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Center for Transportation Studies

Understanding the Potential Market of Metro Transit's Ridership and Services

Presentation by Kevin Krizek (assistant professor, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs) and Ahmed El-Geneidy (post-doctoral research associate, civil engineering department)

November 22, 2005

Why don't more people use public transportation? This question is at the heart of many efforts to reduce congestion, reshape community development, and meet the changing transportation needs of the coming years. Kevin Krizek and Ahmed El-Geneidy are looking for the answer, and uncovering innovative ways that advanced technologies can encourage ridership by helping transit meet the needs of more people. They teamed up to present their recent work at an Advanced Transportation Technologies Seminar November 22, 2005.

Krizek, an assistant professor in the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and a CTS Faculty Scholar, focuses much of his research on transit and the role of alternative transportation modes such as bicycling, carsharing, and walking in communities. He is co-leader of the interdisciplinary Access to Destinations study, which is examining the transportation challenges facing the Twin Cities metropolitan area, and also directs the Active Communities/Transportation (ACT) research group. El-Geneidy, a post-doctoral associate in the civil engineering department, brings a strong background in transit and urban planning to the project.

Krizek began his presentation with an overview of frustrations encountered by many transit riders in finding convenient, dependable transit service. New technologies—such as automatic vehicle locator (AVL) systems based on Global Positioning System technology—have been widely deployed in recent years to assist bus drivers and control centers, he said, but these technologies have often done little to improve the experience of transit customers. However, the availability of GPS, communications, and other technologies presents opportunities for improving transportation service, he said.

Photo of Krizek and El-Geneidy discussing research with Max Donath

Krizek and El-Geneidy discuss their research with ITS Institute director Max Donath.

Using data gleaned from surveys of both bus riders and non-riders, Krizek and El-Geneidy developed a list of factors important to different survey populations—especially those who choose to ride the bus even though they have access to private automobiles, and "prospective" riders who may be interested in using public transportation but feel that it does not meet their needs. The researchers identified a number of significant factors affecting the decision to use public transportation, including safety, reliability, driver attitude and amenities, and wait time for service. Statistical cluster analysis then enabled Krizek and El-Geneidy to examine the relative importance of different factors to various rider and non-rider populations.

From this analysis, El-Geneidy said, it emerged that "prospective" bus riders and riders who have the option to use private automobiles ("choice riders") rank several attributes of bus service differently than those who ride the bus out of necessity. One example is reliability of bus schedules and trip times, which appeared more important for prospective and choice riders. Reliability is a particularly important issue during Minnesota winters, he noted, because most people are extremely reluctant to wait for a bus in sub-zero conditions.

El-Geneidy suggested that AVL systems could be used to improve service in this area, by providing information—via electronic displays in stations, or by cellular phone—about schedules and wait times, and also by helping drivers keep on schedule more easily. Such approaches have already been tried on a limited basis in London and other cities. One noteworthy result from the London effort has been a perceived improvement in transit service when riders know their wait time until the next bus arrives—even when the actual level of service remains the same.