In order to attract more choice riders, transit service must not only have a high level of service in terms of frequency and travel time but also must be reliable. Although transit agencies continuously work to improve on-time performance, such efforts often come at a substantial cost. One inexpensive way to combat the perception of unreliability from the user perspective is real-time transit information. The OneBusAway transit traveler information system provides real-time next bus countdown information for riders of King County Metro via website, telephone, text-messaging, and smart phone applications. Although previous studies have looked at traveler response to real-time information, few have addressed real-time information via devices other than public display signs. For this study, researchers observed riders arriving at Seattle-area bus stops to measure their wait time while asking a series of questions, including how long they perceived that they had waited.
The study found that for riders without real-time information, perceived wait time is greater than measured wait time. However, riders using real-time information do not perceive their wait time to be longer than their measured wait time. This is substantiated by the typical wait times that riders report. Real-time information users say that their average wait time is 7.5 min versus 9.9 min for those using traditional arrival information, a difference of about 30%. A model to predict the perceived wait time of bus riders was developed, with significant variables that include the measured wait time, an indicator variable for real-time information, an indicator variable for PM peak period, the bus frequency in buses per hour, and a self-reported typical aggravation level. The addition of real-time information decreases the perceived wait time by 0.7 min (about 13%).
A critical finding of the study is that mobile real-time information reduces not only the perceived wait time, but also the actual wait time experienced by customers. Real-time information users in the study wait almost 2 min less than those arriving using traditional schedule information. Mobile real-time information has the ability to improve the experience of transit riders by making the information available to them before they reach the stop.
Watkins, K., Ferris, B., Borning, A., Rutherford, S., and Layton, D. (2011) “Where Is My Bus? Impact of mobile real-time information on the perceived and actual wait time of transit riders.” Transportation Research Part A 45. 839–848.