Transit's Rider Survey About Crowding
In June 2020, we surveyed more than 6,000 app users to learn how they feel about the risks of COVID-19, crowding onboard public transit, and what type of information would make them most likely to start riding transit again.
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We chose to survey users in five cities of varying sizes. When we ran the survey, transit agencies in some of these cities already provided real-time crowding information, such as LADOT/DASH and Torrance Transit in Los Angeles, as well as Port Authority in Pittsburgh. Other cities had transit agencies of varying sizes that were exploring crowding information.
Riders who are staying away from public transit are likely to return to riding gradually and not all at once. Many say they'll start riding as much as they did before the pandemic in later stages of the recovery, or once the pandemic is over entirely.
Not surprisingly, people who have access to a car are twice as likely to be completely avoiding public transit, compared to people without access to a car. As reflected in our previous survey, people who are not riding public transit are more likely to be unemployed or working non-essential jobs.
During the pandemic, riders have a much lower threshold for crowding. Before COVID-19, more than 60 percent said they'd get onboard even if riders were packed like sardines. Now, people need a lot more space to feel comfortable. Agencies are already enforcing limits on the number of riders aboard buses — this is important both to reduce the risk of transmission and to reassure riders that it is safe to board.
We also looked at how riders would react to crowded conditions, depending on whether their travel was urgent or non-urgent. More than half of respondents said they would wait for the next vehicle if their travel was not urgent, making it clear that real-time crowding information (and frequent service) can have a real impact on rider behaviour.
Riders would mostly use real-time crowding information to plan their existing trips differently, and 30 percent of riders said they would use public transit more often overall if they had access to the information.
There's a lot of discussion in the transit world right now about the value of different types of crowding data — real-time data showing the actual current occupancy of vehicles, historical data that provides predictive estimates based on past trends, or crowdsourced data that relies on updates from fellow riders. Notably, real-time data was the only form of crowding information that would get a majority of respondents to ride transit more often. Only a minority would not be swayed by any type of crowding data.
At Transit, we encourage transit agencies to provide real-time crowding information by working with their APC provider. This data, particularly if provided through a GTFS real-time feed, can be quickly integrated into the app.