Transportation System Design

Transportation Alternatives specializes in the design of conventional and unique forms of fixed route and demand-responsive transportation systems for both full size and smaller vehicles, including route and point deviation, dial-a-ride and other paratransit, shuttle, timed-transfer, commuter express, pupil transportation (including special education), feeder/distributor, downtown circulator and other services. TA’s particular expertise lies in the design of services integrating multiple operating functions (e.g., feeder service and local circulation) and which integrate the needs of special ridership groups (elderly, physically and developmentally challenged individuals and schoolchildren) with general public riders. Examples of selected systems designed by TA include:

  • timed transfer “pulse” feeder/circulator
  • route deviation
  • variable fixed schedule subscription service
  • demand-responsive paratransit service for elderly and physically challenged individuals
  • integrated transit and pupil transportation services

See also Principles of System Design and Principles of Paratransit System Design.

Timed Transfer “Pulse” Feeder/Circulator System

In 1983, TA designed a timed transfer “pulse” fixed route transit system for the City of Carson, California. The system’s six routes interfaced simultaneously every 30 minutes at the City’s centrally-located South Bay Pavilion shopping mall. All routes operated in a single direction, placing most trip generators on the door-side of the buses, thereby minimizing street crossings and optimizing safety. Routes were designed to provide maximum coverage to neighborhoods, employment centers and major trip generators while also interfacing at multiple locations with regional fixed route services operating within the City, as well as criss-crossing with one another at multiple points to shorten total travel times through the knowledgeable and prudent use of transfers. As a result, the system maximized the provision of both local circulation service and feeder/distributor service to other, regional transit systems.

Ridership on this system was already dominated by schoolchildren when, in 1991, the Los Angeles Unified School District curtailed “general education” school bus service – a change that overwhelmed the system with schoolchildren. In response, TA redesigned the Circuit into an eight-route variation which served every elementary, junior high and high school and interfaced, in both directions, with the newly-established Del Amo Metrorail Blue Line station as well as 13 other fixed route transit lines from four municipal service providers. (See Map and Schedule Design.)

Based largely on European transit service models, TA modified the one-directional looped route structure so that all school interfacing occurred on the curb-side of the street, as well as made scores of other route design and stop location modifications. Coverage was expanded such that most of the community’s residences and more than 6,000 businesses lay within walking distance of one of the system’s almost 300 stops. Bi-directional service between the system’s center and the Blue Line light rail station required 10 minutes of travel time, before or after which transfers to other Circuit routes was nearly simultaneous. TA also identified key elements of the vehicle specifications to integrate an array of school bus features into the 35-foot transit buses purchased for deployment. Finally, because of both increased ridership and the increased traffic resulting from commuters traversing the City’s streets as “short cuts” from the three heavily-traveled freeways running through the city, the 30-minute “clock-face” headways between routes were expanded to 40-minute headways — improving the reliability of connections, and providing drivers with additional running time and recovery time at the end of each run, and mitigating driver fatigue in the process. (For more detail, see section below: Integrated Transit and Pupil Transportation Services.)

Route Deviation System

TA designed a local circulator/feeder route deviation shuttle service for the area surrounding the Lakewood Metrorail Green Line station in central Los Angeles County. The system operates on 30-minute headways in both directions. During peak periods the system provides fixed route service to commuters accessing the Metrorail system and regional bus services (as well as provides local service). During the off-peak period, the system deviates from its alignment to provide door-to-door service throughout a corridor adjacent to the route, broadening its capability as a neighborhood circulator service.

Variable Fixed Schedule Subscription Service

TA designed a 70-vehicle demand-responsive service for PTS Transportation’s provision of daily door-to-door service to 1,100 physically and developmentally disabled clients of the North Los Angeles County Regional Center. (See Operations and Operating Assistance.) This system, involving service to and from more than 30 special program facilities throughout Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley and Antelope Valleys, operated on a primarily subscription basis. The system’s fixed schedules were modified continuously in response to new and deleted clients, client- and program-related locational changes, scheduling deviations, and day-to-day contingencies and emergencies, as well as to accommodate immediate-response insertions. Vehicles were dispatched from three operating divisions while scheduling, planning and administrative functions were consolidated at a centrally-located facility in the San Fernando Valley. Clientele included infants, young children and adults, including more than 100 wheelchair occupants and many individuals with autism and other severe developmental disabilities. The fleet included a mix of standard and extended lift- and non-lift-equipped vans and minibuses.

Operating from 1982 through 1992, the system’s computer-aided dispatching, integrated client entry and performance analysis and scores of other proprietary TA-designed programs made this system one of the nation’s first “Smart Shuttle” transportation systems. TA’s design also extended to changing the spatial and temporal parameters of all destinations: TA developed policies for its client, the North L.A. County Regional Center, to optimize transportation performance and minimize cost, by not only establishing locational policies for the creation of new programs, but also established the starting and ending times (while leaving program durations untouched) for all programs served by the system.

TA also conducted a design study of the variable fixed schedule subscription service provided under contract to the East Los Angeles Retarded Citizens Association (ELARCA). The study resulted in the redesign of many routes, and their reassignment to more cost-effective service providers.

Demand-Responsive Paratransit Service for Elderly and Physically Challenged Individuals

TA designed and/or redesigned several of Los Angeles County’s most sophisticated paratransit systems for elderly and physically challenged individuals, including the City of Los Angeles’ VALTRANS program (in the San Fernando Valley), The City of Pasadena’s Dial-A-Ride, the Santa Monica Dial-A-Ride, and the Pomona Valley Get About (Pomona, San Dimas, Claremont and Laverne). Several of these systems involved multi-modal “brokerage” structures typical of systems structured to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act long before the ADA’s passage. Included among these features was the use of taxicabs and NEMT networks to supplement dedicated vehicle service demand and improve dedicated vehicle performance, centralized trip reservations, trip sorting rather than confirmation/denial or “negotiating” procedures, computer-aided performance analysis, use of a specially designed handbook for management and operating personnel, and the assignment of each trip type to its most productive pre-scheduling format. TA also prepared RFPs and operating agreements for these services, all of which were contracted out to private operating companies.

Integrated Transit and Pupil Transportation Services

In response to the curtailment of general education pupil transportation services by the Los Angeles Unified School District, TA completely redesigned the Carson Circuit Transit System to accommodate the needs of high school, junior high school and elementary school students while integrating them into a general public fixed route transit system. The system which resulted — an eight-route timed transfer system with 40-minute cycle times — was designed to also accommodate the needs of other transit users, particularly commuters. The design of this combination local circulator/feeder system — which interfaces with the Del Amo Metrorail Blue Line light rail station and 13 municipal bus lines from four different operating agencies at literally hundreds of intersecting transfer points — has a plethora of unique features and characteristics, many of which are common to European transit systems:

  • All routes intersect simultaneously with one another every 40 minutes at the system’s focal point, the South Bay Pavilion at Carson. For schoolchildren transferring from one route to another, this single interface point provides an opportunity to focus monitoring and security at a single point in the system rather than throughout it. Safety and security for all passengers is further ensured by the presence of video surveillance cameras operating in the passenger compartments of all vehicles during all operating hours, and by exterior cameras mounted behind the buses to reveal, on dash-mounted monitors, any movement or objects behind the bus which drivers could not otherwise observe.
  • A number of FMVSS-required school bus safety features were added to the vehicles and system in general to increase safety, including the installation of only forward-facing, heavily-padded seats, padded vertical stanchions, modesty panels in front of the front seat benches, special driver training, and presentations to high schools and junior high schools (which generated the majority of the system’s student ridership) regarding system usage and safety policies and practices.
  • A special color-coded, non-lingual, “user-centric” map was designed to depict the system from the perspective of the user’s own community and for use by someone who cannot read — much less is fluent in English. 50,000 copies of this map were printed, and copies were distributed to each of the more than 20,000 households in the City, 15,000 students in the public school system and the City’s more than 6,000 businesses. (See Map and Schedule Design.)
  • A simplified fare structure — 50 cents a ride with free intra-system transfers — was instituted to encourage usage of multiple routes (and thus treat a timed transfer as a continuous trip) as well as arrangements made with all interfacing transit providers to distribute and collect a 25-cent transfer to and from these services to encourage intersystem usage and increase the Carson Circuit’s potential as a feeder/distributor service. To reduce the number of demand-responsive paratransit trips provided within the City, riders over age 55 and all physically and developmentally challenged riders are not charged any fares. Because of the systems’ vast coverage (no one in the City resided more than three blocks away from a bus stop, and all buses were handicapped-accessible), the City of 83,000 people (in 1993) fulfilled its complementary paratransit service demand with only a single vehicle.
  • Two of the eight routes serve the Del Amo Metrorail Blue Line station, providing direct service between that station and the Carson Circuit’s timed transfer focal point in both directions with a 10-minute ride (beginning or ending with a timed transfer from any of the other seven Circuit routes).
  • In addition to accessing every single high school, junior high school and elementary school within the City and interfacing with a light rail line and 13 regional bus lines, the Circuit accesses more than 90 percent of the City’s major employment centers as well as most other trip generators, including park-and-ride lots.