In a recent article for CityLab, author Eric Jaffe wrote about "The Best Evidence Yet That Real-Time Arrival Info Increases Transit Ridership." Ridership patterns were studied from data gathered from New York City’s MTA Bus Time, a real-time location tracking website for bus riders in NYC. Candace Brakewood of the City College of New York and her collaborators found that since the MTA Bus Time roll-out, ridership increased 2% between January 2011 through December 2013. This is great evidence that real-time transit information isn’t just a nice feature to help current riders, it actually encourages more commuters to take public transit.
Read a few excerpts from the article:
"It's obvious why transit riders love real-time information: they can plan their trip and shed the psychological angst that comes with waiting for the next bus or train. But the question for cities is whether or not people love it enough to choose transit over another mode. In other words, is real-time data just a nice way to keep existing riders happy, or is it an investment that will pay off in brand new riders over time?"
"Brakewood and company tracked bus ridership from January 2011 through December 2013. During that time New York launched real-time bus tracking in all of Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan. (The program has since launched in every borough.) The researchers compared pre- and post-launch ridership to get a sense of just how influential Bus Time was in rider decisions. They accounted for key variables such as fare and service changes, seasonal patterns, the opening of the Citi Bike system, and Hurricane Sandy.
On average, across all the bus lines included in the Bus Time scope, real-time information contributed to about 118 new weekday trips—a 1.7 percent bump. The more significant increases only occurred on the most-traveled routes, where real-time info led to 340 new daily trips, or a 2.3 percent spike.
At a practical level, it makes sense that real-time arrival information might have the greatest impact on popular routes. If you check Bus Time for the next bus and see it's nearby because that particular line runs frequently, you might integrate the real-time tool into your daily travel decisions. But if Bus Time tells you the next bus is 15 minutes away, you might choose another mode or not take the trip at all. (It's also possible ridership gains on the less-traveled routes did exist but were lost to statistical noise.)"