Best planning and implementation toolbox


Purpose of Tool:

Neighborhood Circulators are often comparatively small vehicles that are suitable for neighborhood streets and a comparatively limited number of riders.

Image Source:
Neighborhood circulators are small transit vehicles that are intended to move residents a short distance to popular local destinations within their community 1. These types of services typically serve neighborhoods and areas that are not well-served by a larger or more extensive transit system. Neighborhood circulators are often located in suburban municipalities with lower population densities. Establishing local transit circulator services can both improve mobility for users and provide connections to a larger regional transit system (if present). Other types of circulators can include:
  • Downtown circulators - cover central business districts and dense employment areas
  • Park-n-Ride (feeder) circulators - serve commuter needs during rush hours, providing access from parking lots to transit stops or a final destination.
  • Shopping-based (“lifeline”) circulators - operate in municipalities that have a large number of elderly or non-driving citizens to improve access to commercial and medical services.

    Benefits of Using Tool:
    Neighborhood transit circulators can significantly improve the mobility of local community residents, employees, and visitors. Other benefits associated with circulators may include:
  • Easing traffic congestion by providing an alternative to the personal automobile for travel,
  • Improving parking capacity in areas where they may be shortages, such as civic or entertainment or commercial centers,
  • Reducing single-occupancy car trips, which reduces carbon and other GHG emissions, and
  • Providing a viable transportation opportunity for mobility-challenged citizens.

    Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    Typical recommended service for neighborhood circulators includes operating a jitney 2 or small bus on local streets with transfer points connecting to a larger or ‘parent’ transit system at select station locations. To establish such a system the following steps are undertaken:
  • A survey of county and municipal officials and community members to determine interest in establishing a neighborhood circulator service, and a review of ridership data in comparable locations where neighborhood circulators have been established.
  • A determination of the circulator route and schedule, typically driven by the community’s socioeconomic and geographic characteristics and developed to target areas where ‘recognizable gaps’ in transit service are present in the community 3.
  • Financing, monitoring, and post-implementation evaluation of the circulator’s performance to ensure that the public’s mobility needs are served and that the circulator is as efficient and effective for community members as possible. This could result in revising or adding new routes, adjusting the frequency of service, and modifying hours of operation.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    Many factors can improve the success of a neighborhood circulator system, including efficient routing between centers of residential, employment and recreational activity, timed transfer points, and frequency of headways (the time interval between vehicles moving in the same direction). Higher-density areas with mixed land uses (such as a town center) are regarded as the most ideal environment for instituting local transit circulator service. Target populations of potential riders include those that are typically mobility challenged, such as senior citizens, students, and low-income workers.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    The effectiveness of neighborhood circulators depends chiefly on volume of ridership and availability of funding. Developing a sound marketing strategy for a new neighborhood circulator is vital for building community awareness and attracting ridership, with an understanding that ridership will likely increase over time as familiarity with the service increases. Additionally, performance and service goals should be established and measurable objectives should be developed for assessment. Typical performance measures include annual passengers per route, passengers per hour of operation, costs per passenger, and on-time performance. These figures will be good resources to have on hand when trying to secure external funding for a circulator service.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    Since 2001, the City of Phoenix has had success with implementing a number of neighborhood circulator services administered by their municipal public transit department. The City currently operates five neighborhood circulators, which are serviced by fuel-efficient mini buses and are free to the public. The mini buses are equipped with bike racks and wheelchair lifts to improve accessibility and connectivity. Routes vary from 10 to 20 miles, with a combination of flag and fixed stops. Headways are approximately every 30 minutes on most routes.

    Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA)
    302 N. 1st Avenue, Suite 700
    Phoenix, AZ 85003
    (602) 262-7433

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    The ridership rate coupled with an ‘awareness’ of neighborhood circulators may indicate how successful both targeted marketing and circulator service has been in a particular area. For example, in the Phoenix Valley Metro area, neighborhood circulator ridership rose between 10 and 20 percent between2007 and 2008 4. Additionally, marketing survey respondents indicated that their impression of Valley Metro transit service was ‘very favorable’ and 42 percent of respondents mentioned neighborhood circulator service in particular 5. Of note, women were significantly more likely than men to indicate they would use a neighborhood circulator service (26 percent vs. 17 percent).

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
    See the following sources for more information:
  • Miami Dade County, Local Municipal Transit Circulator Policy Study, 2002.
  • Phoenix Valley Metro, Neighborhood Circulator Service, 2008.
  • Phoenix Valley Metro Annual Market Study, 2007.  Online:


    1 City of Phoenix, online:
    2 A jitney is a privately-owned, small or medium-sized vehicle usually operated on a fixed route but not on a fixed schedule. (APTA Glossary of Transit Terminology)
    3 Miami Dade County, Local Municipal Transit Circulator Policy Study, 2002, page 2. Online:
    4 Valley Metro, Average Daily Ridership Report, December 2008, page 7.
    5 West Group Research, Valley Metro Annual Market Study 2007, page 7.