How would the RTS coverage map look if we considered the actual frequency of bus service. [IMAGE: Regional Transit Service]
Posted by: Mike Governale, president and co-founder of Reconnect Rochester

The map above shows Rochester’s public transit network. Looks impressive with all of its lines stretching out across Monroe County. From Webster to Chili; Greece to Penfield; there’s a bus or two to get you there. On the other hand, if our transit network were really as good as it looks on this map, why are less than 2% of all trips in Rochester made using public transit?

Hmmm… Maybe because parking is cheaper than air here in Rochester?

Well, yes. But also, this map might be overstating the effective reach of RTS. Remember, a transit system is only good if it’s there when you need it…

If you're waiting for a bus in Rochester, unless you're standing on Main Street, you might be here a while. [IMAGE: Mike Governale]
If, for example, you’re trying to get from Bull’s Head to downtown, you might be able to step out on the street most times of the day and hop on a bus within 10 minutes. But if you’re anywhere else, or outside of peak rush, you just might be waiting around for hours. Simply put, not all of the lines on the RTS map supply the same level of service.

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with only running a bus to a particular destination just a few times during certain hours of the work day. There are several business parks scattered around Rochester that have large numbers of employees who need to get to and from their jobs, but otherwise there may be little reason for anyone to want to go there. This is fine. But as Jarret Walker explains in his case for frequency mapping external link, “a transit map that makes all lines look equally important is like a road map that doesn’t show the difference between a freeway and a gravel road.”

So how would the RTS map look if it gave more weight to route segments with the highest service frequency? We think something like this…

RTS frequency map showing average headways during morning rush hours. [Compiled by Reconnect Rochester]
Using varying line thickness, we emphasized the route segments that had the shortest average headways. A few major points to consider:

  1. This map shows the average headways – the interval of time between buses. Your wait time will likely be shorter than the headway. If a bus comes every 20 minutes, your average wait time would be 10 minutes, assuming you show up to get a bus at random.
  2. We lumped together all buses serving a single bus stop. More than one bus route may serve a single segment. We did this in part to simplify the map, but also, if we had split each line out separately, frequency would not be high enough most of the time to create any kind of useful map 🙁
  3. This is not a 24 hour / 7 day a week map. We had to narrow our window of focus down to peak times (Monday-Friday, 6-9am and 3-7pm). Because service drops off during non-peak hours, headways vary quite dramatically throughout the day.
  4. The “Average Headway” groupings we chose are somewhat arbitrary. We felt anything under 10 minutes was pretty darn good. 10-18 minutes is certainly acceptable. At 18-40 minutes you might want to go get a cup of coffee. And anything over 40 minutes would likely be enough time to walk to your destination, so that’s where we cut things off.
  5. There are some isolated areas of high frequency across the city that are not shown on this map (i.e. where multiple routes converge/overlap)… For this exercise we decided that frequency should be continuous to and from the transit center. Otherwise we’d end up with a bunch of short isolated segments that go no where. If a segment of high frequency was isolated from the trunk of the network, we dropped it from the illustration.
  6. Finally, this is for illustrative purposes only. This exercise was conducted several months ago and may not reflect route changes made this summer.

So what does this illustration tell us?

First, Rochester doesn’t have much of a frequent service network. Not on the order of something like Minneapolis external link or even Cincinnati external link.

On the bright side, if you live and/or work near downtown, University of Rochester, Mount Hope, or between Lake & Dewey south of Eastman Business Park, you are served pretty darn well (assuming you don’t need to travel outside those areas).

RTS frequency map showing average headways during morning rush hours. [Compiled by Reconnect Rochester]
If we start to peel away all the areas with headways over 15 minutes, you can begin to see the makings of a high frequency service area—where one might be able to toss away their bus schedule and live life spontaneously.

RTS frequency map showing average headways during morning rush hours. [Compiled by Reconnect Rochester]
If we zero in on our most frequent zone (Main St., Clinton, and North Chestnut), we might begin to imagine the type of transit service that other cities enjoy on a wider scale.

It’s important to note here, that while it looks like you’d be able to get from one end of downtown to the other very quickly, remember, all buses stop at the RTS Transit Center. To get across downtown you’d need to disembark and transfer to a second bus. So in actuality, we should probably mark the center of the map with a big black hole.

RTS frequency map showing average headways during morning rush hours. [Compiled by Reconnect Rochester]
Here’s how the map would look during the evening peak hours, Monday-Friday, 3-7pm.

RTS frequency map showing average headways during morning rush hours. [Compiled by Reconnect Rochester]
15 minutes or better.

RTS frequency map showing average headways during morning rush hours. [Compiled by Reconnect Rochester]
And 9 minutes or better.

Now given this picture, we might ask why so much of Monroe County has been left in the dark.

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Credit (and blame) goes to Bob Williams, Matthew Denker, Leonard Linde, Mike Governale, and Jason Partyka for their work on these maps. You can download a PDF version of the full RTS Frequency Map here external link

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  1. Excellent work but as a rider I can tell you that using frequency of buses is not always a valid indicator of usage. For example, the Lake ave to Charlotte route has heavy ridership even down to Charlotte, whereas the St. Paul route has no one after Ridge Rd. Monroe is busy all the way to Pittsford Plaza. Route frequency is also effected by traffic. The busy buses typically stop at virtually every stop so they take longer, while buses to suburbs have very few stops once they leave the city. I think your findings simply reflect that ridership is urban.
    However, if they wanted to increase suburban ridership, eliminating multiple stops in a row, as they recently did, makes it much harder to take a bus, particularly for disabled and older and single mom riders, especially in bad weather. Removing marginal stops does nothing for the bottom line and makes no sense.

  2. As the Jewish deaf senior over 60 age, but now retired as I reside in Rochester View Apts. in Henrietta, N.Y. 14467 as I am Non- Driver in all of rest of life as I have the long history of psychiatric disorders since my age of 14 and then I have I.Q. of 165+ as I have my B.A. in my double-majors of Biology and Chemistry from Gallaudet University, Washington,D.C. with Class of 1981 at honestly. In concern, there are No weekend & holiday operations of RTS Bus Services and ACCESS Shuttle Service under RTS Bus Service in Henrietta, N.Y. as it is unfair for the RVA residents who cannot drive nor having the driver’s license resulting to the insufficient and inaccessible public transportation in the area of Henrietta, N.Y. as I openly listen to our RVA residents who honestly address complaints about lack of RTS Bus Service in Henrietta, N.Y. Only the RTS Bus Service still is interested in local potilics— Not interested to help our residents with other disabilities and psychiatric disabilities. Then I honestly acknowledge that RTS Bus Service continues to violate our equal rights that are protected under ADA-ADAAA, and other New York State laws in New York State in a fact. Strongly I defend ADA-ADAAA and all of our disability rights. I remember that the U.S. President John F. Kennedy made his honest & true statement–” Life is not fair”. It is truth! Christa D’Auria

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