To my mind the most serene are when homes are dotted along one road between two towns. In other words being on the way!
Even though residential density is low, bus service levels and patronage can be suprisingly high eg Melbourne Route 683 http://www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au/route/view/925
As soon as there are multiple parallel roads between towns, or one can't draw a 'line of best' fit that's direct between A and B, can be driven by road AND is walkable from homes along it, then the effectiveness of public transport drops greatly.
I wonder if this is one of the reasons for transit working in European mountainous villages where there's only one road and villages dotted along it?
I think this is right. If topgraphy prevents development from spreading away from a single main road, you get a perfect geography for transit -- everyone within walking distance of a single line. This is why transit planners find so much beauty in one-dimensional urban forms, such as linear strips of beachfront towns or strings of villages along mountain roads.
Paul Mees's recent book talks quite a bit about the amazing performance of rural transit in Switzerland, and I'm now curious if this geography is part of what makes the difference.
Photo: Cultivated mountainous landscape east of Bern, summer 2009.