Changing Bus Routes

How does my city decide on what the bus routes are?

And a related question, how can I influence my city to make their bus routes better for me?



Dear R,

Bus routes are generally decided by trained transit planners but their priorities in choosing routes can be influenced by agency policy. This a very complex process that takes into account factors like how far people are willing to walk to the bus stop, how many buses are available, and where people want to go.

These planners generally don’t work directly for city governments. Instead regional transit agencies generally run bus and other types of transit (for example light rail or subways). These agencies tend to have names with the words Metro or transit in them, for example there are several Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA). These are public, tax funded agencies that typically cover a metro area — that is a city and its surroundings. Sometimes they overlap. For example in the Bay Area: AC Transit runs buses in the East Bay, Muni runs the buses and light rail in San Francisco, and BART, the Bay Area wide commuter rail, is run by its own board.

The heads of these agencies are public officials, many of them are elected. So you can contact them the same way your would another public official by calling or writing to express your concerns. To find out who runs your local transit search for the name of your transit agency or “[your city] buses”. The transit agency should have a website. If the public transit officials are elected you could also consider running for the office.

Another way to influence bus routes is to get involved with transit advocacy groups in your region. These are activist groups which focus on improving transit. I’d be surprised if any big metro area in the US didn’t have at least one of these groups.  However if you do live in an area without one you could try starting your own. <a href=>NAPTA (National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates)</a> maintains a directory of local transit advocacy groups. You can also try searching for “[your city] transit advocacy”  There are also a variety of national groups.

Another way you can impact local transit policy is by voting. Many/most states allow ballot measures for local districts. Many of these are transit related for example measures that raise taxes to pay for transit. So pay attention and make sure to vote in those types of elections. Since we are on the topic of local elections you should pay attention to the elections of local officials too. If you have chance to ask candidates questions be sure to ask them about buses and the changes you would like to see specifically.

The specifics of bus route planning are not very publicly accessible but as member of the public can try to impact the routes in a variety of ways. It important to let the people who do make these choices know what the public’s priorities are.

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