their lines made more skinny, to reflect their place in the network hierarchy. For both tourists and locals attempting to get to parts of the city they have never accessed, this implies that it is possible to rely on some bus routes just as one would on a metro or tram: Without looking at a schedule.
|Bus and rail network in Lyon’s 7th District before reorganization||Bus and rail network in Lyon’s 7th District after reorganization|
One of the significant advantages of Lyon’s approach is that it is heavily oriented towards customer perception, but involves little actual capital investment. By focusing on branding, TCL will be able to offer riders the feel of a vastly improved bus network — one whose frequent lines effectively double the scope of the rail network — with no initial spending on investments like bus-only lanes (though some may come later). If riders come to understand the changes, they will be able to get around the city in many cases more quickly thanks to well-marked bus routes that are integrated with the rail lines in a region-wide grid.
In many ways, this is what Los Angeles is attempting too, though perhaps its Metro Rapid branding of frequent bus routes is not as convincing as is Lyon’s atoubus (total transit ridership on L.A.’s Metro is little higher than that of Lyon’s CTL before the changes have been implemented, despite the fact that the former covers a far larger city). Indeed, if the Times‘ article misrepresents the value of the changes that city is making to its bus system, it is because the writers — and presumably many of the riders — fail to understand the added benefits of a transit system that relies on transfers and frequent bus routes on a grid of corridors. This is where, if implementation goes well, Lyon’s emphasis on customer communication and visible network connections may very well prove to be a model.