The Ins And Outs Of Fixed Route Scheduling


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reported that in 2019, the US population boarded public transportation 9.9 billion times with an average of 34 million people boarding their rides every weekday. Nearly half of these trips were from public bus routes, which have become more accessible, comfortable, and efficient over the years.

While this method of transit is often one of the most reliable, few pause to ask: "How did this route get here in the first place?" The answer is simple: fixed route scheduling.

By combining urban planning, demographics, and data analysis, fixed route scheduling considers a wide number of variables to both improve existing routes and develop new routes to meet emerging customer needs. The process combines careful optimization and a keen awareness of the communities that public transportation serves. With the help of the right tools, fixed route scheduling creates more timely, dependable systems for commuters.

What Is a Fixed Route?

Unlike a flexible route which can deviate from its typical circuit to meet commuters where they are, a fixed route is the highway or series of highways that a public transit system covers as people travel between two given endpoints.

Fixed Route Transportation Examples

Some common examples of fixed route transportation include:

  • Buses
  • Subways
  • Trains
  • Trolleys
  • Ferries and water taxies

Defined less by transit means and more by route structure, the number of fixed route modes to get around are as diverse as the variables that schedulers must consider.

What Is Fixed Route Scheduling?

Responsible for assigning beginning and endpoints as well as expected trip durations and stops along the way, fixed route scheduling is an element of the broader transportation planning industry. While the latter typically encompasses other considerations like economic impact and environmental friendliness, fixed route scheduling focuses primarily on commuter concerns such as community need, popular locations, and timing. Put simply, fixed route scheduling is the process of planning a new way to get commuters where they need to go.

Route Types

Before looking at the variables associated with fixed route scheduling, the type of route being scheduled must be understood.

There are two common route types of route scheduling: radial (or trunk) routes and cross-town routes. The differences between the two impact the schedules that guide them.

  • Radial routes: Connecting commuters with a popular city hub, radial routes are often joined to the central business district (CBD) and are surrounded by more densely populated areas like suburbs or parks. Because of their central location and relative proximity to their destinations, radial routes are often shorter and more repeatable.
  • Cross-town routes: Unlike radial routes that bring nearby commuters to areas of city activity, cross-town routes are designed to usher those on peripheral locations into major centers. Because they are limited to communities with higher populations, these longer-distance routes are less repeatable and must be designed to intersect with radial routes frequently enough to bring remotely-located commuters onboard.

Although both route types involve the transit of community members in densely populated areas into major city centers, they must account for the needs of their commuters in very different ways. Fixed route scheduling allows both types of routes to be designed to do just that.

What Details Are Accounted For By Fixed Route Scheduling?  

Looking at some of the most basic route types shows, intersection points and distance are a few of the variables that fixed route schedulers must account for.

Many others should be considered as well, including:

Demographic Data  

Before a fixed transit service can be put into play, the communities that need it the most must be identified.

Population data that must be considered include:

  • User frequency
  • Economic status
  • Age
  • Disabilities

These demographics will help determine if there is a need for an additional route or stopping point before any schedule can be formed. Projections on future growth must be factored in as well.

Stopping and Starting

Once the demand for a new route has been realized, the next step is to decide on which path will be covered — and when. Rather than thinking solely in terms of destinations or arrival times, fixed route scheduling forms time points that not only establish where a carrier plans to go but also the minimum time in which they may be there.

For example, a fixed route schedule will not only plan for a local bus to travel to a city hub where most of its citizens work but it will also likely plan for the bus to ride near the beginning and end of working hours when commuters need them the most. Similarly, a populous neighborhood where many residents work would need to be picked up early enough from a city hub to make it to work. It would also need to account for enough time to pick up commuters at evenly spaced midpoints.

Timing and Traffic

The task of calibrating fixed route time points to community members' needs is left unmet if no extra time is given for rest and delays. Passenger onboarding time, late arrivals, and breaks for the driver are part of the reality of any fixed route service, so schedules must be cushioned with extra time to make the transit system user-friendly. Layovers should be strategically positioned near restrooms and eating locations to accommodate drivers. An extra 10% recovery time is usually enough of a buffer.

In addition to expected delay times, unforeseen variables like traffic jams are also inevitable. This means that while some events may make the best-scheduled route go off the rails, quality fixed route scheduling must take these into account as best as they can.

Public Route Scheduling Challenges: How Remix Can Help

By combining data and city planning with a heart for meeting the needs of the community, public route scheduling is truly a modern-day logistical marvel. Accounting for so many variables and forming a route that is both efficient and accommodating is no small task, which is why it requires state-of-the-art software to get the job done.

At Remix, our fixed route scheduling software enables city planners to form transit models faster and easier than ever. This enables them not only to create new fixed routes but also clearly see the impact they will have on the community members they serve. Cities looking to augment their fixed route systems can also use our software to develop flexible mobility programs that go the rest of the way in meeting commuter needs.

Whether radial or cross-town, fixed route or flexible, Remix knows how to help a city planner get their city running. Contact us today to schedule a software demo and watch how we can help.