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Thoughts on Transit

Running a Successful Transit Operation: Large Metropolis

by Ecolane / September 28, 2015

As part of a three-part blog series, Ecolane is going to take a look at what is required and what types of problems can arise for agencies running transit operations in a large metropolis, a midsize city, or a small town/rural area. This first article will evaluate what is necessary for an agency operating in a large metropolis.  What does it really take for a transit agency to be successful in an area such as New York City?


Among the most difficult obstacles for public transportation in a large metropolis is the complexity of spatial structures and the high potential for disruptions.  Put another way, large cities are crowded and the lack of space for infrastructure can be a huge issue for public transit providers, as well as the high volume of consumers needing to be transported.  An additional factor for transit is that consumers who live near large cities often have longer commutes, since housing is generally more affordable further away from central areas.

Large metropolises also have a higher occurrence of aging infrastructure, leading to increasing maintenance costs for agencies.  The more complex and extensive the highway and road network is, the higher the maintenance costs and financial burden.  A large metropolis has, by far, the most complex and extensive road network, which is another factor agencies providing for these areas must take into consideration.

Factors for Success

1. Technology

Technology has become a key factor of success for transit agencies.  With the continuing trend of consumers expecting real-time information about their transit, it is necessary for an agency to have the tools necessary to provide that data in a timely manner, including schedules, fares, and route information.  When considering the sheer volume of passenger rides in large cities and the amount of vehicles to maintain, it is crucial for an agency to utilize modern transit software in order to keep up with demand, stay organized and maintain schedules.

2. Fleet Size

In a large city, bus service has the largest fleet of vehicles, with demand response services coming in a close second, followed by rail.  Taking a look at the largest North American transit agency (ranked by number of unlinked passenger trips), the MTA New York City Transit has a fleet of over 4,400 buses alone. They also have over 6,300 subway cars.  Bottom line: to accommodate almost 7.6 million passengers during an average weekday, a transit agency like MTA has to have enough vehicles in their fleet.

3. Employees

MTA New York City Transit has over 47,000 employees to maintain their daily operations and make sure they remain on schedule.

4. Infrastructure

MTA New York City Transit has 257 subway lines and bus routes.  They also have over 659 miles of track, over 2,000 miles of bus routes, and 468 subway stations.

Providing public transit in a large metropolis can be a daunting task for any agency. Looking at an agency example such as the MTA New York City Transit, which serves one of the largest cities in the United States, it becomes clear that it is necessary to utilize the proper technology, maintain a large enough fleet, have sufficient staffing, and have the necessary infrastructure in place to be successful.  Transit agencies operating in large metropolises face different problems than those in a midsize or small/rural area.  The next article in this series will take a look at what it takes for a transit agency to be successful in a midsize city and what specific problems they may face.

Paratransit 2020

Tags: Transit Operations

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