Level-Based Approach to Public Transport Network Planning

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe, place - urban, mode - bus, mode - tram/light rail, mode - rail, land use - impacts, land use - planning, planning - service level, planning - travel demand management


public transport network level, service qualities, markets


The public transport network level is defined and is used to describe the performance and future improvement of the public transport system in Zurich, Switzerland. A public transport level is a specific type of service designed to serve a particular market. “Service” is defined as a combination of vehicles, infrastructure, and operating characteristics. A pure level occurs when the service is targeted specifically at one particular market. A hybrid level occurs when a service is targeted to serve several markets. Urban travel is generally described as three markets: short, intermediate, and long-distance trips. Consequently many cities have developed three-level public transport networks: surface buses and trams to serve short trips, rapid rail to serve intermediate trips, and regional rail to serve longer-distance trips. Often, by design or for historic reasons, cities have additional levels, fewer levels, levels that are not precisely matched to their markets, or all three. For example, two-level networks are often found in medium-sized cities. Their advantage is lower costs, and their main disadvantage is a mismatch between transport mode and market that manifests itself in capacity limitations. The level concept to help analyze and plan public transport service is useful because it focuses attention on matching service qualities to markets. This approach, used here to analyze the success of the public transport system of Zurich, Switzerland, and to provide a structure for planning improvements that will be needed to meet rapidly increasing public transport demand, could help other cities design or redesign their public transport systems to be more attractive and efficient. More specifically, the approach could show how two-level public transport networks would be a viable option for medium-sized cities and large cities with dispersed settlement patterns.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.