Best planning and implementation toolbox


Purpose of Tool:

Norwalk Transit District Commuter Connection bus at South Norwalk Station helps create strong transit linkages for employees.
Image Source: [here]
Commuter-oriented transit service traditionally utilizes rail or bus modes to connect residential communities with major employment centers. This type of service typically operates between suburbs and a central business district (CBD). An important distinction is that it does not function as a circulator within or through the CBD. Commuter-oriented transit typically complements other public transportation systems that circulate riders between destinations of all types within a city. Peak service levels are offered during traditional “rush hours” with more limited service offered outside of rush hours. Unlike other transit systems which may operate up to 24 hours a day with multiple stops throughout a city, commuter-oriented transit service is designed to move employees into and out of a central business district based on a typical office work day schedule.

Benefits of Using Tool:
Commuter-oriented transit encourages the use of public transit for daily commute trips, which has the following benefits for a community or region:
  • Reduces single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips,
  • Reduces traffic congestion and pollutants such as CO2 and other green house gas (GHG) emissions,
  • Provides an important mobility option for non-drivers,
  • Decreases demand for employee or student parking on-site, and
  • Can improve productivity and efficiency of workers. Consider that the average commuter spent 6 minutes longer driving to work in 2001 than in 1983—a loss of 50 hours, or more than one full work-week, per year. 1

    Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    Commuter-oriented transit service planning and provision is traditionally undertaken by a metropolitan planning agency or a regional transportation agency. The expertise required to undertake system planning and the scale of capital investment required to begin commuter-oriented service typically exceeds the technical and financial capacity of individual municipalities. The federal government allocates funding for large-scale transit system planning and capital investments through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Program. While the application process for these funds is highly competitive and extremely detailed, the first application phase typically includes the following general steps:
  • Identifying the purpose and need for transit service,
  • Developing modal alternatives to meet this need,
  • Developing potential routes and operational characteristics,
  • Estimating capital and operating and maintenance costs, and
  • Evaluating alternatives based on FTA-defined criteria and selecting a locally-preferred transit alternative.

    Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    A variety of improvements and incentives can increase transit usage by commuters. Successful commuter-oriented transportation options should include seamless linkages at transfer points (e.g. bus to train) and offer convenient amenities dedicated to typical patrons. This might include buses or trains equipped with iPod docks, electrical outlets, WiFi wireless connections, and audio systems carrying news, music and live sports to enhance the perception of mass transportation as a luxurious choice and increase worker productivity during long trips. These features should be aggressively marketed. Marketing has been vital to creating consumer awareness, disseminating important information, increasing ridership, enhancing the transit service’s image, and by extension, enhancing public support, even among non-riders. 2

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    Effectiveness of commuter-oriented transit systems depends on providing appropriate conveniences, such as sizeable park-and-ride facilities at outlying stations, neighborhood circulators [transportation and mobility\public transportation\neighborhood circulators] designed to bring commuters to a connecting rail or bus station, and reliable and frequent train or bus schedules. Commuter-oriented transit programs implemented at a regional scale in locations with a strong compact central business district tend to be more successful because they can serve a larger pool of potential users traveling to a popular central destination.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    The Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization has had success with a number of commuter-oriented transit techniques including using both trains and buses. First license plate studies were conducted at major office parks in the region to determine where employees live. Office parks that had a number of employees coming from the same destinations were identified as good candidates for bus service. These data were then expanded upon to generate a series of transit improvement recommendations to better serve commuters. These included:
  • Establishing new shuttles and circulators to existing multi-modal transit centers. Both existing and new shuttle schedules were designed to ensure that their timing coordinated with approaching commuter rail trains. The online and printed schedules were specially intended to make clear the shuttle and train connections, aiding commuters in their trip planning.
  • Extending existing bus routes to capture more riders.
  • Extending existing bus routes to improve transfers with other bus lines.
  • Expanding the service hours of express bus service.
  • Rerouting existing bus lines to provide service to more job centers, such as additional office parks.

    Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization
    State Transportation Building
    10 Park Plaza, Suite 2150
    Boston, MA 02116
    (617) 973-7100

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    Comparing the percentage of commuters who choose to drive alone to work with those who choose to use commuter-oriented transit can help to assess the effectiveness of commuter-oriented transport techniques. In general, it is well-documented that choosing public transit over driving alone decreases traffic at peak periods, which reduces commute times for transit users and drivers alike. For example, a 2007 study of 85 urban centers showed that over 51 billion passenger miles were traveled on public transit in 2005, which prevented 541 million hours of delay—this amounted to a total savings of $10.2 billion in that year alone. Were transit service not available, all drivers would have spent approximately 13 percent more time in traffic. 3 The Boston/New Hampshire/Rhode Island I-95 corridor alone would have experienced 21,441 increased hours of delay were it not for some commuters choosing to utilize public transit. 4

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
    See the following sources for more information:
  • Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, Central Transportation Planning Staff, North Suburban Commuter –Oriented Transit Opportunities Study Phase II, 2005.  Online:
  • Phineas Baxandall et al., U.S. PIRG Education Fund, A Better Way To Go: Meeting America’s 21st Century Transportation Challenges with Modern Public Transit, 2008.  Online:


    1 Baxandall, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, A Better Way to Go, page 11. Online:
    2 Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, North Suburban Commuter –Oriented Transit Opportunities Study Phase II, 2005, page 30.
    3 Baxandall, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, A Better Way to Go, page 24.
    4 Baxandall, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, A Better Way to Go, page 24.