A Low-Cost Way to Improve Transit Service in Every City

The developers of a transit-tracking app have some for exciting news for public officials: There's a way to improve transit rider satisfaction without reducing fares, buying new vehicles or expanding service. Just give your users more information.

Read Time: 1 minute

January 22, 2014, 2:00 PM PST

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


trax light rail train in foreground, snow-covered mountains in background

vxla / flickr

Emily Badger shares the findings made by Kari Watkins and her colleagues, who developed the popular transit-tracking app OneBusAway and have spent years studying the behaviors and opinions of transit riders. Simply by providing real-time information, Watkins and her colleagues were able to reduce anxiety over when the next bus or train would arrive and improve rider satisfaction. "In fact," notes Badger, "their results (Watkins has now extended this research to other cities) suggest that transit agencies might get a better payoff by telling people when buses will arrive than by making them arrive more often."

"We’d rather have real-time [data] than more frequent service," Watkins says.

"In an era when transit agencies are strapped for cash, this means they could provide better service without literally providing better service," adds Badger. "This also means that they could significantly improve their product by focusing not on the experience of riding the bus (or train), but by thinking more about what happens before we even board it."

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