Brian Ferris, one of the creators of OneBusAway, has co-authored a paper (pay-gated link) on real and perceived wait times for transit users with and without real-time arrival information. The authors used OneBusAway data and questionaires of OBA users to study the effect of real-time arrival information, and came up with three surprising results, and two unsurprising results.
The surprising results:
- Without real-time arrival information, perceived wait times are 15% longer than real wait times.
- With real-time arrival information, perceived wait times are the same as real wait times.
- Real-time arrival information reduces perceived wait times significantly against users who are not using real-time-arrival information. In the study this was 30%.
The unsurprising results:
- Real-time arrival information reduces aggravation level of transit riders.
- With real-time arrival information, real wait times are less than without real-time arrival information.
Analysis below the fold.
I’ve separated the two sets because the obvious reasons you’d want real-time arrival information is to make the wait for the bus less annoying, and to hopefully enable you to time your departure for the bus more closely with the bus’s arrival. However, the surprising results are truly, well, surprising. Riders without real-time-arrival information are not just waiting longer, and they think their waits are even longer than they actually are. This results in real-time arrival information providing a massive 30% advantage to perceived wait times, according to the study.
It’s worth mentioning that there are two types of real-time arrival information: internet/mobile based and in-stop information. The internet/mobile-based information helps reduce wait times by letting the rider know the time the bus will come before they depart their location. The in-stop information is much less effective on that score, but overcomes the drawback that not all riders know about or can access the internet-based information before they leave their location. The awareness problem is certainly acute for One Bus Away, which is not heavily promoted by Metro, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit or the other agencies whose data it helps present.
Ferris and two other of the wait-time paper’s authors had put out a previous paper that showed that real-time-arrival information:
- increases the number of trips that transit users take by a small amount for commute trips, but a larger (if still modest) amount for non-commute trips
- increased the perception of safety while waiting for the bus by a modest amount
- very large increase in the number of riders who were willing to walk to another stop
- near-universal increase in satisfaction with the transit experience
Based on these data, I think two major points are worth mentioning. First, it’s obvious the people behind OneBusAway (data providers, inventors and those who approved funding) have done us a great service by putting this service together. The second is that real-time-arrival information is a huge bargain for transit agencies, and OneBusAway should be more heavily promoted and marketed to transit users. Frankly, the perceived reliability of transit services are as important as the real reliability, and overall satisfaction is probably the most important metric. Furthermore, it seems like it could be cost-effective to put more real-time arrival information in stops as well for those without access, though promotion of OBA would obviously be cheaper.
For further reading, check out the Google Scholar link.
 Ferris along with Kari Edison Watkins of Georgia Institute of Technology and Alan Borning , G. Scott Rutherford, and David Layton, all of the UW.
 Waktins, Ferris, and Borning.