The Transit Technology Glossary (2023)• 9 min read
There’s a lot of vocabulary floating around the industry. We put together a transit glossary for the most important terms and acronyms.
There’s a lot of vocabulary floating around the public transportation ecosystem — some new, and some old. While comprehensive transit glossaries exist across the web, we have yet to find a transit glossary that includes TransitTech terms. So, we made our own.
Below you’ll find definitions on everything from autonomous vehicles, to congestion pricing, to micromobility. Whether you’re crafting an RFP for new fixed-route planning and scheduling software or just trying to decipher the difference between DRT and microtransit (is there one?), this is your 21st-century guide to everything we talk about when we talk about transit.
Click on a letter below to jump to the section you’re looking for!
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Transit accessibility refers to the ease with which riders can reach transit stops and traverse the transit system. Accessibility is recognized as a key element of a high quality, efficient and sustainable transport system. TransitTech can help creating equitable access for diverse rider communities, including those with disabilities or other mobility needs.
Active transportation (Active travel)
Human-powered mobility, such as biking and walking.
“ADA” stands for the “Americans with Disabilities Act”. This civil rights law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public transit agencies that provide fixed-route service to offer “complementary paratransit” for people who have disabilities that prevent them from accessing bus or rail services. Paratransit must be offered in areas within 3/4 of a mile of a bus route, or within 3/4 of a mile of a rail stop.
American Public Transportation Association (APTA)
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of more than 1,500 public and private sector member organizations.
System capability to dispatch rides to third-party operators when demand outgrows supply, guaranteeing every booked ride can be serviced. See Trip Brokering.
A transportation option provided by many colleges and universities. Intended to facilitate secure travel for students, faculty, and staff around school-owned property and/or surrounding areas. For example, see Northeastern University RedEye, Harvard University Evening Van, and Northwestern University Safe Ride.
Primarily used in the UK to refer to a service for populations that cannot use traditional public transport. While they may receive public funding, these services are usually not operated by local authorities and are often staffed by volunteer drivers and administrators .
Subsidies for riders, enabling them to travel for free or at a discounted rate due to their individual circumstances.
Pricing in a way specifically to manage vehicle congestion. Could be applied through a toll, road use charge, cordon, or other means.
Connected and autonomous vehicles (AVs)
Also known as “self-driving” or “driverless.” Vehicles that are, to some extent, capable of safe navigation and travel without human involvement, but may transmit information to each other or other technologies. For example, see Arlington RAPID and BotRide.
Charging users to enter a specific zone, defined by a cordon. Charges can vary based on time of day of entry or exit, time spent within the zone, vehicle size, vehicle occupancy, existence of a transit alternative, etc.
As opposed to curb-to-curb and door-to-door. Transportation service that directs riders to a nearby pickup point and drops them off at a point close to their destination. Corner-to-corner service can increase efficiency, without sacrificing convenience. See Virtual Bus Stop.
Similar to campus shuttles, a dedicated transportation network for employees to share journeys with each other — getting to and from their offices, as well as around corporate campuses, safely and efficiently. For example, see BASF Standort Shuttle, BlueVia, and EB Ride.
As opposed to corner-to-corner and door-to-door. Transportation service that picks up riders from their exact location and drops them off at their precise destination. Riders are usually expected to travel the short distances to and from the vehicle themselves.
Time spent driving to a new pickup spot in between trips or time spent driving to/from a depot at the start/end of a shift, when there are no passengers in a vehicle.
Demand-responsive transport or DRT (UK)
Popular name for legacy DRT services, often operated in rural or lower-density suburban communities. Dial-a-ride services usually require phone booking, often a day or more in advance. They may be open to the general public or restricted to seniors and/or people with disabilities, but are usually distinct from ADA complementary paratransit.
As opposed to curb-to-curb and corner-to-corner. Most commonly used in the context of paratransit to refer to the highest-touch service available, with drivers helping riders to physically exit places of origin and enter destinations during pickup and dropoff.
DOT (Department of transportation)
“DOT” stands for the United States Department of Transprtation. The U.S. DOT is one of the executive departments of the U.S. federal government, established by Congress in the Department of Transportation Act on October 15, 1966. The U.S. DoT offers formula funding and grants to help build up and maintain a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system for the American people. Bookmark our Funding Alert resource center where we highlight the latest funding opportunities from federal and state DoT.
As opposed to fixed route. Vehicles are routed using a proprietary algorithm that determines the most efficient path to the requested pickup and dropoff locations, with the ability to optimize for multiple parameters (eg. traffic, new passengers, construction, traffic).
Roadway tolls, applied using traditional tolling infrastructure or newer, asset-light solutions, that can vary based on a number of factors, such as time of day, road congestion, vehicle size, vehicle occupancy, income, and more. Generally used to influence driver behavior and maintain a specific vehicle throughput on the roadways.
Electric vehicle (EV)
Any vehicle relying only on electric motors, as opposed to those powered by internal combustion engines which use fossil fuels. EVs generally use batteries that need to be regularly re-charged, and do not need gas (petrol) or diesel fuel. They are a crucial part of decarbonizing transport, as they can be powered with 100% renewable, low-carbon energy. For example, see AT Local, BerlKönig, Hol mich!, LÜMO, REVIERFLITZER, SmaRT Ride, Via Jersey City, and BotRide.
Federal transit administration (FTA)
The Federal Transit Administration is an agency within the United States Department of Transportation that provides financial and technical assistance to local public transportation systems. The FTA is one of ten modal administrations within the DOT.
One of the most common use cases for on-demand transit. Providing a connection to and from nearby transit hubs and trip origins and destinations. In rural areas, these final connects can easily span 10-20 miles. For example, see bubble, Wheels2U, Via Los Angeles, West Sacramento On-Demand, Via to Transit, OC Flex, Lone Tree Link, Cooee Busways, CityBus 2.0, BerlKönig, and AT Local.
As opposed to dynamic route. Vehicles travel along predetermined paths, routinely picking up and dropping off passengers at designated stops along the route.
All of the vehicles employed in a transportation service.
FTA Grant Program
FTA provides grants to local public transit systems, including buses, subways, light rail, commuter rail, trolleys and ferries. It has partnered with state and local governments to create and enhance public transportation systems, investing more than $13 billion annually to support and expand public transit services. Bookmark our Funding Alert resource page where we highlight the latest grant programs from FTA.
Also known as maximum wait time. Most commonly used with regards to fixed routes: The scheduled time between vehicle arrivals — and thus the maximum time riders must wait — at a single transit stop.
Integrated Mobility Solutions (IMS)
A solution that combines multiple transportation modes into a unique platform (i.e. on-demand, paratransit, and fixed rotes). It allows transit agencies to increase efficiencies by sharing resources between modes and managing all environments in the same place, dispatching drivers to rides for different services using a unique app, and providing consistent rider experience across all service types with a unique branding, app, and support center.
System capability to consider all available transportation options and generate a multi-leg trip plan, when optimal. This may include booking a single ticket that covers all legs of the journey. See Mobility as a Service.
Lightweight transportation options, such as scooters and bicycles.
On-demand transportation service that offers shared rides with dynamic routing and that is usually operated by or provided on behalf of a government entity, transit agency, or other provider of transportation. Vehicles are typically shuttles, vans, or small buses, but can also include sedans and larger buses.
An integrated system that allows planning, booking, and paying for multiple types of public and private transit options all within one singular platform. An umbrella term for Multimodal and Intermodal capabilities.
Mobility equity/transit equity
The effort to ensure all people, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, can easily access affordable and efficient public transportation. Beyond mere convenience, public transportation provides critical links to jobs, educational opportunities, grocery stores, health care, and other necessary services.
A single trip plan containing multiple modes and/or providers. See Intermodal.
System capability to display all available transportation options, regardless of mode or provider. Users can choose the option that works best for them and/or providers can prioritize particular offerings to meet service goals. See Mobility as a Service.
In large cities, public transit is typically delivered through a multimodal network, with a wide variety of service types and multiple network patterns. In an effective transit system, these modes connect and complement, rather than duplicate, one another.
Non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT)
Services that transport riders to and from non-emergency medical appointments and other health care services. A popular use case for microtransit.
Times of day when demand for public transportation is relatively low.
A Remix transit planning tool that allows cities to use data to plan efficient and equitable transportation networks, including both on-demand and fixed-route. With this software, planners can model on-demand transit operating costs, service-area demographics, and service quality scenarios before implementation to optimize the whole network.
On-demand transport (ANZ)
Tech-enabled transportation service where vehicles respond directly to rider demand — often in real-time — instead of following fixed schedules. Vehicles only stop when and where there are riders to serve.
On-time performance. A major metric to assess the quality of ADA paratransit. On-time performance (OTP) is a measure of 1) how many trips depart within the pickup window communicated to the rider when they booked their trip, or 2) arrive before a rider’s requested dropoff time at their destination.
ADA complementary transportation service intended for persons with disabilities and reduced mobility, who are unable to utilize conventional public transportation. In the United States, these services are typically offered within ¾ mile of fixed routes.
Paratransit software helps transit agencies more efficiently schedule and dispatch demand-responsive paratransit services. Paratransit software enables optimized shift schedules, more efficient runs, and better response to same-day service disruptions. It may also include various rider-, driver-, and dispatcher-facing software modules, including trip booking apps, live manifest apps, and service monitoring interfaces.
The design and scheduling of the transit network. Transportation planning involves process of evaluation, assessment, design, and development of public transit networks (fixed-route buses, microtransit, paratransit, non-medical emergency transportation (NEMT), or any other form of transit). Planners can use digital mapping tools like Remix to conduct data-driven service planning that result in more sustainable, cost-efficient and equitable transit.
Scheduling a future ride, as opposed to requesting a trip in real-time.
Fixed route synonym for utilization. The number of trips performed per vehicle revenue hour.
Road use charging
Charging patrons of roadways directly for their use of the road based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) over a particular period. RUCs can adjust based on vehicle size, vehicle occupancy, geography, existence of a transit option, time of day, congestion levels, driver income levels, etc. Proceeds from RUCs can also be linked directly to upkeep of particular roads or for other purposes, such as improving public transit.
An analytical process executed by the ViaViewer system. Assesses how a new TransitTech service might perform by testing different service areas, fleets, etc. to gauge potential quality of service. Ensures every new service launches with strong rider satisfaction and efficiency from the start.
Single-occupancy vehicle (SOV)
A vehicle which is being driven alone, or a ridehail or taxi vehicle carrying one passenger.
A mobility solution by which cities and transit authorities can use their existing resources like vehicles and drivers while adding new on-demand technology to ensure efficient service across transit zones.
Primarily used in the UK to refer to a transportation service reliant on government support, rather than rider payments alone. Typically found in low-income and/or rural areas, off-peak periods, and other contexts in which people would otherwise lack access to public transit.
A term used to describe geographic areas with little to no access to public transportation.
Encompasses all forms of tech-enabled solutions to address today’s public transportation challenges. Services must serve a larger purpose, blending technology with transportation in order to solve for a greater good.
A mobility solution that builds an entire transit network for cities and transportation agencies to provide a new microtransit solution from scratch, sourcing everything from vehicles to drivers, and helping with operations like customer service and marketing.
Transportation for All
Transportation that can be used by everyone — including individuals with disabilities, riders who prefer cash and/or don’t have access to technology, and those who live far away from a main bus route.
System capability to dispatch rides to third-party operators to guarantee the most effective and optimal trips. This can be based on geographic segmentation, rider profile, or other contractual agreements. See Brokering overflow.
A common transportation efficiency metric measured as riders per vehicle per hour. See Productivity.
Virtual Bus Stop
The optimal pickup or dropoff point determined by Via’s on-demand routing algorithm to both suit the user’s journey and ensure everybody else in the shared vehicle is staying on a reasonable route and schedule. Commonly requires the rider to walk a short distance from their origin and/or to their exact destination. See corner to corner.
Stands for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles, equipped to securely transport riders using a wheelchair.
Modifying a product’s appearance to match the look and feel of the rest of a partner’s brand.