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Your map is real nice!

"We have all kinds of routes, and not all of them fall in the simple categories of “Frequent Network,” “Infrequent All-day services” and “Peak-only service.”"

Maybe if you can't put your service into a couple of simple categories, it's time to change the service. Recently there's been a lot of talk about creating better maps to make the service more accessible, but there is only so much you can do with creative mapping.

Jeff Wegerson

So in a sense Frequent Network Mapping is asking that an already very complex product add another level of complexity. As I dove into making a map I was immediately confronted with many of the issues you struggled with. "Shapes" turned out to not belong to "routes" but to "trips". Especially at the ends of routes different trips would take different variants, ie shapes, either off to the side or stopping before the end. Finally when I got to frequency I found that it belonged to neither "routes" nor "trips" but is a property of "stops."

Then there were all the routes that shared some same street and stops as you point out. If a street is shared by different trips for a long way, then if a lot of people are only using the shared length then the frequency for them is much better as they have more bus choices. And further, as you pointed out, there is the question of service days and late night service.

Even when Jarrett narrowed my task by suggesting using midday (and non-weekend?) as the definitional bound for frequent network service I was still left with a host of other issues. You touched on the color and line separation ones, but still in the mix are ones like, who is the audience and what is the medium? Is it to go on paper or be electronic? If on paper then what size and how many colors?

A transit system produces many different mapping products for different uses. Where will Frequent Network Mapping fit?

It's almost like Jarrett is running a contest here that not only doesn't have a prize it doesn't have any well defined rules. And that is probably fine at this stage. It's as if we are in a brainstorming session and told not to be negative to ideas because we want them to keep coming. Something like that.


Wow. My head was spinning just reading about all the special distinctions and variations - different spans of service, branches, deviations etc. It's likely a legacy of how the system originally came together and how difficult it is to make changes and all the political constituencies.

But I suspect this complexity means that visitors mostly can't use the system, and even most car-owning residents can't use it beyond maybe a commute route - dooming it to serve only the transit-dependent.



I think this was a very successsful effort to display the complexity of the system, but unfortunately that leads to a very complex map. Aaron acknowledges some of the shortcomings, like the difficulty in seeing multiple lines on a single street clearly. I really think it would be worth sacrificing some details on the map (does it really matter if the last trip is at 6 PM, 7 PM, or 8 PM?) to simplify it. People can look up a schedule on an individual route map after they determine what route they need on the system map.

Aaron Priven

Thanks for adding all the links, Jarrett.

I agree that there's only so much that can be done with maps, and public information generally. I had hoped that presenting the full complexity of the system on the map (and, especially, in the frequency guide) would make it clearer to AC Transit's planners the value of making the system simpler. While the system is a bit simpler now than it was in 2003, I don't know that anything I did had anything to do with it.

Ultimately, though, we need to recognize that every service hour spent making the system consistent is a service hour that isn't being used in some other way, which might carry more people. It's not a simple decision, especially at resource-starved bus agencies like AC Transit.


@Aaron: Every service hour that nobody understands is a wasted service hour as well. Every service hour only used by commuters (who take that route every day) is a service hour not used towards improving the general reliability of transit, and in particular getting people out of their cars.


It's interesting to note that Seattle *does* have a frequent service map:


In some ways, this map is fantastic. In others, it's terrible. For example:

- Like Aaron's map, lines have distinct colors, and one line is one (set of) routes. No weird merging and splitting.
- It's crowded, and the fact that each line has about six different bus number dots doesn't help. I'd rather see some sort of coding system, like using the color names ("R" instead of "70", "G" instead of 7/11/14/36/43/49, etc.)
- Everything related to the tunnel is very confusing. You could be forgiven for thinking that the 10/12 stop in the tunnel between Westlake and Convention Place.
- A bunch of less-frequent routes are listed with small black lines -- except that some of them are actually just as frequent as other routes on the list. Not sure how they managed that.
- The train is barely mentioned. Same with the streetcar.
- The skip-stop downtown system is not mentioned in any way.

And the two biggest problems:
- It never says where any of these routes go!
- These colors are not used in any way outside of this map, which (in turn) only shows up at certain downtown bus stations and nowhere else.

With a few small changes, this could become great:

- Color-code the buses and/or the bus stops. Likewise, make sure that each skip-stop stations serves all buses with a given color, or none.
- Group the 3rd Ave buses into two segments, and use dots to indicate where stations are for each one.
- For each color, add a list of major destinations.

But still, this is miles better than anything else that Metro puts out...

Steve Lax

@Anton - If a system is operating hard to understand service patterns that nobody is using, that is a problem. However, the system from which I retired (NJ TRANSIT) is much like AC Transit. And it has issues much like AC Transit. Most important, it faces constant budget pressure; so underutilized service is cut and that allows service to be run where it is utilized, even if the only people (besides the planners and bus operators) who understand the service are a defined set of commuters.

For example, if a route operates three round trips a day to meet the three shift times at a relatively isolated industrial site and those three round trips are well-patronized (if only by a very defined set of commuters) that is a better use of resources than running empty buses on a "frequent service" route at times the ridership simply does not support frequent service.

My former colleagues and I drew up plans for a frequent service type network; but every time we tried to advance them, we ran head first into a very powerful locomotive coming the other way - the BUDGET.

I think (in reading some of these comments and others in response to earlier posts on frequent service) that the viability of a simple frequent service network and a simple systems map depends in large part on the territory. AC Transit provides a wide range of services (service into San Francisco, service into and within the secondary urban areas and between secondary urban areas (Oakland, Berkeley, etc), rail feeder service, and some more purely suburban services. NJ TRANSIT is similar. In other areas, this sort of mixed need might not exist.


As much as I like to complain about sfmuni, they did go to the hassle of picking out major-service-corridors on their map.

I'm guessing most of these have some level of frequency. The version of the map I saw (they don't have the latest online) has these corridors in day-glo yellow, afair.


I can't find the alternate map someone made up which only has some of these important lines on it. Its great to know the 'important' lines if its ok to walk a few extra blocks.


@Scott: Do you mean http://sfcityscape.com/maps/bay_area_transit/SF_mainlines.gif ?

@Steve Lax: NJ Transit doesn't publish a bus map at all! It's not surprising that many routes are patronised primarily by very defined sets of commuters when it's so difficult for outsiders to find information on what service exists. The private NJ bus operators are even worse.

Zef Wagner

There's a guy named Oran in Seattle who makes awesome frequent transit maps. They seem to solve a lot of the issues mentioned here and seem very easy to understand.



Paul K. McGregor

As a former resident of the East Bay, I found the AC Transit maps to be quite useful not only to show where routes go but to also show some detail for the street system as well. Probably the one thing I didn't liike was having to have three diffferent maps but I suppose that's the tradeoff for having more detail.

I will agree that making the system as simple as possible to make it user friendly is useful but let's not make it simpler just to make it easier to produce a map. In AC Transit's case, the map is made more complex not because of the route structure but because of the different levels of service that exists. If all you wanted to do was a map showing the routes, that would be a very easy map to do. It's adding all of the details that makes it more complicated.


"I will agree that making the system as simple as possible to make it user friendly is useful but let's not make it simpler just to make it easier to produce a map."

I would propose to exactly do that. Or at least try, because I understand that this is not always possible. The map is directly related to how easy it is to understand the system as a user. Too many service patterns are not only hard to map, but also hard to understand. And users probably won't use services they don't understand. So if a transit agency aspires to do more than just shuttling those who cannot afford a car to and from work, then it should try to create services that provide actual mobility.

Steve Lax

@anon256 - You are correct that NJ Transit does not have a current system bus map (covering the entire state of NJ would be difficult to do at a readable level) or even county or regional maps. However, you can determine specifically available bus service from Google Maps or the njtransit.com trip planning tool. I might add that until the current recession (I retired a year ago so I can't speak about what has happened since) bus ridership was growing in a very healthy manner; so people were finding out about service.

As I understand it, the budget is the primary reason there is no current traditional bus map (as apparently is an issue at AC Transit). (For example, the hours of the Transit Information Center have been cut and the toll-free number eliminated.) However, NJ TRANSIT has produced county commuter connection guides ("bubble" maps), where each municipality (or neighborhood in the larger cities) and some major generators were also shown. Links between bubbles showed which routes connected which bubbles which make it possible to at least determine which routes could be considered for specific trips. The guides were hard to keep in print because they were popular; but they were cheaper to produce than conventional maps.

But your comment raises an interesting question: Given the availability of transit agency trip planners, timetables posted on line, and services like Google Maps showing transit options (and other tools not available a decade or two ago), for what purposes and for which audiences are transit maps valuable? Is a general purpose transit map still useful to (or the best way to reach) a broad audience? Does the nature of a territory covered by the transit agency help define the need for a map or the type of map? Should a map for tourists be different than a map for residents? And there can be many more related questions.

V Smoothe

I have never had any trouble figuring out where different routes go on the AC Transit map - so for that goal, I think the design of the map was successful. However, I had no idea what all the different colors indicated or the shapes or anything else until I read this post. It had actually never even occurred to me that the colors of the lines match with the colors on the buses before, which makes me feel kind of dense.

It's very impressive to me how much information is conveyed about these routes on the map, but I don't think it's very intuitive to the user that all that information is there. When I look at a bus map, I tend to just look at where I'm trying to go to find the line I need, not look at the key. Maybe this is different that the way people did it in the past because with the internet, web enabled cell phones, and services like NextBus, Google Transit, and Transit 511, it's a lot easier to figure out which bus you need to take and when it runs than it used to be. I remember when I lived in Portland and used to carry around a big fold out TriMet system map and a book of all the schedules in my bag. It's weird to think about that now.


@Steve Lax: Jarett's post on the case for frequency mapping applies even more strongly as a case for SOME sort of map as opposed to none at all. The important arguments are:
- First, some of us are spatial navigators, and need to understand our trip on the map rather than as a list of steps. Well, maybe your website gives us a map of the trip, so that's maybe OK.
- Second, narrative instructions are brittle. They work if everything works perfectly, but if there's any kind of disruption, we're helpless. Only maps can show us where we are, and what our options are, at every moment of the journey.
- Third, narrative instructions do nothing to build a person's understanding of their transit network, and of their city. And if you want to feel free in your city, capable of moving about at will to do things you want to do, that's the kind of understanding you need.
I would add that Google Transit still lacks coverage for most of the world's transit systems (e.g. how do I find out where I can transfer from NJ Transit to Rockland Coaches?), and that it ignores fares (e.g. suggesting only rail when a cheaper, slightly slower bus exists).

Every transit agency has budget issues, but essentially every other transit agency in the country manages to throw together some sort of map to give customers some idea where service is available. NJT's lack of a bus map really is inexcusable.


I think it would be better to have three separate maps, for simplicity.

1. A frequent map
2. A night network map
3. An express peak hour map

(that or simplify the routes)

Steve Lax

@Anon256 (9/6 - 15:14)

Personally, I have treasured maps of all sorts and timetables since I was a fairly young child (about 7 or 8 years old). I always try to acquire a transit map of a city I am visiting. I find them useful, even when I have already learned much of what I need to know about how to navigate the city I am visiting prior to my visit. But I recently navigated Marseille and Sassari and Alghero (in Sardinia) without ones.

However, NJ Transit (and I am sure many other agencies) is extremely cash constrained, both operating and capital monies. For example, as of the time I retired a year ago, money could not be found to install a GPS system on the buses. Obviously, GPS data would provide real running time data for improving schedule reliability and could lead to a real-time "next bus" system both on-line and at key terminals.

However, technology is rapidly passing by those of us who think spatially and love maps (transit and road). More and more people rely on Google Maps (or competitors) or a GPS system for directions. I happened to be in my local Borders Books today and the newest county maps from the two major publishers of NJ county road maps were from 2005. Most were older. They used to be issued every two or three years.

Concerning your specific concern of connecting from NJ Transit to Rockland Coach, I suggest you contact the Bergen County Planning Board. They issued a map of all of the public transit services in the county that may still be available. (Warning: It is difficult to read; because it is an overlay of bus routes on a road map. However, this does illustrate the complex issues of producing a map where you don't have a grid network.)

Concerning your concern about needing a map to see where the bus is going, all NJ Transit timetables (almost always available on the bus and always available on line) have a route map (not to scale) that you can use to follow your journey and determine where to connect to other NJ Transit routes. (That Google lacks coverage for many systems suggests that these systems do not have data files in a format Google can read. Providing Google with the data it wants costs money if you have to convert your data formats; money for which a transit agency may believe it has better uses.)

Concerning disruptions of service: In much of suburban NJ there is no good alternative; however, assuming you have a cell phone, you can call the Transit Information Center and ask whether there is one specific to the time you are traveling (if the Information Center is open, as it is during most travel hours). If you are on the bus, you can ask the bus operator.

Readers of Jarrett's blog are either in some way in the transit (or a related) business, transit advocates, or transit enthusiasts. For this particular market, good transit maps are useful. However, there is a cost to produce such maps (including deciding what to show on the maps in addition to the transit routes and extensive proofing for accuracy.) For most people, the map on a bus timetable is adequate.

Personally, I would like NJ Transit to post a system map on line (PDF or HTML). Then one could focus on all or part of the system. I think this would be a fair approach. (The system is mapped, including the private bus lines to the extent that the private bus lines provide accurate information and update it.) There are initial decisions that need to be made, such as what density of street network should be shown, the frequency issue debated on numerous posts on this blog, which landmarks to show, etc.; but upkeep would be far cheaper than a printed map.

Alon Levy

Steve, on this blog some people have produced urban frequent network maps at essentially zero cost. For NJT to do the same would probably have negative cost: the extra ridership coming from people understanding the service better would offset the tiny cost of drawing a map.


As far as a NJ Transit bus system map goes, no official map exists. However, an unofficial one does exist.

Steve Lax

@alon - (9/7) - There are two major issues that were constantly debated within NJ TRANSIT while I was there concerning almost any distribution of information:

1. How to handle the private bus carriers operating in New Jersey when NJ TRANSIT does not control their schedules or routes. This would apply to any frequent network map as two of the most frequent local routes in Newark and one in Jersey City are operated by a private bus operator. (There are also the jitneys in Atlantic City and a wide variety of van operators in Hudson, Bergen, and Passaic Counties. Getting service information from most of the van operators has proven difficult; though Hudson County has just commenced a study of their operations.)

2. When talking about NJ Transit, you are not talking about creating a single map but multiple overlapping maps, as no single easily handled map can represent the entire state at a readable scale. Related to this is the question of how to handle the long distance routes, including frequent service routes (New York - Paterson, New York - Freehold, for example.) In the NJ TRANSIT system, most of the interstate commuter routes carry intrastate passengers in some fashion over some or all of their intrastate non-express routings.

@Zmapper - I looked at the unofficial map you cited (one of many that cover all or part of the state) and it is the best of the bunch. It was even up-to-date concerning recent service cuts. It also covered many of the non-NJ Transit routes that are operated by other public jurisdictions (mainly the counties). However, when I looked at it about three weeks ago, it had none of the private carrier routes (a complaint of another commenter here.) As I indicated in my last post (9/7 at 10:01), NJ Transit has its system and almost all private and other public bus operators mapped (though the private operators often drop/change routes without notifying NJ Transit) and that the map could/should be posted on the web and be made available in "app" formats for cell phones, PDAs, etc. However, the debate point I raised initially here was whether paper maps (about which much is written on this blog by both Jarrett and commenters) are becoming obsolete in the same manner that it is harder and harder to find a recently dated road map at my local book store.

To all: Special use transit maps can be very helpful and can be created off of a GIS base. Many are regularly produced at NJ Transit for internal use or use by appropriate outsiders (for example, municipal land use planners). And there is no question that readers of this blog would cherish NJ Transit bus network maps if such maps existed. However, creating paper maps is quite costly and most people (based on my experiences) cannot read transit maps well, even frequent service type maps.

Dan S.

As a regular AC Transit rider, I take a few issues with the official map.

1) The map is rotated more than 45 degrees from true North. This is an obstacle for spatial thinkers. For example, I may want to take the 12 bus from Berkeley to Oakland which many would think of as a southbound journey. When I go to the timetable, my choices are between east and west, neither of which describes my real journey. I may have to wait for a long time if I'm reading the wrong direction on the timetable. Even more confusing is the F bus, which appears to head in a southeasterly direction towards SF on the map. In the timetables, to catch that bus, you would actually have to look for the westbound bus.

2) Zoom in as close as you can on the Downtown Berkeley transit knot. Under no lens would you be able to tell that AC Transit has scattered the bus stops about Shattuck Plaza to help congestion. Instead of knowing in advance where you need to be, you have to go back and forth across 6-lane Shattuck Blvd. until you find the sign with the tiny numbers on it (that anyone with visual impairment would have trouble reading.) If you make a mistake at this transit hub, that could cost you anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes.

3) No one has bothered to put any maps inside of the buses. Since there aren't maps at every station either, I presumably have to plan my entire trip before leaving home. This reduces my ability to be spontaneous with AC Transit and presents a significant barrier for new users.

4) I wouldn't mention this except that the official map is so extensive. The indecent number of transit agencies in the Bay Area, with all of their inter-agency quarrels, separate fare structures, and duplicated routes, shows through in the map. Whether by accident or design, the map leaves out a lot of connecting information. Is there really no transit over the Richmond Bridge? If Marin Transit isn't shown, why then do BART and the Dumbarton Express make appearances? When am I made to pay an extra fare or when do I get discounts for switching between agencies? Why doesn't the Oakland AirBART make an appearance when the rest of BART does? I understand that this is an AC Transit map and not an East Bay transit map, but that map isn't for AC Transit employees, it's for people trying to get around.

I hope my comments were on topic enough to be relevant to your series on mapping because I don't mean to broadly criticize AC Transit in this forum. I just wanted to share some thoughts from a user.


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