Monday, June 22, 2009

Transit numerology

Many large transit systems use numbering systems to make riding the bus more user-friendly. By looking at the numbers, you can tell something about the route, usually an end point and the type of service. Los Angeles Metro does this, their numbering system is as follows:
  • 0-99: Local service, one endpoint in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 1XX: East-west service, not in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 2XX: North-south service, not in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 3XX- Limited-stop service, usually 3(local route number), eg 316 is the limited-stop version of local route 16.

  • 4XX- Express service to Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 5XX- Express service, not in Downtown Los Angeles.

  • 6XX- Community services and circulators.

  • 7XX- Rapid service, usually 7(local route number), eg 720 is the Rapid version of local route 20.

  • 8XX- Internal designations of rail service.

  • 9XX- Special transit corridors, mostly internal. 920 is a super-duper 720 Rapid.


You get the idea. Just by looking at the number of a route, I can figure out something about that route, and therefore the system is easier for me, as a user, to navigate. RTA knows that this sort of system is beneficial, as they do use some numerical designations. 50-series routes are trolleys, 200-series routes are CommuterLink express routes, and in many areas the routes are kept in the same block of 10 or so numbers. However, by and large, there is no coherent system. There is nothing about #16, currently a long inter-regional route in Riverside and Moreno valley, that distinguishes it from #17, a soon-to-be-discontinued local in Moreno Valley. With the new Ride Guide, they have stopped the rather insane 18-18/A designation, but to put a MoVal circulator route in at #11 makes very little sense. It's right between 10 and 12, a pair of Riverside cross-town locals. And take a look at the single-digit routes- 1 is Riverside/Corona, 3 is Corona/Eastvale, and 7 and 8 are Lake Elsinore locals. Now, obviously, RTA's large service area necessitates some flexibility, especially when looking at routes like #'s 22 and 27, which travel vast distances and connect several communities. However, I've devised a numbering scheme that, I think, takes into account the proclivities of our huge service area, and packs surprising amounts of information into route numbers.

As of now, RTA serves nearly 40 distinct communities, as listed in their Ride Guide, but for brevity I've broken these down into 9 regions, each with a number. You'll see their purpose in a bit.
Riverside- 1
Corona- 2
Jurupa- 3
Moreno Valley- 4
Banning/Beaumont- 5
Perris- 6
Lake Elsinore- 7
Hemet- 8
Temecula- 9

Now, RTA (in the proposed Short-Range Transit Plan) helpfully classified their routes into a few categories: Regional, Local, Rural, Express, and Special/Trolley. This gives us a basis for our numerical classification. Local routes will be designated with two digits- first, their appropriate region, and then a serial number.
Most Riverside routes retain their designation, as 1 is the regional number for Riverside. #10 becomes #11, as #11 becomes the first route in Moreno Valley, #41. Jurupa-serving #21 and #29 become #31 and #32. Hemet's 31, 32, 33 and 42 become 81, 82, 83 and 84 respectively.

For regional routes, we manage to put even more information in the bus number. Regionals are designated with three digits, a 1 followed by a digit for their origin and a digit for their destination. In this proposal, I've kept it simple by leaving the lower-numbered region the "origin", but a more thorough analysis could systematize this further, sorting them either by compass direction or by the order of the first morning trip.
Perhaps the oddest change here is that Route 1 becomes #112. (RTA classifies it as a Regional route, between Riverside and Corona.) #19 becomes #146, #20 becomes #114, #22 becomes #117, and #27 becomes #118. The #61, Sun City to Temecula, is classified #169, as Sun City is close enough to Perris, and I ran out of region numbers. Considering there are no local routes that solely serve Sun City, there is no reason to assign it a region number.

Express routes follow largely the same convention as regional routes, except that the numbers are ordered by their peak-time commute direction. Anywhere out of the RTA local service area is "0", so Montclair, Oceanside and Escondido, as well as the Village at Orange hold this designation.
204 becomes 210, 202 becomes 290, and the 210 becomes 251. As the 204 is already using the "210 (Express, Riverside-Out of area)" designation, 149 could be assigned 212 (Express, Riverside-Corona), 201 (Express, Out of area-Riverside) or 220 (Express, Corona-Out of area). I prefer 201 myself.

Trolley and special routes could be integrated into the local category, but I figure that, since they deserve a special designation already, they ought to keep it. They follow the local route convention, but with a leading 3, so they are designated 3, region number, serial number.
50 and 51 become 311 and 312, 55 and 57 become 391 and 392.

You can see how, with just a touch of ingenuity, a lot more intelligence can be planned into the bus system. If this numbering system were adopted, a passenger at 4th and Wilkerson in Perris wouldn't have to even look at the bus book to find out which routes head to Riverside- the 117 and 118 would show it right in their route number. Passengers would instantly be able to distinguish local buses from ones traveling further afield, and three-digit route numbering opens up possibilities for rapid bus designations in the near future. The Magnolia Avenue BRT could then be the 412, or we could follow the LA convention and make it the 712. Furthermore, a brief instruction on the numbering system would enable anyone to find his/her way through RTA's massive service area with relative ease.

However, I know that this system will never be implemented. Institutional inertia, and the inevitable complaints from veteran users, will kill it dead. Still, I can hope.

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