These transit-based smartphone applications have increased markedly in their sophistication, richness, and breadth of offerings these past years, contributing mightily to the seamlessness of the transit passenger experience. It is a two-sided relationship – the smartphone and the passenger – and the adjusting of that relationship proves to be an interesting study. There is a good deal of human nature in transportation, nowhere more so than in the transit world.
This interaction of fleets of vehicles, passengers, and the ticking clock was an active field of study a couple of decades ago and has been reenergized of late by the rich electronic communications bath we are all submerged in these days.
Studies in the mid-90s’s showed that when real-time information was displayed on electronic signs at bus stops (this was in London), regardless of whether the adherence to schedule had improved, riders perceived it as having improved. In other words the bus arrived at exactly the same time in both circumstances, the passengers waited exactly the same length of time in both circumstances, but the passengers when asked were happy to tell the surveyers that the wait hadn’t been nearly as long.
As mentioned, there’s a lot of human nature in transportation. We can consider why this is so.
Waiting for a bus in under-informed circumstances is something of a binary experience: the vehicle is either there or it is not. You cannot, as in a line at the movie ticket window, see what kind of progress you are making. In these other circumstances and dozens like them, you do not wonder if you have missed the opportunity altogether and the bus came – and went – thirty seconds before you took up residence at the transit stop.
The stress level of waiting uncertainly in an uninformed state is very displeasing to many riders – who have traded the control that comes with personal car ownership for the insecurity of depending on another mode – and once that was eased by way of the electronic communications, satisfaction followed.
We at TranSystems wrote one of the first US research reports about real-time transit arrival information here in the states back in the same mid-90’s time period, as agencies were just starting to ask questions of customer behavior.
With our many electronic devices the real-time information is only closer at hand now, and has been for a half decade. The arrival times are transmitted, tracked, counted down, with timely communications on any displays.
The practice brings satisfaction to the rider enough out of proportion to what you might expect that it has been suggested, perhaps not jokingly, that transit agencies given the choice between spending money on more buses or more communications, would do well to choose the latter. That might be a reach, but real time schedule transmission is now firmly at the top of best industry practices in transit.
The final irony is that many people these days have ready access to rich levels of amusement or engagement by way of their smartphones, which you would think might happily pass the time…whether the bus is on schedule or not. – lsm