The above figure represents a hypothetical urban transit system where each component is designed to provide a specific array of services conferring mobility. Among the defining factors of urban transit services are capacity, frequency, flexibility, costs, and distance between stops:
- Metro (subway) system. A heavy rail system, often underground in central areas (parts above ground at more peripheral locations), with fixed routes, services, and stations. Transfers between lines or to other components of the transit systems (mainly buses and light rail) are made at connected stations. The frequency of services tends to be uniform throughout the day but may increase during peak hours. Fares are commonly access driven and constant, implying that once a user has entered the system, the distance traveled has no impact on the fare. However, with the application of information technologies in many transit fare systems, zonal/distance-driven fares are becoming more common.
- Bus system. Characterized by scheduled fixed routes and stops serviced by motorized multiple-passenger vehicles (45 – 80 passengers). Services are often synchronized with other systems, mainly metro and transit rail, where they act as feeders. Express services (or bus rapid transit), using their own right of ways, and only a limited number of stops, can also be available, notably during peak hours. Since the same transit authority often manages metro and bus systems, the user’s fare is usually valid for both systems.
- Transit rail system. Fixed rail comes into two major types. The first is the tram rail system, which is mainly composed of streetcars (tramways) that are mostly operating in central areas. The second is the commuter rail system, which are passenger trains mainly developed to service peripheral/suburban areas through heavy (faster and longer distances between stations) or light rail systems (slower and shorter distances between stations). The frequency of services is strongly linked with peak hours and traffic tends to be imbalanced because of the influence of commuting. Fares tend to be separate from the transit system and proportional to distance or service zones.
- Shuttle system. Composed of a number of privately (dominantly) owned services using small buses or vans. Shuttle routes and frequencies tend to be fixed, but can be adapted to fit new situations. They service functions such as expanding mobility along a corridor during peak hours, linking a specific activity center (airport, shopping mall, university campus, industrial zone, hotel, etc.), or aimed at servicing the elderly or people with disabilities.
- Paratransit system. A flexible and privately owned collective demand-response system composed of minibuses, vans, or shared taxis commonly servicing peripheral and low-density zones. Their key advantage is the possibility of a door-to-door service, less loading and unloading time fewer stops, and more maneuverability in traffic. In cities in developing economies, this system tends to be informal and often services central areas because of the inadequacies or high costs of the formal transit system.
- Taxi system. Comprises privately owned cars or small vans offering an on-call, individual demand-response system. Fares are commonly a function of a metered distance/time, but sometimes can be negotiated. A taxi system has no fixed routes but is rather servicing an area where a taxi company has the right (permit) to pick up customers. Commonly, rights are issued by a municipality and several companies may be allowed to compete on the same territory. When competition is not permitted, fares are set up by regulations. Information technologies have enabled new forms of on-demand taxi services with demand-matching systems accessible through mobile devices.