Differentiating coach and bus stops

What’s the convention for tagging coach stops to the airport and so forth? I recently stumbled upon one in London near Liverpool Street Node: ‪Liverpool Street Station (Airport coaches)‬ (‪10012734718‬) | OpenStreetMap

I added coach=yes however it feels it a bit strange to tag it as a bus stop and have the bus=yes tag when TFL buses will never stop there.

Well, you could say: a bus is a bus is a bus …

‘coach’ is used in OSM although not officially (Wiki) supported.

What do you see as the key distinguishing feature of a coach stop versus a bus stop? E.g. is it about the nature of the vehicle, length of the route, or…?

It’s not obvious to me that a bus that connects a city to its airport (or one of its airports in the case of London) is very different to a local bus.

There is a long-standing identification of a need to differentiate various public transport offerings. The most usual ones needing some kind of separation are: tourist buses, which may be coaches, double deckers etc.; and long-distance buses, usually operated by coaches. See also my unanswered question on OSM Help from 5 years ago

The latter category are a major form of long-distance travel in Estonia, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain and Argentina; but also widely used in Britain and Ireland. Greyhound buses used to be a significant factor in long-distance travel in North America. Virtually all of these have different stops in different locations (I was flummoxed at the main bus station in Kuala Lumpur because I assumed the bus I wanted was a coach when it was actually a bus and departed from the underground platforms used by regular bus services).

Various kinds of “service bus” public transport may also be served by coaches, my local one is an express bus, the Red Arrow, but these usually stop at the same stops as ordinary buses.

In this context “coach” really refers to long-distance express or non-stopping services, and any relevant tag should perhaps take that into account (i.e., service may not always be a coach). Note that, particularly for tourist buses, there are also bus stops labelled “Set down only” which will never be part of an bus route. This stop pretty much follows regular TfL signage though, with the exception that the roundel appears to be a different colour. Dedicated coach stations seem to be fewer these days, with most serving bus stations with both “service buses” and long-distance services.

As it happens in (the Republic of) Ireland the state company that runs many long-distance services (and just about all of them when I was growing up and there were no private operators) is called … “Bus Éireann”. They don’t refer to coaches anywhere in their About Us page. And the counterpart in Northern Ireland is called Ulsterbus. Maybe all this explains why I have trouble knowing where the boundary between coach and bus services lies!

In the specific example mentioned here, would an airport bus qualify as it has fewer stops than a typical service bus, even though it is not a very long route?

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Depends on distance: both Stansted-London , and Heathrow-Reading Railair take about 50 mins to an hour for 50km. I’d tend to see airport buses as express services (i.e., non-stop or limited stop, such as the ones I used to catch 2x a week from Busáras to Dublin Airport, Porte de Maillot-CDG etc). Depending on where you are, or time of day, these may be operated by coaches (luggage underneath) or low-floor buses with extra luggage space). Regular service buses (i.e., ones stopping nearly everywhere) may also serve airports.

From what I recall Busáras was pretty much all long-distance routes plus the airport service. I did go to Drogheda from there, but presumably the bus travelled on to Dundalk or further. Places like Heathrow Central bus station has(had) separate areas for local service buses and long-distance services (including some airport-airport links).

There are also long-distance bus routes which are pretty much regular service buses. For instance Glasgow to Campbeltown takes around 4 hours, but is also the only PT service between towns & villages en route. In Poland, lots of quite small buses seemed to run very long distances (Lublin-Krakow), stopping where needed, which was pretty uncomfortable.

I think the useful rules-of-thumb are : whether a service is turn-up-and-go or whether you can pre-book with a reserved seat (typical of Avanza in Spain); limited stop or not.

I assume you’re referring to the fact that the coach key never went through the proposal process. However, neither bus nor the even more generic psv ever went through that process either. All three are listed in this tree of access keys that’s pretty well-known among mappers and data consumers.

By the way, there’s also a very common share_taxi key for share taxis (jitneys), which are commonly used as airporters. This key is necessary in some regions where these services are common enough that the authorities reserve stands and parking spaces for them.

In the EU, there’s a legal difference between a bus and a coach service: Buses get public funding, coaches have to be self-sustaining. Coach services also often barred from directly competing with other forms of public transport, which is why e. g. in Switzerland coaches are not allowed to transport passengers domestically, they’re only allowed for international services.

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As I discussed briefly in Talk:Tag:route=minibus - OpenStreetMap Wiki due to deletion request, it is unclear whether “coach” etc refers to a service or vehicle type. Coach bus vehicle (referring more to the body and chasis; but also for the licence and registration in vehicle class) can be used for citybus service, and vice versa for citybus in long-distance “coach” service (can have more comfortable cabin).

Coach-like vehicles are used for multiple purposes. Besides intercity services, they can serve as private charter buses (for which we have tourist_bus) and corporate shuttle buses (which have no established key that I know of). The latter are notoriously common here in the San Francisco Bay Area, but probably not very common in many other locales. I’ve mapped bus stops and busways that the authorities have built and designated for these vehicles but not for their own public transportation system.

I’ve never been inclined to treat coach as a vehicle type, because most restrictions in the U.S. are technically based on usage rather than vehicle classifications, which don’t align with OSM’s European terminology anyways.

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I prefer to differentiate the express/long_distance/… in the route relation and not in the bus stop.

The OP’s problem was that transport operators do make that distinction, at least in Europe, and where multiple bus stops are located it’s probably worthwhile capturing that on OSM. Historically, there used to be separate bus stations for such services (Victoria Coach Station in London is one remaining example in UK; Estación Sur de Autobuses in Madrid another).

Actual tagging of the routes to distinguish them from regular “service buses” is a separate issue, but also one worthy of more discussion. If nothing else it would be nice if interregional services were shown on a lower zoom level on OPNV Karte & the Thunderforest Transport layer than they are at present.

PS. I rather suspect that Flixbus services on the Iberian Peninsula are not actually named in German (noted in passing).

the difference is, that “coach” was introduced as an almost synonym to the well established “tourist_bus”, with the only distinguishing property that the latter has to be “long distance” while the former can be long distance but does not have to. There is no definition of “long” distance anywhere in the wiki, AFAIK.

Really? I thought coach= is regular service, while tourist_bus= irregular.

coach at first was introduced as a synonymon, currently it is distinguished by “long distance” in the wiki:


tourist_bus just means “bus” (vehicle class “bus”, but as this was already defined for a bus acting as a public transport vehicle, the key name became “tourist_bus”.)

Oof, what’s the key for buses for tourists then? There are places that have loading zones specifically for tour buses as opposed to buses used for other purposes.

Tourist bus sounds like bus specifically for tourist cases, like the tour buses in a city. Would it also capture the case of regular routes for short period, like seasonal routes or event-related routes?

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no idea, I have not mapped this situation, nor do I know the sign. How do you usually map it?

Do you actually mean that? What you’ve said doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me; I’m wondering if maybe there’s some translation thing going on here.

https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:access and https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Key:tourist_bus say vaguely sensible things (apart from the “which can be understood to be synonymous to a coach” bit).

Some “tourist buses” may be “coaches” (in either vehicle type, or itinerary, or both), but some are not.

This particular sign is specific to California, though I’ve often seen similar signs elsewhere on an ad-hoc basis. The California sign documentation suggests tourist_bus=designated.

There’s also a very similar-looking sign for school bus loading zones. School buses in North America are both a vehicle type and a vehicle use. However, retired school buses that have been converted to some other use, such as church buses or police buses, aren’t treated as school buses for the purpose of these regulations (and would have distinct signs). Mappers have been using school_bus where a distinction is needed.

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