Sustaining the Switch from Driver to Rider

What will convince drivers to permanently switch to mass transit? A reliable system and incentives aren't enough, say a group of Swedish researchers, the experience of public transit should also match the qualities people love about cars.

2 minute read

January 8, 2013, 2:00 PM PST

By Jessica Hsu


In a report published in the latest issue of the journal Transport Policy, the researchers offer three general suggestions for improving mass transit systems, writes Eric Jaffe. First, they believe transit agencies need to pay more attention to rider perceptions because single "critical incidents," like a bad rush hour experience, can turn people away. "Too often," say the researchers, "transit operators evaluate service quality based on criteria they consider important - even if riders don't feel the same."

This leads to their second point, which is that "agencies should target the motivations that cause people to drive instead of ride." Most drivers prefer the comfort and convenience of their own cars, but ticket integration programs that make the rides simpler and cheaper could encourage them to make the switch. In Finland, such a program reported a 10 to 20 percent shift away from private car use.

The researchers' last recommendation is that "[a]gencies would be wise to recognize that not all drivers have the same potential to become riders," and target their programs accordingly. New residents, for instance, might be more inclined to switch between travel modes. "Similarly," says Jaffe, "places that have a high volume of 'choice' riders — those who could take a car but choose instead to ride — may take more note of efforts like station and security upgrades, relative to basic qualities like speed."

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