How Smartphones Can Improve Public Transit

Wired’s Autopia:

How Smartphones Can Improve Public Transit :

An interesting study of commuters in Boston and San Francisco found people are more willing to ride the bus or train when they have tools to manage their commutes effectively. The study asked 18 people to surrender their cars for one week. The participants found that any autonomy lost by handing over their keys could be regained through apps providing real-time information about transit schedules, delays and shops and services along the routes.
Though the sample size is small, the researchers dug deep into participants’ reactions. The results could have a dramatic effect on public transportation planning, and certainly will catch the attention of planners and programmers alike. By encouraging the development of apps that make commuting easier, transit agencies can drastically, and at little cost, improve the ridership experience and make riding mass transit more attractive.

3 thoughts on “How Smartphones Can Improve Public Transit

  1. Conrol (or the feeling of control) is important to people. Any arrangement that reduces the personal feeling of relinquishing control is a positive development.
    Outside of public transportation I can also imagine that apps that facilitiate the formation of ad hoc car pools – such as casual car pools – would be powerful tools to increase the efficiency of transportation infrastructure.


  2. Having a smartphone has helped me a lot in the Twin Cities. Most bus stops around here don’t have schedules, so it’s nice that I can look up arrival times with NexTrip (still just an approximation, but a lot better than nothing). Google Maps on my phone also helps me find stop locations, and can also show arrival times and compute travel itineraries.
    I did suggest that Metro Transit should start putting up QR codes at their stops so passengers could take a photo with their phones and get quickly directed to the correct NexTrip page, though they don’t have any money to put up the placards (I figure it could be a great project for neighborhood organizations to try, though).


  3. Great concept, but let’s not get too hung up on cell phone apps. The majority of people do NOT own smart phones, hence can’t use apps. There are many ways to provide information to people, and apps is only one of them. Text messages for us ‘other’ cell phone users. Signs at bus stops. There are ways.
    We are sadly primitive when it comes to thinking about the public transit user’s experience and needs. I have a friend who commutes from Queens to lower Manhattan. Five minutes talking with him reveals several ways that a thinking transit company could better serve its customers.
    I’m especially amused by the notion of replacing buses with streetcars. Streetcars cost billions, get stuck in traffic worse than buses, and their tracks snare bicycle tires. “Oh,” everyone says, “Streetcars have cache.” Horsefeathers! I lived two blocks from a streetcar stop for five years, used the streetcar many times, and the cache was quite minimal. Give me 1/10 of what it costs to put one streetcar on the road, and I’ll make the bus service totally trendy.


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