I got to thinking, a lot of ridership on transit, regardless of what seems to be at the root of the conversation, has nothing to do with the actual vehicle. A large part of it has to do with the ease of use, flexibility, and other criteria. Sure people like light rail, some go gaga over streetcars, and some hold out their passion for buses, but in the end if there is no vehicle when you want to, need to, or whimsically need to go where you are going you don’t ride transit.
So where does that leave us? The question is simple, what criteria must be met in order to attain higher ridership?
Some of the current systems, features, and usability requirements for attracting ridership are obvious;
- Timely: A vehicle has to be frequent enough on a route to gain ridership. If one can’t get to and from their origin and destination in a reasonable time then that really puts a damper on increasing ridership.
- On-Schedule: Even more than frequent, a vehicle has to be on time. If it doesn’t show up, then what is one supposed to do? Hold it on faith that the vehicle might show up? It doesn’t build up motivation to take transit if the vehicle doesn’t arrive when the promised arrival time is.
Thinking Out of The Transit Box
The other things that have really bumped up the ridership for a lot of routes, enabling people to schedule around routes that might have untimely or slightly off-schedule runs, is GPS based tracking. TriMet (did it first – props), New Jersey Transit, King County Metro (Seattle), MUNI, and others now all have this tracking ability. It has mitigated loosing ridership and has gained an untold number of riders.
Another feature that has bumped up ridership in certain areas is wireless Internet access. On the Sound Transit System between Seattle and points north and south, the Sounder Trains have wireless access. One can watch any train of the day go by packed with patrons, dozens of them working away on the laptops at the tables or even in their laps. On the express buses Sound Transit has also had wireless for some time, which attracts a lot of the Microsoft, Boeing, and other technology workers.
These two features have attracted increases in transit ridership that otherwise, would not have been made. But what else could transit agencies do to really gain ridership? Especially today, with the financing difficulties, what could be done on the cheap. GPS tracking isn’t too pricy nor is Internet access, but in today’s tight market its difficult even for these amenities to be purchased?
Please comment with any ideas you might have, I’d love to really get some new and inventive ideas out to the brass to implement. In a following post I’ll have a collected set of ideas, plus will have some existing ideas and how to make them better (such as website enhancements).