“How much longer?” Technology’s role in retaining new transit users

17 Mar

Implementing real-time travel information technology could go a long way toward mitigating the feeling of loss of autonomy that keeps potential riders from trying transit, according to a study by Next American City and Latitude Research:

“The results of the study indicate that, while users value the freedom and control a car provides, mobile information solutions could replicate this sense of autonomy without needing to own a car—primarily by helping users to make informed, in-the-moment decisions about what’s available near them and the best ways to get around. ‘Real-time and personalized transit information has the ability to make public transit a more flexible, equitable, and enjoyable experience, thus minimizing the perceived experience gap between car ownership and other modes of transit typically thought less convenient or accessible by would-be users,’ explains Marina Miloslavsky, study lead and Senior Research Analyst at Latitude.”

One massive advantage DC’s Metro system has over MARTA is the availability of exactly that kind of information. Metro’s bus and train arrival time information saved me untold episodes of wondering how quickly I needed to make it to a station or whether a long wait for a bus meant I’d missed it or it was late. Metro also has mobile versions of its arrival time and trip-planning services.

While it’s possible – by much pressing of buttons – to get automated MARTA schedule information by phone, and Google Maps features schedule and trip-planning service, people care much less about when something is scheduled to happen as when it will happen.

Having that kind of information readily available is certainly helpful for daily transit users, but this study indicates that it’s especially important in shaping the impressions that new users take away from their experiences. Those experiences can leave new riders with a greater appreciation of all the options available for getting around, or as is often the case with less tech-savvy transit agencies, anxious to get back to their cars.

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