Major modes of transit available in the United States include:
LOCAL BUS SERVICE:
Local buses carry 66% of the transit trips in the United States. Frequent stops make local service slow averaging 13 mph. However, these frequent stops also make local bus service convenient. It is flexible which allows transit planners to add buses or change routes to accommodate new or changed demand.
Buses are powered by diesel, gasoline, battery, or alternative fuel engines contained within the vehicle. Buses operate on streets and roadways in fixed-route or other regular service. Types of bus service include local service, where vehicles may stop every block or two along a route several miles long. When limited to a small geographic area or to short-distance trips, local service is often called circular, feeder, neighborhood, trolley, or shuttle service.
EXPRESS BUSES AND BUS RAPID TRANSIT (BRT):
Express bus service typically involves routes with limited or no intermediate stops between trip origins and destinations. It can achieve high average speeds. Bus rapid transit (BRT) is a variation of express-bus service that operates on dedicated roadways or lanes from which other traffic is excluded or nearly excluded and typically offers some of the same features as rail transit systems, such as stations, fast and efficient service, and special quick loading vehicles.
Light rail is a modern version of the streetcar, in Europe it is known as “trolleys” or “trams”. Its tracks may be located on shared streets or on dedicated rights-of-way. Street sharing subjects light rail to traffic delays, crash potential, and lower speeds, however cost savings are realized by not securing dedicated rights-of-way. The average speed for new light-rail systems in the United States is 20 mph, compared to 12 mph for some of the older streetcar lines. It is widely accepted that light-rail is needed to attract “by-choice” riders, these are riders that have the option to drive but consciously choose to ride light-rail instead. Light rail stops less frequently and is more reliable which is an accessibility advantage to nearby properties resulting in higher property values.
Rapid rail is also known as “heavy rail” or “subways” – in Europe they are known as “metros”. It operates on exclusive rights-of-way without grade crossings and its tracks are often located underground. Rapid-rail transit is operated at faster speeds than light-rail, and the distances between stations are generally greater. Because of its high cost, rapid rail requires high population densities in order to achieve a reasonable cost per rider. The long distances between rapid-rail stations impart a high accessibility advantage to nearby properties. Thus rapid rail tends to produce higher real estate premiums than light rail.
Commuter rail lines provide service to downtowns over long distances. Station spacing is typically 3.5 miles. Commuter rail is relatively speedy, although shared tracks with other uses diminishes its speed advantages. Riders on commuter rail come from a wide area around stations, and when parking is provided they generally arrive by car. While commuter rail stations would be expected to offer real estate premiums, many are surrounded by land uses that limit the potential property value advantages – including commuter parking or industrial operations served by freight services that share the commuter rail tracks.
Commuter rail is also called metropolitan rail, regional rail, or suburban rail and is characterized by an electric or diesel propelled railway for urban passenger train service consiting of local short distance travel operating between a central city and adjacent suburbs. Service must be operated on a regular basis by or under contract with a transit operator for the purposes of transporting passengers within urbanized areas, or between urbanized areas and outlying areas. Such rail service, using either locomotive hauled or self-propelled railroad passenger cars, is generally characterized by multi-trip tickets, specific station to station fares, railroad employment practices and usually only one or two stations in the central business district. Intercity rail service is excluded, except for that portion of such service that is operated by or under contract with a public transit agency for predominately commuter services. Most service is provided on routes of current or former freight railroads.
Source: Developing Around Transit: Strategies and Solutions That Work, Urban Land Institute, 2004