Why Do People Quit Riding Transit? It’s the On-Board Delays, Stupid

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley are zeroing in on what irks transit riders so much they stop riding.

Transit riders hate delays while they're on board most of all. Image: Forbes via Wikipedia

The research team — Andre Carrel, Anne Halvorsen and Joan L. Walker — surveyed people in the San Francisco Bay Area to find out what frustrated them the most about riding transit. While the general results of their study are what you’d expect — delays, crowding, and unreliability were top complaints — there are some interesting nuances when you drill down into the specifics.

Above all, they found, transit riders really don’t like to wait in the middle of a trip. These were far and away the top sources of rider dissatisfaction:

1. Delayed on board due to transit vehicles backed up or problems on the transit route downstream.

2. Experienced long wait at a transfer stop.

Carrel told the Canadian Broadcasting Company Corporation why the location of the delay makes a big difference to passengers. “Waiting at the origin stop where you first get on, having a delay there is not as important as having a delay at the transfer stop,” he said. “You might be able to wait at home until the bus is close if you have the information and you might also have alternatives. If the bus doesn’t show up, you could take your car to your bike.”

“But if you get stuck at a transfer stop, you get off one bus and the other bus just doesn’t show up, you’re pretty screwed over,” Carrel added. “We found that that was actually much worse.”

Worse than that though, is when people are stuck inside a crowded bus or train. “That is by far the most important event in making people stop using transit,” Carrel said. The researchers added that transit passengers were much more likely to forgive delays caused by weather and other external factors than those attributable to the transit agency.

Carrel, Halvorsen, and Walker said there are some clear lessons for transit providers here.

“Passengers may prefer more frequent service with occasional crowding to less frequent buses that are larger and less crowded,” they write.

They also recommend that transit operators tell passengers whether a delay is caused by weather emergencies or other problems that are outside the agency’s control.

The other major sources of aggravation? The research team found eight total items that most irritated current and former transit riders. The remaining six were several degrees less important to riders than the previous two:

3. Missed departure due to wrong real-time information.

4. Unable to board or denied boarding due to crowding.

5. Delayed on board due to emergency or mechanical failure.

6. Experienced long wait at origin stop.

7. Ran to stop but the bus or train pulled away.

8. Delayed on board due to traffic.