Jarrett Walker’s work on transit agency policy rises not just out of theory but out of professional experience. He began proposing new policy frameworks as a way of addressing problems that he encountered over and over doing network planning projects for various cities. While he transmits learnings from one client to another, each client’s needs (technical and political) are always the starting point for the development of proposed policy. Much of his policy work is also relevant to other governments that engage with transit, including city, regional, and state governments.

Many of his policy innovations are about creating clearer conversations among stakeholders about the purpose of transit in a community, leading ultimately to more direction from elected officials that both (a) expresses a community’s values and (b) can actually be implemented I the process of service design. This original work has led to peer reviewed academic publications, also forms the core of his book Human Transit. The following are some of the useful policy concepts that Jarrett has developed in the past, but he continues to develop new ones based on his experience as a planner.

Policies on Service Purpose

As part of a Regional Transportation Plan project for the Reno area’s Regional Transportation Commission in 2005, Jarrett first developed and implemented policies designed to address the difficult choice between designing service for ridership – which means not serving low-ridership areas – and designing for coverage – which means spreading service across an entire service area regardless of ridership. The resulting Board policy, which specifies a percentage division of the budget between Ridership-justified services and Coverage-justified services, was implemented in 2005 and remains in force as a crucial element of the Regional Transporation Plan process. It also serves as an important criterion for short-term planning. He has helped numerous other agencies work with this idea, either for the purpose of lasting policy or for clarifying the conversation around a particular planning project.

This work forms the basis for his paper, “Purpose-driven public transport: creating a clear conversation about public transport goals,” and for Chapter 10 of Human Transit.
Frequent Network Policies

In a project for Portland’s TriMet in 1994, with Nelson\Nygaard, Jarrett first helped to develop the concept of a “Primary Transit Network,” consisting of the set of all transit lines that run every 15 minutes or better, all day, every day. The idea was that because this frequency denotes a threshold where customers tend to stop feeling imprisoned by the timetable, it had the potential to be useful category not just in the marketing of transit services but also in describing a key level of relevance to land use planning. Frequent service is service that is easy to build your life around, so it offers the potential to support voluntary no-car and low-car lifestyles. Jarrett has worked on countless projects where the definition and refinement of a “Primary” or “Frequent” transit network has played a primary role. He also introduced the idea as a marketing tool in Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Antonio, and several other cities.

In addition to helping agencies define and map their frequent networks for short-term planning and marketing purposes, Jarrett focuses on how the tool can help guide land use. Vancouver, BC’s transit agency, TransLink, now references the Frequent Network as the foundation of its goal about access to transit. In the region in 2040, the goal states, “a majority of jobs and housing are located along the Frequent Transit Network.” (Transport 2040) In his ongoing consulting work for TransLink, which began in 2006, Jarrett is working on helping to give this goal more force through more specific policies on how transit service should respond to land use through the deployment of Frequent Transit Network service.