If you want to ride a bus and you go to a bus stop, the best vision you could see would be a bus a block away headed in your direction. It’s better than a map on your phone, a lighted shelter, or a friendly logo; although those are important too.

Frequency of buses passing by your pickup-point defines freedom and spontaneity for bus users. An analogy could be that if your car key started your car only once or twice an hour, you’d be frustrated in the same way as with infrequent bus service. Frequency sets the essential threshold for people with busy, complex lives to take the bus– true for people all across the income range.

Frequency has three independent benefits and when these work Bus approachingtogether for a rider, the benefits multiply:

  1. Frequency reduces waiting, which is everyone’s least favorite part of a trip.
  2. Frequency makes connections easy, which connects transit lines to a network to travel north and south and east and west.
  3. Frequency backstops reliability so that if a vehicle breaks down or is late, frequency means another will be along soon.
This sign from Salt Lake City, Utah shows how frequency of service can be shown to riders.

This sign from Salt Lake City, Utah shows how frequency of service can be shown to riders.

If you can go to your street and expect a bus to pick you up within 10 minutes, then you don’t need any more information. You’re free to adapt or change your day, go to a meeting or to lunch whenever suits you. Personal freedom comes from frequency of options. Thus, high frequency in places of high demand will lead to high ridership according to Jarrett Walker, author of Human Transit.

In Omaha, many of our main pods of dense living and working line up on Dodge Street from downtown to Midtown, to UNMC, to UNO, to Crossroads and Westroads. Many people with busy, complex lives need to get up and down Dodge Street frequently. How can it handle more persons each day without creating hours of gridlock or endless and expensive road widening? (Widening might actually make traffic worse and there is no space for it anyway.) Only with frequent Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will we have a chance to get more people up and down Dodge Street quickly, going from dense pod to dense pod.

Links to ridershipFrequent BRT can also guide people to locate based on where transit is useful, which has already started to happen along Dodge Street and its companions within two short blocks, Douglas and Farnam Streets.

These are all good reasons why we need 10-minute frequency for the BRT, at least during peak hours of travel. According to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy:

How often the bus comes during peak travel times such as rush hour is a good proxy for quality of service. For BRT to be truly competitive with alternative modes, like the private automobile, passengers need to be confident that their wait times will be short and the next bus will arrive soon.

The Max BRT in Kansas City runs every 9 minutes during morning and evening rush hours, and every 15 minutes most other times. Kansas City might be good for comparison as we plan our own system.


The planned frequencies in the Omaha TIGER grant application are similar.Tiger app BRT frequencies

6 Replies to “Bus Rapid Transit Series: Service Frequency”

  1. AChittenden says:

    For years and years I counted on bus transportation instead of owning a car. The frequency and consistency of knowing that my service was happening, reliably, every 20 minutes (Hunter Creek Loop in Aspen, CO) and every 15 minutes (HOP in Boulder, CO) alleviated much stress in juggling a busy full-time work + full-time college lifestyle. Without a doubt another stress ameliorator was getting to know my community through my daily drivers and co-riders. When familiar faces weren’t on the bus, we worried. When familiar faces greeted one each morning, we smiled. It became more than simply moving from one part of the city to another, it became looking out for one another. Friendships and frequency, they can and do go hand in hand!

  2. dirk says:

    makes good sense (and i like the low tech angle) but is there money in the budget for this kind of coverage/frequency?

  3. dirk says:

    is anyone talking to transit workers about these matters?

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