As with most industries these days, transit is evolving. Technologies are emerging, new mobility options are becoming available, and people are moving more freely than ever before. From rails to buses, to scooters and autonomous vehicles, it can be hard to keep up with the new and exciting developments happening in the world of transportation.
For those of us who work in the industry, however, knowing these terms comes with the work we love and the passion we have to keep our communities moving!
In order to make life a little easier, we’ve created a modern glossary of transit terms. In this glossary, we’ll define everything from transportation policies to new technologies, along with common acronyms and measurements that are used in transportation management every day. Click on a letter below to jump to the word you’re looking for, and let us know if we’re missing anything! We’ll try and keep this list updated as mobility continues to grow. Who knows, we might even invent a new word or two along the way.
Click on a letter below to navigate to the corresponding section.
The ability and level of ease with which all riders — including those with disabilities, special requirements, or other needs — can access transportation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that comparable transportation service be offered to individuals with disabilities who are unable to use fixed-route transportation systems. Paratransit service must be available to individuals who start and end their transportation within three-quarters of a mile of a normal fixed route.
An agency is an operator of a transit system, including both university and municipal public transportation agencies. See also: transit agency.
agency-owned on-demand microtransit
On-demand microtransit services that are either completely delivered by or through the local transit agency on behalf of their city. The agency has unfettered access to all transit service data and where the agency and the city are prescriptive on where and how services are delivered.
American Public Transportation Association (APTA)
APTA is a nonprofit international association of more than 1,500 public and private sector member organizations. Programs include advocacy for federal funding and policies, research, technical expertise and consulting services, workforce development programs, educational conferences and seminars, and 135 subject-matter working committees.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Federal legislation passed in 1990 that defines the responsibilities of and requirements for transportation providers to make transportation accessible to individuals with disabilities. This means that public transportation providers cannot refuse to provide transportation because of a person’s disability. This also requires that a public transit agency’s fixed-route service include a complementary paratransit service for those who may be unable to access fixed-route bus or rail.
A TransLoc product that enables transit agencies to build and manage their General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) feeds: the standard format for public transportation data. Architect allows users to simply view GTFS data in tabular and graphical formats in one place. Users can customize details for routes and stops on maps. It also has built-in checks that warn users about errors before exporting their GTFS feeds to Google, Apple, etc, so the public receives accurate GTFS files to know where their stops are located, etc.
automatic fare collection (AFC)
A system of devices and technology that automates ticketing and fare collection for a public transit system.
automatic passenger counting (APC)
Method of using electronic devices, typically situated near the doors of a bus or vehicle, that count the number of passengers that enter and exit at every stop. APC systems can sync with other operations hubs to provide real-time monitoring and inform route optimizations based on passenger information.
automatic vehicle location (AVL)
The use of computers and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to dispatch and track transit vehicles in real-time.
automatic voice annunciation (AVA)
Equipment installed on a public transit vehicle to play audible information about upcoming stops. Used by agencies to comply with ADA requirements and provide an enhanced experience to their riders.
autonomous vehicle (AV)
A self-driving vehicle that does not require manual assistance to operate.
Areas in which certain types of vehicles are regulated, sometimes by time of day or day of week. Public transit vehicles are usually permitted unrestricted access.
The minimum cost paid for transit service during base periods, excluding express service charges, transfer charges, or reduced fares.
When transit services are scheduled at a normal, constant level. Also known as “off-peak periods,” when base fares are charged.
Roads, or sections of roads, that are dedicated to public buses. Busways may contain tracks or grooves for guiding buses and restricting other traffic.
An arrangement among commuters or travelers to make a regular trip in a single, shared vehicle. Some high-population areas may offer reserved carpool traffic lanes for vehicles carrying a driver and one or more passengers.
A model of car rental where people rent cars for short periods of time, often by the hour. Attractive to people who make only occasional use of a vehicle, as well as those who would like occasional access to a vehicle of a different type than the one they use day-to-day.
central business district (CBD)
The commercial and business centers in cities. CBDs often contain the highest density of commercial space and offices and service as common destination points for public transit.
Riders who have a transportation choice, such as commuters who could use their private vehicle but choose to take public transportation.
A fixed-route transportation option that typically operates within a closed loop, usually three miles or shorter in length. Effective in high-density areas with common shared travel patterns such as city centers or college campuses.
Ford’s City Solutions is a team that works with mayors, government, and business leaders who are interested in exploring how new mobility solutions could help residents get around by addressing urban environment issues.
An approach to transportation design that requires streets to be planned, designed, and maintained to enable safe and comfortable access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. Complete streets allow for safe travel by those walking, cycling, driving automobiles, and riding public transportation.
computer-aided dispatch (CAD)
Software helping agencies deploy their drivers and vehicles according to the complex agency rules and plans. Typical CAD systems include services for dispatching, customer support, and administration. Also referred to as a joint system in conjunction with automatic vehicle location (AVL) as CAD/AVL.
congestion mitigation and air quality (CMAQ)
A federal program that provides funding for transportation projects that reduce emissions and contributes to the reduction of pollutants. Examples of eligible projects include vehicle replacement, facility development, non-recreational trails, and bike-share programs.
Reserved traffic lanes for buses where the direction of bus traffic is opposite to the flow of traffic on other lanes on the same street.
A broad area of land that follows a general directional flow, containing a number of streets, highways, and transit routes, and that connects major sources of trips.
A unique bus or rail service which does not enter the central business district (CBD).
Also referred to as curbside management, curb management is the collection of operations, guidelines, and practices that enable the effective management of curbs and other high-demand areas for applications such as accessibility, transportation, and safety.
Curb-to-curb service is a type of transit service where, at both the beginning and end of the trip, the driver will assist the rider between the vehicle and a sidewalk or other location no more than 15 feet from the vehicle.
When a transit vehicle is operating without passengers on board, often to and from a garage or from one route to another.
Demand response, or demand-response transit, is a broad category of public transit in which shuttles or other shared vehicles will alter their routes during each journey based on rider locations and drop offs. Rides can be summoned through an app or phone call.
Demand-response transit may include shuttle services to connect riders to employment and transit centers, paratransit, and private sector transit solutions such as Uber and Lyft. Benefits of demand-responsive transit services include greater flexibility in routing and scheduling compared to traditional fixed-route services.
Someone who must use public transportation to meet their mobility needs.
deviated fixed route
Service routes that are characterized by deviated times, rather than deviated routes. Service routes allow riders to hail a vehicle and request a drop-off anywhere along the route.
Dial-a-ride is an origin-to-destination advanced reservation transportation service provided by public transit for seniors and persons with disabilities. Passengers must call one to three days ahead of time to request a reservation.
A period when a bus or vehicle is not being operated due to repairs or general maintenance.
Operator of a vehicle.
electronic fare payment (EFP)
The automated calculation, validation, collection, recording, and reporting of passenger fare payments using some form of electronic media for rides on a mass transit system. Such acceptance is generally referred to as open payments within the mass transit industry.
Within GTFS, specific dates that are included or excluded from a particular trip.
Fare elasticity measures how sensitive passengers are to fare price, and can be used to predict changes in service demand as fare price increases or decreases.
farebox recovery ratio
The fraction of operating expenses which are met by the fares paid by passengers. It is computed by dividing the system’s total fare revenue by its total operating expenses. Across the U.S. public transit system, the average farebox recovery ratio is approximately 20%.
The value of cash, pass receipts, and tokens given by passengers as payment for transit service.
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
The U.S. Department of Transportation agency responsible for administering the federal highway aid program to individual states, and helping to plan, develop, and coordinate construction of federally-funded highway projects.
Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
Government agency providing financial and technical assistance to local public transit systems while also overseeing safety measures and helping develop next-generation technology research.
A GTFS “feed” is composed of a group of text files collected within a .zip file. Each file contains a particular set of transit information, such as stops, trips, routes, and other data.
first mile/last mile (FM/LM)
The beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by public transportation. In many cases, people will walk to transit if it is close enough. However, on either end of a public transit trip, the origin or destination may be difficult or impossible to access by a short walk. This gap from public transit to destination is termed a last-mile connection.
Transit services that are provided on a repetitive, fixed schedule along a specified route. Unlike demand responsive transit, fixed-route vehicles only stop to pick up and drop off passengers at specific locations or stops. In order to maximize efficiency, each route in a fixed-route service is usually designed to provide coverage in areas of high ridership.
Services provided on a repetitive, fixed schedule along a specific route with vehicles stopping to pick up and deliver passengers to specific locations. Each fixed-route trip serves the same origins and destinations, such as rail and bus; unlike demand responsive and vanpool services.
Uptime and productivity tools from Ford that create operational efficiencies from new fleet insights.
Headway, or the time between trips, for a given route.
Parking areas, usually located outside of the central business district (CBD), and most often used by residents of suburban areas who commute downtown.
General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS)
Common format for public transportation schedules and geographic information. GTFS feeds allow public transit agencies to publish their transit data and developers to write applications that consume that data in an interoperable way. A GTFS feed is a collection of at least six, and up to 13 CSV files (with extension .txt) contained within a .zip file.
General Transit Feed Specification Realtime, GTFS-RT (GTFS Realtime)
A format for expressing the real-time information about a fixed-route transit system. Similar to GTFS, GTFS-RT adds a layer of dynamic information about vehicle positions and arrival times.
Provided by Google, the GTFS Validator allows you to validate a GTFS feed upon submitting it to Google.
The time interval between vehicles moving in the same direction or along a particular fixed route.
sign located in the front or rear of a bus indicating the route the bus is on.
A paratransit feature of TransLoc’s OnDemand required for persons with disabilities to be able to schedule their rides in advance.
instant replay viewer (IRV)
A feature within many transit operations software products allowing dispatchers, administrators, and other agency personnel to view historical system operations as an “instant replay.” This feature gives agencies the opportunity to diagnose prior issues, improve driver training, and audit service performance after-the-fact.
intelligent transport systems (ITS)
An advanced application which aims to provide innovative services relating to different modes of transport and traffic management, enabling users to be better informed and make safer and smarter use of transport networks. ITS is made up of 16 types of technology-based systems, divided into intelligent infrastructure systems and intelligent vehicle systems.
Intermodal, or multimodal, services include more than one mode of transportation and often require connections, choices, and coordination between various modes.
intermodal passenger transport
internal destination signage
Displays and plays stop arrivals and departures. Also known as interior signage.
International Parking & Mobility Institute (IPMI)
IPMI is the world’s largest association of professionals in parking, transportation, and mobility. Members include everyone from garage owners and operators to architects to city managers to government agencies, health care centers, universities, airports, and convention centers.
A small bus or other vehicle that carries passengers for a low fare. In the early 1900s, jitney was slang for nickel due to the popularity of services that charged five-cent fares.
Any sign at a terminal or stop that has human interaction.
Time that is built into a transit schedule between the end of a route and departure for the return trip. Layover time is typically used to recover any delays accumulated during the initial trip and to prepare for the return trip.
A ratio calculated by the number of passengers carried divided by the total passenger capacity of a transit vehicle.
Digital display sign located at an internal stop or lobby.
TransLoc’s marketing offering for transit agencies which includes a free launch guide and marketing kit. The program also has a Campaign Builder which provides customizable turnkey print and digital promotional assets. Additionally, customers can add rider engagement surveys, a customized marketing strategy and plan, and custom design hours.
mean distance between failures (MDBF)
A measurement of the average distance in miles that a transit vehicle travels before a breakdown or other failure causes the vehicle to be removed from service.
The use of small, lightweight personal vehicles (e.g., electric scooters, e-bikes, bicycles, etc.) to travel short distances, typically within an urban environment or college campus.
A flexible, demand-driven mode of service that helps agencies optimize vehicles and improve the rider experience while reducing cost. See also: on-demand microtransit.
Providing fares for riders through mobile devices. Companies such as Masabi and Token Transit.
A shift away from personally-owned modes of transportation and towards mobility solutions that are consumed as a service. This is enabled by combining transportation services from public and private transportation providers through a unified gateway that creates and manages the trip, which users can pay for with a single account. Users can pay per trip or a monthly fee for a limited distance. The key concept behind MaaS is to offer travelers mobility solutions based on their travel needs.
mobility integrator (MI)
What transit agencies are aiming to become by integrating not only different modes of transportation, but also regional, city, and county partners to provide real-time solutions for riders.
The application of strategies and policies to reduce travel demand, or to redistribute this demand. Managing demand can be a cost-effective alternative to increasing capacity.
mobility on demand (MOD)
An innovative, user-focused approach which leverages emerging mobility services, integrated transit networks and operations, real-time data, connected travelers, and cooperative ITS to allow for a more traveler-centric approach, providing improved mobility options to all travelers and users of the system in an efficient and safe manner.
mobility service provider (MSP)
An organization that pairs passengers via websites and mobile apps with drivers who provide transportation services. Transportation network companies are examples of the sharing economy and shared mobility. See also: transportation network companies (TNCs)
The number of people who use alternative forms of transportation in lieu of public transit. It is typically used to determine the percentage of people in an area who use private vehicles as an alternative to public transit.
Involves using two or more modes of transportation in a journey. Mixed-mode commuting is often used to combine the strengths and offset the weaknesses of various transportation options. A major goal of modern intermodal passenger transport is to reduce dependence on the automobile as the major mode of ground transportation and increase use of public transport.
National Transportation Database (NTD)
The NTD was established by Congress to be the nation’s primary source for information and statistics on the transit systems of the United States. Recipients or beneficiaries of grants from the FTA are required by statute to submit data to the NTD.
non-emergency medical transport/transportation (NEMT)
A transportation service provided to individuals who are not in an emergency situation but need more assistance than a taxi service is able to provide. Oftentimes, these services are specially equipped to transport riders in wheelchairs, stretchers, or with other ability needs.
on-board communication (OBC)
On-board communication systems can consist of audio and/or visual communication devices such as loudspeakers, LED signs, and video monitors that allow for messages to be relayed to passengers in order to communicate route and stop information or other pertinent messages while onboard a bus or vehicle.
Surveys conducted by transit agencies every three to ten years. On-board surveys generally involve hiring an outside company to create a survey and collect responses from passengers on agency vehicles. Surveys try to assess passenger satisfaction and gather information for planning purposes as well as to satisfy funding sources such as state or federal grants.
Software provided by TransLoc that helps transit providers manage their demand-response operations, including microtransit, campus/university safe ride, and dial-a-ride services.
A method of passenger transportation that allows for vehicles to alter their routes during each journey based on particular transport demand without using a fixed route or timetable. Vehicles typically pick-up and drop-off passengers in locations according to passengers’ needs and can include taxis, buses, or other vehicles. See also: demand response
Detailed projection of all estimated income and expenses based on forecasted sales revenue during a given period. A majority of municipal transit agencies operate on a fiscal year operating budget that runs from July 1st to June 30th.
The schedule of work for each driver showing all routes they will operate in a day, including arrival and departure times and specific directions.
Paratransit is recognized in North America as special transportation services for people with disabilities, often provided as a supplement to fixed-route bus and rail systems by public transit agencies. TransLoc OnDemand is a demand-response system that can power paratransit systems.
An individual on board, boarding, or alighting from a revenue transit vehicle. Excludes operators, transit employees, and contractors.
Revenue earned from carrying passengers in regularly scheduled services.
passenger information system (PIS)
An automated information system providing real-time passenger information. It may include predictions about arrival and departure times, as well as information about the nature and causes of disruptions. It may be used both physically within a transportation hub and remotely using a web browser or mobile device.
The total number of miles traveled by passengers on transit vehicles. Passenger miles are determined by multiplying the number of unlinked passenger trips times the average length of their trips.
Not defined within the actual GTFS specification, a pattern is an abstraction that exists only within TransLoc Architect. A pattern defines a template for a trip, but does not include stop times or calendar information. Within Architect, it is possible to update a pattern and have the change propagate to the associated trips.
Calculated by taking the number of vehicles operated in passenger service during the peak period divided by the number of vehicles operated during the base period.
Time periods when transit riding is busiest. Typically peak periods are in the morning and afternoon, coinciding with business commutes and standard highway rush hour.
A router that brings in a cell network data plan and creates WIFI and GPS from the device.
Planning & Design Services
A solution that uses the expertise of TransLoc’s certified transportation planners to design the optimal transit system for customers that flexes between fixed route and on demand for their unique system’s needs. This is done through simulation algorithms, service cost analysis, route/system redesign, comprehensive service analysis, and data and visualization analysis.
Ride-sharing, shuttle, or other transportation services that are owned and operated by private companies, not affiliated with local or regional governments. Privately-owned transportation services are often reliant on smaller, private vehicles and are typically predominant in high-traffic areas only, with no obligation to serve under-represented populations.
A rail or bus transit service that operates completely separate from all other modes of transportation on an exclusive right-of-way route.
TransLoc dispatching and fleet management software, which uses integrations with on-vehicle hardware to enable transit agencies to access map-based vehicle tracking and route and vehicle performance.
The ability to track an agency’s current vehicle location as it navigates a fixed or ad hoc route.
A planned time allowance between the arrival time of a just completed trip and the departure time of the next trip in order to allow the route to return to schedule if traffic, loading, or other conditions have made the trip arrive late. Recovery time is considered as reserve running time. Typically, the operator will remain on duty during the recovery period.
The update rate of a GPS module is how often it calculates and reports its position. The standard for most devices is 1hz (once per second).
The time when a vehicle is available to the general public and there is an expectation of carrying passengers. These passengers either directly pay fares, are subsidized by public programs, or provide payment through some contractual arrangement. Vehicles operated in fare free service are considered in revenue service. Revenue service includes layover and recovery time. Revenue service excludes deadhead, vehicle maintenance testing, school bus service, and charter service.
Travel that occurs opposite from the main flow of traffic during the morning peak period. Reverse commuting typically occurs from a CBD to a suburb or non-central location.
Booking rides and paying for a car service with a transportation network company (TNC) through an app. Ridesharing is also used, but this term has been considered inaccurate, so ride-hailing has been considered a more accurate descriptor.
A transit user. See also: passenger.
The total number of passenger trips taken on a particular service or system during a given time period.
A form of transportation, other than public transit, in which more than one person shares in the use of the vehicle, such as a van or car, to make a trip. Uber, Lyft, Via and others are examples of ridesharing services.
The vehicles used in a transit system, including buses, rail cars, vans, and shuttles.
The literal transit route, often referred to as a public transit “line.” Within GTFS, a route is made up of one or more “trips,” which occur at a specific time, making a route time independent.
The total number of miles along a fixed-route transit system.
Within the pattern editor for Architect, a routing waypoint allows you to draw a shape that is automatically routed along roads on the map.
A university-funded service designed as a safe means of transportation on university campuses after dark.
Providing riders a way to complete their journeys across all mobility modes easily while giving agencies the ability to offer demand-driven modes to increase access to public transportation and make transit the first choice for all.
An announcement by a transit agency to a rider regarding an unexpected service interruption (e.g., delays, cancellations). A service alert can be sent to a rider’s mobile device, shared on a transit agency’s website, and/or announced over a vehicle intercom system.
Describes the physical path that a vehicle takes in the real world. A shape consists of a sequence of points, with the points traced in the appropriate order, providing the path of the vehicle.
Virtual simulations are commonly used by transit providers to predict the performance and viability of a particular transit service given a set of circumstances. Simulations are commonly used when implementing demand responsive or microtransit services alongside fixed route or other service models in order to create optimal coverage within multimodal service areas.
single-occupancy vehicle (SOV)
A single-occupancy, privately-operated vehicle with the driver as the only occupant. The drivers of SOVs use their vehicles primarily for personal travel, daily commuting, and for running errands.
A smart city is an urban area that uses different types of electronic data collection sensors to supply information which is used to manage assets and resources efficiently.
A Ford Mobility micromobility company that offers dockless electric scooters and bike services on campuses and in cities across North America and Europe.
The expansion of human populations away from central urban areas into low-density, monofunctional, and car-dependent communities.
A location where a vehicle allows passengers to board or alight.
Times that a vehicle arrives and departs from an individual stop for a given trip.
Contract organizations that operate part or all of a university or municipal transit system on behalf of the university or municipality. Companies like FirstTransit can deploy an entire transit operation for their customers including vehicles, drivers, administrators, planners, etc.
Refers to Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and requires that transportation planning and programming be nondiscriminatory on the basis of race, color, and national origin.
An organization that has specific authority to operate public transit within a specified geographic area.
transit authority/transit district
A transit authority or transit district has the power of the government for solving problems related to transit issues. This includes eminent domain, the ability to impose taxes, and the ability to operate independently of the cities and counties that the transit district operates within.
Areas containing transit-dependent populations who lack access to adequate public transit service.
transit-oriented development (TOD)
A type of development that links land use and transit facilities to support the transit system and help reduce sprawl, traffic congestion, and air pollution. It includes housing and complementary public uses (e.g., jobs, retail, and services) located at a strategic point along a regional transit system, such as a rail hub or major transit stop.
The only transit app with both fixed-route and on-demand data, giving riders more choice and more service reach for transit providers. TransLoc app is available in Spanish and simplified Chinese, with more languages on the way. With a focus on accessibility, the app is fully aligned with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards.
transportation management area (TMA)
Designated by the United States Secretary of Transportation as urbanized areas with a population of at least 200,000 people. These designations require additional oversight and gain access to planning benefits in an effort to continually improve planning processes in areas with large populations.
transportation network company (TNC)
An organization that pairs passengers with drivers who provide transportation services. Transportation network companies are examples of the sharing economy and shared mobility. Uber and Lyft are TNCs.
travel demand model
Used by transportation planners for simulating current travel conditions and for forecasting future travel patterns and conditions. Travel demand models help planners and policymakers analyze the effectiveness and efficiency of alternative transportation investments in terms of mobility, accessibility, and environmental and equity impacts.
The movement of people between relatively distant geographical locations and can involve travel by foot, bicycle, automobile, train, bus, or other means. It can be one way or round trip.
A time-specific journey taken by a vehicle through a series of stops as expressed within a GTFS feed.
United States Department of Transportation (USDOT)
The federal cabinet-level agency with responsibility for highways, mass transit, aviation, and ports. It is headed by the Secretary of Transportation. The USDOT includes the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, among others.
unlinked passenger trips
The frequency in which passengers board a public transportation vehicle.
The fully developed area of a central city and its suburbs. A rather complicated, but consistent formula measures for contiguous urban development. According to the 2010 census, urban areas — classified as either larger urbanized areas or smaller urban clusters — must encompass at least 2,500 people with 1,500 residing outside institutional group quarters.
Agency personnel that use our software, not passengers that use the app.
vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
One vehicle traveling one mile constitutes a vehicle mile. VMT is one measure of the use of state highways and roads, and is aggregated by calculating the total annual miles of vehicle travel divided by a geographical location’s total population.
Bus drivers, shuttle drivers, train conductors or any operator of a vehicle in a transportation system.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires transit agencies to announce stops at transfer points, major intersections, destination points, requested stops, and at intervals along a route sufficient to permit individuals who are blind or have vision impairments to be oriented to their location.
Wait time refers to the time spent by passengers while waiting for a transit vehicle.
Also called outdoor displays. Signage located at a stop or terminal for riders to know how much longer until the bus arrives.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
A range of recommendations to make Web content accessible to people with cognitive disabilities, visual, auditory, and speech impairments, or limited mobility. WCAG 2.0, published on December 11, 2008, consists of 12 guidelines categorized by four principles. All TransLoc software is designed with these guidelines and principles in mind.
A system of fares where a transit system’s service area is divided into zones with different specified rates or fares.