Modes of Transit – from American Public Transit Association

Modal Data

Tables 29 through 41 provide statistics about the characteristics of the various modes of public transportation operations. Data are presented on two summary tables of national information, with roadway modes in Table 29 and rail modes and ferryboat in Table 36, followed by tables listing agency-specific information on unlinked passenger trips. Given the large number of bus, demand response, and transit vanpool agencies, only the largest 50 agencies of each mode are listed for bus and demand response, and 30 for transit vanpool. Tables 30 through 35 and 37 through 41 list agencies operating each mode in urbanized areas and Tables 42 and 43 list agencies by mode of operating service in rural areas.

Transit service is provided by a variety of modes, defined both by the type of vehicle they use, operating characteristics of the service they provide, and the travel needs of the riding public for which they are designed.

A mode is a system for carrying passengers, described by a specific right-of-way, technology, and operational features. The mode of service in most cities is buses.



The Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation provides fixed-route scheduled bus service in the Lafayette, IN area. Bus data are reported in Tables 29 and 30.

Fixed-route bus service, called “bus” service in the Fact Book, is the basic public transportation service in most American communities. Nearly one-half of all public transportation trips are taken by bus. Modern buses have automated stop announcements, security cameras, bicycle racks, and are accessible to persons in wheelchairs. This Foothill Transit bus provides express service from Diamond Bar, CA, into downtown Los Angeles. Bus data are reported in Tables 29 and 30.

Bus service is provided by rubber-tired vehicles powered by engines using fuel carried on the vehicle. Most buses operate in fixed-route service on regular schedules, and passengers pay a fare or present a pass or transfer when boarding their bus. Nearly all buses are accessible for wheelchairs by lifts or ramps, and most can carry bicycles on racks in front of the bus. 


Bus Rapid Transit systems operate vehicles on separate rights-of-way with high-frequency service, low-floor vehicles, stations, traffic signal priority, and other operating improvements which increase their speed and passenger capacity. BRT is the newest operational type of bus service and offers increased capacity and higher speeds when buses are taken off of congested streets and arterials in central areas.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Health Line provides bus rapid transit service in bus-only lanes that are prohibited to other vehicles. This BRT bus is headed east on Euclid Avenue toward University Circle from downtown Cleveland, OH. Bus rapid transit data are reported in Tables 29 and 31.



Commuter buses provide high-speed longer distance service to commuters for their daily journey to work. The average passenger trip length on a commuter bus is over 26 miles while the average trip on a regular bus is less than 4 miles.

Community Transit Double Tall buses in Everett, WA, provide commuter bus service to downtown Seattle. Commuter bus data are reported in Tables 29 and 32.


Demand response service vehicles travel on roads and streets but take passengers directly from their origins to their destinations. Demand response service is provided primarily by vans. By law, accessible demand response service must be provided in all areas served by regular route transit service to persons with disabilities or those otherwise unable to use fixed-route service.

The Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority provides Access LYNX demand response service in the Orlando, FL region. Passengers who are not able to use fixed-route services are taken directly from their origins to their destinations. Demand response data are reported in Tables 29 and 33.

General demand response service is not required by law and is often open to larger segments of the public or all riders. Some general demand response services are operated during late-night and weekend hours in place of fixed-route services.


Another type of roadway transit service is the trolleybus. Trolleybuses are standard rubber-tired buses except they are powered by electric motors and receive electricity from two overhead wires through trolley poles on top of the vehicle. Able to negotiate congested city traffic, trolleybuses provide environmentally friendly transit service.

This TransLink trolleybus operates in the central area of Vancouver, BC. Trolleybus data for U.S. are reported in Tables 29 and 35. Data for Canadian transit operations are reported in Table 44.


Five rail modes provide most of the rail transit service operated in the U.S.: light rail and streetcar, heavy rail, and commuter rail and hybrid rail. Each of these modes operates on rail rights-of-way, but they differ in many other characteristics. Most operate on private right-of-way exclusive of motor vehicles but some operate in streets. Passengers board some only in stations but others pick up riders at stops in streets. Some are designed for fast, long distance trips and others for shorter trips in congested areas. The following sections describe those and other differences among modes of rail service.


Light rail is a mode of service provided by single vehicles or short trains on either private rights-of-way or in roads and streets. Passengers board in stations or from track side stops in streets. Light rail vehicles and infrastructure are designed to carry a “light” load of passenger traffic when compared to heavy rail which carries a “heavy” load of passenger traffic. A primary difference between light rail and streetcar is the longer distances between stops and higher operating speeds of light rail trains. Streetcars often function as distributor systems in congested central areas.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority light rail vehicles provide transit service in the Los Angeles, CA region. Light rail vehicles operate on private rights-of-way and city streets in many American urban areas. This train is passing the Los Angeles Trade Technical College on the Exposition Transportation Corridor (Expo Line) from Culver City to downtown Los Angeles. The Expo Line is being extended to Santa Monica with passenger service scheduled to begin in 2016. Light rail data are reported in Tables 36 and 40.


 Streetcar service is a type of light rail service with frequent stops with nearly the entire route operated in streets. It is usually in denser, high-traffic areas, and the vehicles are designed for lower speeds and to allow quick boarding and alighting by passengers.

Streetcars provide a type of light rail service characterized by more frequent stops and shorter trips in higher density areas. This streetcar is owned and operated by the City of Portland in partnership with the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon. Streetcar data are reported in Tables 36 and 40.