Nominees for “Best Names in Transit”

Public transit seems particularly good at embracing their role as public-facing agencies and making their names, dare we say, fun?

by Matthew Crespi, Samantha Zucker, Tanya Newbury-Smith, Alexis Rosa Caldero, Ellie Bruecker, and Abigail Seldin

Greetings from the SHSF Transit Mapping Project! Phase II is well underway, and we’ll be posting regular updates, observations, and hopefully even some insights here as we make progress mapping the transit accessibility of community and technical colleges in the United States.

First you might be wondering, “Why do you need a Phase II?” or probably more likely, “Wait, what was Phase I?” Phase I, which we launched last spring, combined federal data on schools and locations with data from the Google Places API to ask the question: “How far away are higher education institutions from the nearest public transit stop?” We released some maps and a report, and we were excited to see policymakers almost immediately start thinking about how to solve this problem with bipartisan legislation.

While useful for painting a national picture of transit accessibility, Phase I had two meaningful drawbacks that limited its use in setting local policy: (1) The federal data only contain one address per college, almost always the main campus, with nothing about other campuses and satellite locations. And (2) there are errors of both omission and commission in the Google data–Google Maps doesn’t contain stop info for many (usually but not always smaller) transit agencies, and there are some stops that get flagged which we don’t think of as true public transit (intercity service by a private company, for example, or in one case a Subway restaurant).

To address #1, we had to make the dataset we wanted to see in the world, which involved assembling our CASL (Campus and Satellite Locations) dataset. From there, we geocoded the addresses and ran our transit-finder (code in the Phase I report’s appendix) on the resulting coordinates. And now to address #2, we’re in the process of cleaning the data by hand. And boy are we learning a lot. We’ll have some more serious commentary on public transportation and college accessibility coming up, but to start, we wanted to highlight something that jumped out at us that we believe not enough people appreciate: the public transit field is great at naming stuff.

Governments around the country at every level are known to appreciate a good acronym, tortured backronyms are a dime a dozen in legislatures, but public transit seems particularly good at embracing their role as public-facing agencies and making their names, dare we say, fun?

Seriously. There should be an awards show for transit names. And in the spirit of “make the dataset you want to see in the world,” we’re going to do a blog version of just that, unless someone wants to beat us to it with a real awards show and little golden bus statues.

So without further ado, here’s our early draft of public transit nominees for some very prestigious award categories we just made up.

Transit Named After People
If you and your partner can’t agree on a name for a child or spouse, might we suggest…

  • From Atlanta, Georgia, MARTA: the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority
  • From Albuquerque, New Mexico: ART: Albuquerque Rapid Transit
  • From the San Francisco Bay Area in California, BART: Bay Area Rapid Transit

And at least two agencies are competing to be the dominant Mathew in transit…

  • From Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota, MATbus (sometimes MATBUS): Metro Area Transit bus
  • From Middletown, Connecticut: MAT: Middletown Area Transit

Transit Named After Animals
Keep in mind, riding public transit is friendlier to animals and their habitats than everyone taking their own car!

  • From Westchester County, New York, Bee-Line Bus
  • From Loveland, Colorado, COLT: City Of Loveland Transit
  • Continuing the Centennial State’s love of horses, from Colorado’s state Department of Transportation: Bustang

And nominating all of Charlotte, North Carolina for its consistent cat-theming:

  • CATS, the Charlotte Area Transit System
  • LYNX (Links), the CATS-operated rail system
  • Honorable Mention: Though we’re limiting these awards to the United States, since that’s the scope of our research project, we wanted to mention that this Chinese sky train that looks like a panda, and we encourage US transit agencies to also extend animal theming to the vehicles themselves.

Transit Named After Transit Components
Because sometimes “a little too on the nose” is exactly the right amount of on the nose.

  • From Zanesville, Ohio, SEAT: South East Area Transit (Note: Preston, Connecticut also has a SEAT, but since that acronym is branded as standing for “Southeast Area Transit District,” it’s just a slightly worse fit, so we’re giving the nomination to Zanesville alone.)

We have at least two CARTS running bus service in rural parts of the country, so a joint nomination for these:

  • From Columbiana County, Ohio, CARTS: Community Action Rural Transit System
  • From Soldotna, Alaska, CARTS: Central Area Rural Transit System
  • From Salem, Oregon, aka the Cherry City, Cherriots (like Chariots)
  • From the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, TRAX: TRAnsit eXpress (OK, maybe that one is a little bit tortured…)
  • Honorable Mention: from Brownsville, Texas, BUS: the Brownsville Urban System, which lost its eligibility due to a “Brownsville Metro” rebranding in 2011.

On Point Branding
These confidence-inspiring names are hopefully aptonyms!

  • From Nassau County, New York, NICE Bus: the Nassau Inter-County Express Bus.
  • From Fayetteville, North Carolina, FAST: the Fayetteville Area System of Transit
  • From Dallas, Texas, DART: Dallas Area Rapid Transit (Note that the Delaware Transit Corporation operates the Delaware Authority for Regional Transportation First State, aka DART First State, but we’re going with Dallas for its slightly clearer branding.)
  • From Montgomery, Alabama comes our only paratransit system nomination, MAP! Montgomery Area Paratransit (sometimes seen as MAPS for Montgomery Area Paratransit System)
Who wouldn’t want to get a #NICEALERT?

Off Point Branding
Playing a different psychological strategy than the organizations above, these transit agencies must be good to be willing to poke fun at themselves like this…right?

  • From San Luis Obispo, California, SLO Transit: San Luis Obispo Transit
    Why it’s off point: People prefer to get places faster, not slower.
  • From Jonesboro, Arkansas, JETS: Jonesboro Economical Transit System
    Why it’s off point: Uses buses, not jets.
  • From Enfield, Connecticut, Magic Carpet Bus
    Why it’s off point: Just a regular bus, not magical (we checked).
  • From Cincinnati, Ohio, SORTA: Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority
    Why it’s off point: “SORTA” is slang for “sort of,” which is (and this is true) not confidence inspiring.
  • Honorable Mention: The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s retired slogan, “We’re getting there,” the double meaning of which is still cherished and joked about by Philadelphia-area riders years later.
Sorry that the resolution sucks. We pulled this image from Reddit.

What have we missed? Let us know your favorite puns, acronyms, wordplay, and other great names from the world of public transportation. Soon the data will be clean; we’ll have looked at every transit agency that operates near a community or technical college in the entire country; and we’ll be ready to award some jpegs of golden buses.



Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation (SHSF)

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