Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™

Activity: Planning Public Transportation

Grade Level:
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Activity Overview: Before beginning this activity, you may want to consider moving through Modes of Transportation or Modeling Public Transportation in order to gain familiarity with the topic at hand. 

The purpose of this activity is to model geographically how a public transportation system works in your town, neighborhood, or region. This is a mapping activity appropriate for groups or individuals. 

Part 1: Establishing a Baseline Map

Using copies of an atlas or print outs of a digital map, plot the routes of different modes of public transportation in your community. Those living in big cities will have the benefit of established bus routes or light rail tracks to trace on the map. Smaller communities may have a minibus route or a commuter bus service that links their town with neighboring towns or a nearby city. Most communities have school buses, whose routes can be traced on the map. Use different colors for different modes of transportation and plot as many as different established routes as exist or are possible on your map. For example, in a rural or suburban setting, you may want to pool knowledge from many students about their unique bus routes. For a big city, it may help to research the different bus or light rail routes serviced by the transit authority. 

Alternate: Copy a digital map into a digital photo editing or markup program on the computer then project this in your classroom. Work together to map the different routes. 

When considering the map you created, do you see any patterns? Most light rail or subway lines run linearly, or between two points and move individuals along that line. Your class may notice that most of these are designed to move individuals from their homes to work in a central business district. Some bus routes are circuitous, or in a circular pattern to move individuals around a place, either to amusement, shopping, or community centers. What shape do students' school bus routes take? If your district uses the same routes to move students to all levels of schooling, you may see a blend of patterns. Linear paths to pick up students and then circuitous routes to move them between schools in town. 

Further, notice areas on the map not served by public transportation routes. Do you notice anything about these areas? Are they industrial, urban, suburban, marked by a particular class, or simply new neighborhoods carved from farmland?

Part 2: Redesigning the System

Because of the expense and importance of public opinion on the development of services such as public transportation, it can take years or decades to plan and approve new routes or changes to the existing infrastructure. Your students may notice on the maps from Part 1 that some routes are out of date or no longer service where people actually live or work. This activity is your opportunity to work through redesigning the public transportation map in your community. 

One approach is to start from scratch, which is easier if you have little to no public transportation in your community. Cost is not an issue in this activity and students can lay new bus routes or tracks wherever they think they can service the community the best. 

Alternatively, you could start from the map that was created in Part 1 and work as a municipal planning committee to approve, deny, or amend existing routes. In this situation, the interests of different groups of people should be represented by different students and they should be able to argue their case for or against changes and amendments.

Due to each student's experience, they may have a vested interest in one or more positions. Otherwise, ask students to represent people who work centrally, people who work in the home, students and parents, leisure travelers, and any other groups who they think could be serviced by this new public transportation system.

Your class's solution to this question will be varied and may or may not reflect the reality of your community. By excluding cost from the limiting factors, this activity is a weaker approximation of the difficulty of transit planning. 

The real benefit of this activity is the opportunity to work as a group collaboratively to evaluate options and to make decisions for the good of a larger group of people. 


SS.7.8A, SS.8.29, SS.6.4E, SS.6.21C, SS.7.21C, SS.8.29C

Watt Watchers of Texas is a Partner Program of Smart Energy Education.
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