Transit service planning & operations

Transit service planning is used to determine what type of transit service to provide, where to provide it, how much, and when. Planning is tailored to the needs of a particular location and helps develop safe and reliable travel options. Transit operations implements the transit service developed during planning.

Key characteristics



WSDOT regions

Strategy description

Transit service planning and operations strategies aim to make transit as reliable, useful, and safe as possible. Transit service planning is also used to address multimodal performance gaps such as high and/or unreliable travel times for all modes in a given travelshed or the area people are traveling within.

Transit service planning begins with defining the type of service needed (e.g. commuter service, express service, lifeline service, etc.), then determining where the service is needed, and how often (frequency). By consolidating travelers into high occupancy vehicles, transit represents an efficient way to move people through the transportation network. Transit also provides a vital means of transport for those without other transportation options. Data collected during transit operations is used to continually refine and adjust how transit service is provided to maximize transit’s potential.

Planning for operations of transit services include:

  • Understanding the travel markets in an area (where people are trying to go, and when)

  • Choosing service routes and frequencies that optimize transit utilization and efficiency

  • Station and station-area enhancements, including better access and connectivity

  • Bus technologies, including computer-aided dispatch, automatic vehicle location, and transit signal priority systems

  • Traveler information systems offering transit users real-time information and mobile device access

  • Advanced fare payment options

When to use this strategy

Agencies concerned with transportation performance gaps such as long travel times and congestion-related safety concerns should consider transit service planning and operations as a solution. Transit service planning is used to increase transit ridership by improving speed, reliability, and access to transit, improving the rider experience, and operating the transportation system more efficiently. 

Most common benefits of transit service planning and operations include:

  • Increases in safety for all users of the transportation network
  • Eases congestion by reducing trips of people driving alone
  • Reduces travel times and increases travel time reliability
  • Reduces fuel consumption and emissions

Strategy benefits: 

  • If successful in moving people from single-occupancy to high-occupancy vehicles, transit planning may result in reduced congestion
  • If supporting technology is in place, transit planning can provide real-time information to travelers en route through transit applications like One Bus Away in King County or Google maps

What you need in order to implement

Transit service planning and operations needs span from agency coordination to systems and technology. 

Agency coordination needs:

  • Changes or upgrades to transit stations and stops require collaboration with various city/county divisions, which may be numerous for routes that span jurisdictions
  • Signal operations strategies may require collaborating with various cities' traffic signal operations divisions
  • If land use strategies are involved, city, county, and state collaboration may be required for rule-making and regulations
  • Finding adequate funding is necessary because costs for transit service planning and operations improvements can be substantial

Planning needs:

  • Tools to understand travel demand patterns and to forecast ridership are needed, so that routes can be planned to serve the intended market
  • Consideration for transit service routes, frequency, and stop locations

Operations & infrastructure needs:

  • Park and ride lots may be useful for increasing transit accessibility in low-density areas
  • Bus rapid transit strategies, such as prepayment of fares, transit signal priority, and dedicated right-of-way, help reduce travel times and increase schedule reliability

Systems and technology needs:

  • Traveler information systems that communicate routing and timing information to riders
  • Computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location systems to better dispatch and track transit vehicles
  • Transit signal priority equipment to improve vehicle travel time and reliability


Learn more about this strategy

Transportation Research Board (TRB), Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, Third Edition, Chapter 2 (PDF, guest account required).

Transportation Research Board (TRB), Maintaining Transit Effectiveness Under Major Financial Constraints, 2014 (PDF, guest account required).

National Association of City Transportation Official (NACTO), Transit Street Design Guide, Transitways.

U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), ITS ePrimer—Module 7: Public Transportation.

U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), Transit Technology Fact Sheets.

About key characteristics

Location notes:

Transit operates in all locations. Its highest value is in urban areas, where higher densities and space constraints emphasize its spatial efficiency advantages.

Cost notes:

There are a wide range of costs depending on the extent of transit service planning and operations strategies used.

Technology notes:

Technology needs are highly variable, depending on the systems and components used. Automated dispatch systems, on-board systems and communications, fare payment systems, signal priority systems typically require technology to be installed on vehicles, at the roadside, and at central management centers. Communications networks are also required to connect these systems.

Collaboration notes:

Substantial collaboration may be needed, including within a transit organization, with various city/county divisions for roadway improvements, traffic signal operations divisions for signal priority systems, and regional and state collaboration for rule-making and regulations.