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Parisian Omnibus, late nineteenth century
Packard sightseeing bus in Salt Lake City, 1913

Bus services play a major role in the provision of public transport. These services can take many forms, varying in distance covered, types of vehicle used, and can operate with fixed or flexible routes and schedules. Services may be operated by public or private companies, and be provided using bus fleets of various sizes.

Contents

History

While there are indications of experiments with public transport in Paris as early as 1662,[1] the first public transport system for general use apparently originated in Nantes, France in 1826. Stanislas Baudry, a retired army officer who had built public baths using the surplus heat from his flour mill on the city's edge, set up a short route between the center of town and his baths. The service started on the Place du Commerce, outside the hat shop of a M. Omnès, who displayed the motto Omnès Omnibus (Latin for "everything for everybody" or "all for all") on his shopfront. When Baudry discovered that passengers were just as interested in getting off at intermediate points as in patronizing his baths, he changed the route's focus. His new voiture omnibus ("carriage for all") combined the functions of the hired hackney carriage with a stagecoach that travelled a predetermined route from inn to inn, carrying passengers and mail. His omnibus featured wooden benches that ran down the sides of the vehicle; passengers entered from the rear.

There is also a claim from the UK where in 1824 John Greenwood operated the first "bus route" from Market Street in Manchester to Pendleton in Salford.[2]

In 1828, Baudry went to Paris where he founded a company under the name Entreprise générale des omnibus de Paris, while his son Edmond Baudry founded two similar companies in Bordeaux and in Lyons.[3] A London newspaper reported in July 4, 1829 that "the new vehicle, called the omnibus, commenced running this morning from Paddington to the City". This bus service was operated by a George Shillibeer.

In New York, omnibus service also began in 1829, when Abraham Brower, an entrepreneur who had organized volunteer fire companies, established a route along Broadway starting at Bowling Green. Other American cities soon followed suit: Philadelphia in 1831, Boston in 1835 and Baltimore in 1844. In most cases, the city governments granted a private company—generally a small stableman already in the livery or freight-hauling business—an exclusive franchise to operate public coaches along a specified route. In return, the company agreed to maintain certain minimum levels of service. In 1831, New Yorker Washington Irving remarked of Britain's Reform Act (finally passed in 1832): "The great reform omnibus moves but slowly." Steam buses emerged in the 1830s as competition to the horse drawn buses.

The omnibus encouraged urbanization. Socially, the omnibus put city-dwellers, even if for only half an hour, into previously-unheard-of physical intimacy with strangers, squeezing them together knee-to-knee. Only the very poor remained excluded. A new division in urban society now came to the fore, dividing those who kept carriages from those who did not. The idea of the "carriage trade", the folk who never set foot in the streets, who had goods brought out from the shops for their appraisal, has its origins in the omnibus crush.

The omnibus also extended the reach of the emerging cities. The walk from the former village of Paddington to the business heart of London in the "City" was a long one, even for a young man in good condition. The omnibus thus offered the suburbs more access to the inner city.

More intense urbanization was to follow. Within a very few years, the New York omnibus had a rival in the streetcar: the first streetcar ran along The Bowery, which offered the excellent improvement in amenity of riding on smooth iron rails rather than clattering over granite setts, called "Belgian blocks". The new streetcars were financed by John Mason, a wealthy banker, and built by an Irish-American contractor, John Stephenson.

Bus lines proliferated in the U.S. as streetcar lines were torn out of the major cities and transit services became associated with bus manufacturers and oil companies whose goal was the replacement of rail service with buses.[4] This was accompanied by a continuing series of technical improvements: pneumatic "balloon" tires during the early 1920s, monocoque body construction in 1931, automatic transmission in 1936, the diesel-engine bus in 1936, the first acceptable 50+ passenger bus in 1948, and the first buses with air suspension in 1953.[5]

The arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 for not giving up her seat to a white man on a public bus is considered one of the catalyst events of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the United States.

Ownership and legal issues

Public transport bus operation is differentiated from other bus operation by the fact the owner or driver of a bus is employed by or contracted to an organisation whose main public duty or commercial interest is to provide a public transport service for passengers to turn up and use, rather than fulfilling private contracts between the bus operator and user. Public transport buses are operated as a common carrier under a contract of carriage between the passenger and the operator.

The owners of public transport buses may be the municipal authority or transit authority that operates them, or they may be owned by individuals or private companies who operate them on behalf of the authorities on a franchise or contract basis. Other buses may be run entirely as private concerns, either on an owner-driver basis, or as multi-national transport groups. Some countries have specifically deregulated their bus services, allowing private operators to provide public bus services. In this case, an authority may make up the shortfall in levels of private service provision by funding or operating ‘socially necessary’ services, such as early or late services, on the weekends, or less busy routes. Ownership/operation of public transport buses can also take the form of a charitable operation or not for profit social enterprises.

In all cases in the developed world, public transport bus services are usually subject to some form of legal control in terms of vehicle safety standards and method of operation, and possibly the level of fares charged and routes operated.

Service levels and accessibility

A white motor bus bearing the signage of Winnipeg Transit.
Accessible transit bus in Winnipeg, Canada. A ramp can be extended from the front door to allow access to wheelchair and mobility scooter users.

The majority of public bus services are basic and utilitarian, designed to perform their main function of mass transport. Some services are nearer to the environment of a private motorists, with comfortable seating and interior entertainments systems, marketed as premium or luxury services. Some services have attempted to emulate the low cost airlines with no frills bus services. In the 2000s, Megabus entered the long distance coach market, initially using transit buses, but eventually moving to coaches. In competitive systems, an incumbent operator may introduce a “low cost unit” with lower wages to offer lower fares, using older buses cascaded from a main fleet. This may be in response to real competition, or to meet divergent market needs.

Increasingly in some countries, public bus services are being made accessible, often in response to regulations and recommendations laid out in disability discrimination laws. This has resulted in the introduction of flexible bus services, and the introduction of accessible buses with features aimed at helping elderly, disabled or impaired passengers.

The level and reliability of bus services in countries around the world is often dependant on the quality of the local road network and levels of traffic congestion, and the prevalent population density. Services may be organised on tightly regulated networks with restrictions on when and where services operate, while other services are operated on an ad-hoc basis in the model of share taxis.

Types of service

The names of different types of bus services vary around the world according to local tradition or marketing, although services can be classified into basic types based on route length, frequency, purpose of use and type of bus used.

  • Urban or suburban services is the most common type of public transport bus service, and is used to transport large numbers of people in urban areas, or to and from the suburbs to population centres. These services are often organised on a network basis centred on an urban centre of a town, or across a city, and may involve universal liveries, or specific route branded buses. The predominant bus type used on these services is the transit bus, also referred to in this context as a commuter bus or citybus. Longer distance services may utilise dual purpose buses or even minimally appointed coaches. These services generally complement tram, rapid transit or urban rail systems, and will often be integrated with these modes in transport interchanges, as well as making heavy use of on street bus stops and bus stations.
  • Rural bus services are similar to urban or suburban services, but often with a lower frequency or using smaller vehicles. Rural services may also more often be operated using dual purpose buses or minimally appointed coaches.
  • Express bus services are services that are intended to run faster than normal bus services, by either operating as a "limited stop" service missing out less busy stops, and/or travelling on faster roads such as freeways rather than slower moving local roads. These services can be complementary in length to normal city bus routes, and as such may use the same city buses but with a different route number. They can also be longer interurban services (see interurban bus service).
  • Interurban bus services are primarily aimed at linking together one or more urban centres, and as such are often run as express services while travelling in the intermediate rural areas, or even only call at two terminal points as a long distance shuttle service. Some interurban services may be operated as high specification luxury services, using coaches, in order to compete with railways, or link areas not rail connected. Interurban services may often terminate in central bus stations rather than on street stops. Other interurban services may specifically call at intermediate villages and may use slower transit buses or dual purpose buses.
  • Commuter coach services are designed to link commuter towns to the nearest large city, on routes of between one and up to three hours long. As such, these are almost exclusively operated using coaches on an express basis, although even these services will call at smaller villages. These are often run at specific early morning / late evening times, although the busiest routes may be regular, operating as an interurban service in off peak times.
A night bus in Busan, South Korea.
  • Night bus services are often implemented in urban areas, for operation generally after the last evening service, and before the first early morning service, to serve the nighttime economy. A night bus network will generally employ a more basic route network, and less frequent bus services. The busiest areas may not have a night bus network, in favour of 24-hour bus route, or 24 hour routes may operate as well as specific night bus services.
  • Long distance coach services (US: Intercity bus line) are bus services operated over long distances between cities. These services can form the mainstay of the travel network in countries with poor railway infrastructure. Different coach operators may band together on a franchise or connecting basis to offer a branded network that covers large distances, such as Trailways and National Express. These networks can even operate internationally, such as Eurolines of Europe.
  • Shuttle bus services are any type of bus service intended primarily to shuttle passengers between two fixed points. These can be bus or coach operated, but are usually short or medium distance journeys taking less than an hour. Shuttle buses will usually link with other transport hubs, such as airport shuttle buses. A common use of a shuttle bus is in towns or cities with multiple terminal train stations or bus stations, for passenger interconnections. "Shuttle" as a brand name is applied variously across several types of service.
  • Rail replacement bus services are often chartered by railway companies as alternate means of transport for rail passengers. This can be pre-planned to cover for scheduled track maintenance or other planned closures, or to cover for unplanned closures such as derailments.
  • Feeder bus services are designed to pick up passengers in a certain locality, and take them to a transfer point where they make an onward journey on a trunk service. This can be another bus, or a rail based service such as a tram, rapid transit or train. Feeder buses may act as part of a wider local network, or a regional coach network.
  • Post bus services are services that also carry mail, often on rural routes.
  • Park and ride bus services are designed to provide an onward passenger journey from a parking lot. These may shuttle or express services, or part of the standard bus network.
  • School bus services transport children to and from school. While many countries and school districts organise their own services, as school buses or charter buses, in some areas school bus services are implemented as special journeys on the normal public timetable, specially timed and routed to arrive and depart in coordination with the school bell

Fixed and flexible bus services

Buses in public transport are usually run to a fixed route and schedule, serving specified bus stops or bus stations. Some services may be semi-flexible in that they can vary where they stop on a fixed route by operating in a hail and ride manner. The route and schedule of some services may also be flexible to some degree. Historically, some share taxi services have operated as a form of flexible public bus service. Another flexible type of service is the Hong Kong red public light bus. Demand responsive transport (DRT) bus services are modern bus services designed to be more flexible than fixed route services. These will often, but not exclusively, use smaller minibus or midibuses, and will operate a flexible route set by passenger need, allowing the pre-booking of pick up points. Paratransit bus services are bus services designed to provide service for members of the public with mobility issues that mean they cannot use normal public services, usually either the disabled or elderly. Paratransit operates in a similar manner to demand responsive transport (DRT) (and was historically the name for DRT in the US), but paratransit services require users to register or otherwise qualify to be allowed to use the services, whereas DRT is designed to be available to all. In some cases, DRT and paratransit services are combined and operated by the same operator.

Scheduling

Many public bus services are run to a specific timetable giving specific times of departure and arrival at waypoints along the route. These are often difficult to maintain in the event of traffic congestion, breakdowns, on/off bus incidents, road blockages or bad weather. Predictable effects such as morning and evening rush hour traffic are often accounted for in timetables using past experience of the effects, although this then prevents the opportunity for drafting a ‘clock face’ timetable where the time of a bus is predictable at any time through the day. Predictable short term increases in passenger numbers may be dealt with by providing “duplicate” buses, where two or more buses operate the same slot in the timetable. Unpredictable problems resulting in delays and gaps in the timetabled service may be dealt with by ‘turning’ a bus early before it reaches it terminus, so that it can fill a gap in the opposite direction, meaning any passengers on the turned bus need to disembark and continue on a following bus. Also, depending on the location of the bus depot, replacement buses may be dispatched from the depot to fill in other gaps, starting the timetable part way along the route.

There is a common cliché that you “wait all day, and then three come along at once”, in relation to a phenomenon where evenly timetabled public transport bus services can develop a gap in service followed by buses turning up almost simultaneously. This occurs when the rush hour begins and numbers of passengers at a stop increases, increasing the loading time, and thus delay in the timetable. The following bus then catches up with that bus because it begins to be delayed less at stops due to less passengers waiting.

Some services may have no specific departure time based schedule, and instead will operate to a timetable that merely specifies what specific frequency of service exists on each route at particular phases of the day. This may be specified with departure times, but the over-riding factor is ensuring the regularity of buses arriving at stops. These are often the more frequent services, up to the busiest bus rapid transit schemes. For headway based schemes, problems can be managed by changing speed, delaying at stops and leap-frogging a bus boarding at a stop.

Services may be strictly regulated in terms of level of adherence to timetables, and how often timetables may be changed. Operators and authorities may employ on street bus inspectors to monitor adherence in real time. Service operators often have a control room, or in the case of large operations, route controllers, who can monitor the level of service on routes and can take remedial action if problems occur. This was made easier with the technological advances of two way radio contact with drivers, and vehicle tracking systems.

Fare models

Public transport bus drivers may be required to conduct fare collection, inspect a travel pass or free travel pass, or oversee stored-value card debiting. This may require the fitting of equipment to the bus. Alternatively, this duty and equipment may be delegated to a conductor who rides on the bus. In other areas, public transport buses may operate on a zero-fare basis, or ticket validation may be through use of on-board/off-board proof-of-payment systems, checked by roving ticket controllers who board and alight buses at random.

Bus Rapid Transit

TransMilenio BRT buses in Colombia

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is the application of a range of infrastructure and marketing measures to produce public transport bus services that approach the operating characteristics and capacity of rapid transit systems.

Technology

Increasingly, technology is being used to improve the information provided to public bus users, with the advent of vehicle tracking technologies being used to assist with scheduling, and to achieve real time integration with passenger information systems that display service information at stops, inside buses, and to waiting passengers through personal mobile devices or text messaging.

Some services use audio-visual devices inside the bus or waiting areas for passenger entertainment and for bus advertising. Some services use Closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitoring to increase safety on buses and in waiting areas.

Fleets

Public transport bus fleets can be as large as many thousands of buses owned by a global company, or a large municipal fleet under one public authority’s control, or as little as a single bus owned by an owner driver. At its peak in the 1950s, the London Transport Executive owned a bus fleet of 8,000 buses, the largest in the world. Buses may spend their entire life as part of one fleet, or may be bought and sold between operators.

Related infrastructure

Public bus services have led to the implementation of various types of infrastructure now common in many urban and suburban settings. The most prevalent example is the ubiquitous bus stop. Large interchanges have required the building of bus stations. In roads and streets, infrastructure for buses has resulted in modifications to the kerb line such as protrusions and indentations, and even special special kerb stones. Entire lanes or roads have been reserved for buses in bus lanes or busways. Bus fleets require large storage premises often located in urban areas, and may also make use of central works facilities.

See also

References

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