Industry Issue Paper: A New Modal Classification System for Public Transportation

The gathering of public transportation statistics requires a system for classifying data by mode. The majority of naming conventions have consistently recognized transit operations as “heavy rail,” “commuter rail,” and “light rail” for the past 40 years (although some others still use older terms). New systems now emerging have unique characteristics, which have led some classifying organizations such as the National Transit Database (NTD) to begin using terms such as hybrid rail for light rail type or self-propelled passenger vehicles operated on freight rail tracks and regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration , and which were formerly classified as commuter rail or light rail until 2001, and streetcars which are electric rail circulator passenger vehicles operated primarily in streets in congested central city areas and reported as light rail until 2011. Similarly, NTD began designating some bus operations, reported as part of the general bus category until 2011, as bus rapid transit, which meets specific service criteria, as commuter bus for bus operations with significant closed door distances from distant suburbs to central cities; the remainder of bus service remained classified as simply bus. This presentation will take inventory of all types of bus and rail mode classifications, discuss the issues associated with changing classifications, and put forth a revised classification of transit modes.

Issue Date:
Aug 01 2016
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Published in:
Journal of the Transportation Research Forum, Volume 55, Number 2
Page range:

 Record created 2017-08-30, last modified 2017-08-30

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