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Transit Goals and Key Choices

CONNECT is a collaborative effort to decide where bus service should go, when it should run, and how frequently it should operate. Today’s bus network is the result of decades of cumulative small changes and adjustments. The resulting network may not be meeting the goals and priorities of today’s residents, employers, and institutions.


CONNECT is an opportunity to review existing and potential transit demand and need, and to design a network that meets those demands and needs most effectively.

The Choices Report was the first step in CONNECT. It was meant to spark a conversation about transit needs and goals in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties. The sections below summarize key issues, challenges, and choices. Read on below, download the full report, to understand key background to the CONNECT Transit Plan process.

Read the Full Choices Report

What goals should transit serve?

Public transit can serve many goals, but different people and communities value these goals differently. Understanding which goals matter most in the region is a key step in designing future Transpo and Interurban Trolley service.

Some of these goals are only served if many people use transit. For example, transit can only mitigate congestion and pollution if many people ride the bus rather than drive. We call such goals “ridership goals” because they are achieved through high ridership.


Other goals are served by the simple presence of transit. A bus route through a neighborhood provides residents insurance against isolation. We call these types of goals “coverage goals” because they are achieved in large part by covering geographic areas with service, rather than by high ridership.

Thinking about how much Transpo and Interurban Trolley invest in these goals is a key question at this phase of the planning process.

An icon of a cupped hand holding an abstract flower with a dollar sign.

Economic Opportunity

Transit can give businesses access to more workers; workers access to more jobs and supportive services like childcare; and students more access to education and training.

An icon of two open hands holding up a group of three people.

Support Essential Needs

Transit can help meet the needs of people who are economically insecure, with access to essential services and jobs.

An icon of of three cars crowded together.

Congestion Mitigation

Because buses carry more people than cars, transit use can mitigate traffic congestion by reducing Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT).

An icon of a small leaf within the outline of a waterdrop. Outside of the waterdrop is a circle made of three arrows.

Climate & Environmental Benefits

By reducing VMT, transit use can reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Frequent transit can also support compact development and help conserve land.

An icon of a heart with a medical cross symbol.


Transit can support physical activity, partly because most riders walk to their bus stop, but also because riders tend to walk more in between their transit trips.

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Personal Liberty

By providing people the ability to reach more places than they otherwise would, transit can empower people to make choices and fulfill their individual goals.

How Do We Get Higher Ridership?

By making transit useful to many people.

Useful transit provides more access by reaching more opportunities in a given amount of time.

We can maximize access by:

  • Providing high-frequency routes

  • Forming a connected network

  • Making transit reasonably reliable and fast

  • Focusing on places that are:

    • Dense​

    • Walkable

    • Proximate

    • Linear

This is a four-strip cartoon panel showing the concept of access. Panel 1 shows a person. The caption says "Here is a person." Panel 2 shows this same person, with many symbols representing places they could go. The caption says "... in a city full of possible destinations." Panel 3 shows this same person surrounded by a gray area. A line connects the person to the edge of the gray area and says "45 minutes". The caption says "In 45 minutes this person can get to anywhere in the highlighted area". Panel 4 shows the person in the gray area, and the symbols. The symbols located inside the gray area have been highlighted to be more visible. The caption says "Their access to destinations is the number of destinations in that area. You can count the jobs or schools or shopping in that area to estimate their access."

Where Are The Best Markets for Transit Today?

A “strong transit market” is mostly defined by where people are, and how many of them are there, rather than by who people are. Therefore, a key starting point for assessing transit markets is the density of people and jobs. This map shows the combined density of jobs and people across the whole region.

If you asked a transit planner to draw you a very high-ridership bus route, that planner would look mostly at densities of all residents and jobs; at the walkability of streets and neighborhoods; and at the cost of running a bus route long enough to reach them.

For more details on the markets for transit in the region, see Chapter 3 of the Choices Report.

This is a map of Activity Density in the whole MACOG region. Acitivity density is the combination of residential density and job density.

Where Are There Needs for Transit?

This is a map of Poverty Density in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties, represented by the number of residents per square mile living under 125% of the Federal Poverty  Line. The data shown is from the 2019 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates, by Census Block Group.

If you asked a transit planner to draw you a route that helped as many people with severe needs as possible, they would look at where low-income people, seniors, youth and people with disabilities live and where they need to go.

The densities at which these people live matters, because at higher densities a single bus stop can be useful to more people in need. However, the transit planner might also try getting the route closer to small numbers of people. In fact, the more distant and scattered people are, the more isolated they can be and the more they might need access to transit.

This map shows the density of people in poverty in the region. For more details on the needs for transit in the region, such as where seniors and youth live, see Chapter 3 of the Choices Report.

What about Equity and Civil Rights?

Regulations by the Federal Transit Administration, based in part on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, require that MACOG and Transpo consider the benefits and burdens that people of color experience from transit service and in the process of planning for transit and transportation projects.

While person’s race or ethnicity does not tell us directly if they need transit, or if they have a propensity to use transit, we know that there is a correlation between race and ethnicity and income and wealth. If you are a person of color in the United States you are more likely to be low-income and less likely to own a car.

This map shows the distribution of people by race and ethnicity across the region. Seeing where people of color live helps to see how much of the population lives in places that are dense, linear, and proximate, and would therefore be well served by a high ridership network design. It also helps us see neighborhoods that are predominately people of color that are not dense, linear, or proximate and would therefore be relatively expensive to serve, but might be important to serve to achieve a coverage goal.

For more details on how civil rights affects transit planning, see Chapter 3 of the Choices Report.

This is a map showing the density of residents by race and ethnicity in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties. The map shows one dot for every 5 residents. The color of the dot indicates their Census-reported race or ethnicity, distinguishing the following categories: Asian, Black, Hispanic, White and Other.

The Existing Transit Network Has Limited Frequency

A map showing the network of Transpo and Interurban Trolley bus routes. Routes are colored by frequency. Most routes fit in the blue (every 30-35 minutes) and green (every 60 minutes) categories.

Frequency of service, or how long you have to wait between buses, is critical to the usefulness of transit. More frequent service dramatically improves access. High frequency reduces travel time by providing several linked benefits:

  • Shorter Waits

  • Faster Transfers

  • Easier Recovery from Disruption

  • Greater Spontaneity and Freedom

This map shows the existing bus network by frequency, with routes that run every 30 minutes colored blue and routes that run every 60 minutes colored green. With such limited frequency of service, transit in the region requires long waits and is limited in its ability to provide freedom and access to opportunity.

For more details on the existing transit network , see Chapter 4 of the Choices Report.

How Should We Design the Region's Bus Network?

It depends.

Imagine we are designing a transit network for this fictional city. The lines are roads and the dots are people and jobs.

Places with more dots close together are dense with activity. More people want to travel to and from those places. That dense activity is concentrated along the main roads.

The buses in the image are all the resources we have to run transit.

A fictional city we have to design the transit system for and 18 buses to serve them.

Before we can plan the routes, we must first ask:
what is our goal for this city's transit system?

If our goal is to get the most ridership from our system, we would concentrate transit resources where most people and jobs are close together. We can then provide high-frequency service that is very convenient and encourages people to ride transit in those areas.

Network Designed for Ridership Goals has only two routes covering most people and jobs with high frequency service.

If our goal is to get transit coverage in as many areas as possible, we will have to spread transit resources out. Routes cannot be as frequent, and so not many people would find transit useful and convenient. However, there would be some transit coverage in as many areas as possible.

Network Designed for Coverage Goals has many routes covering most streets, people, and jobs, but with low frequecies.

Both goals are important, but within a limited budget shifting towards one means shifting away from the other.

Should the Region Invest More in Transit?

Is there enough transit service in the region? Looking at peer regions, and their transit service, a few key conclusions are clear:

  • The region provides relatively little service. None of the peers provided less service per capita than Interurban Trolley. Even when grouped together with Transpo for a regional comparison, only Fort Wayne and Rockford provides less service per capita.

  • Ridership is correspondingly low. The single largest contributor to ridership is the amount of service provided. Among the peer regions, those that provide more service generate more ridership.

  • Both Transpo and Interurban Trolley’s productivity is very low. The region’s transit ridership has likely been suppressed by low frequency service. As a result, average productivity at both agencies has tended to be lower even than other regions who provide similar total amount of service.

Given these realities, there is a key value question about whether the region should invest more in transit to improve access to opportunity and increase ridership.

For more detail on the existing transit network and peer comparisons, read the full the Choices Report.

Learn More

Learn more by reading the full Choices Report.

Attend a public meeting to ask questions and get more information.

Questions? Contact the Project Team Here!

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