What benefit does this bus tracker display in a grocery store have on transit passengers? And on the transit agency?

This is a complementary article to the one I posted on Grid Chicago today, The state of transit trackers in Chicago.

The text is excerpted from two reports (unquoted sections are my own paraphrases or thoughts):

  1. “OneBusAway: Results from Providing Real-Time Arrival Information for Public Transit” by Brian Ferris, Kari Watkins, and Alan Borning. University of Washington. Download the report. Referenced with “OneBusAway”.
  2. “Real-time Bus Arrival Information Systems Return-on-Investment Study” by Laura Cham, Georges Darido, David Jackson, Richard Laver, Donald Schneck. Booz Allen Hamilton. Download the report. Referenced with “Booz”.


“Towards this goal, there are two principal reasons for providing better transit traveler information: to increase satisfaction among current riders; and to increase ridership, es- pecially among new or infrequent transit users and for non- peak hour trips. These are two key priorities for many transit agencies. It has been shown that transit traveler information can result in a mode-shift to public transportation [14]. This stems from the riders’ ability to feel more in control of their trip, including their time spent waiting and their perception of safety. Real-time arrival information can help in both of these areas. Existing studies of permanent real-time arrival signage at transit stations have shown that the ability to de- termine when the next vehicle is coming brings travelers’ perception of wait time in line with the true time spent wait- ing [6]. Transit users value knowing how long their wait is, or whether they have just missed the last bus. In addition, it has been found that providing real-time information signifi- cantly increases passenger feelings of safety [20].” (OneBusAway 1)


“The results suggest a number of important positive outcomes for OneBusAway users: increased overall satisfaction with public transit, decreased wait times, increased transit trips per week, increased feelings of safety, and even increased dis- tance walked when using transit.” (OneBusAway 2)


“The most common response, mentioned by 38% of respondents, concerned how OneBusAway alleviated the uncertainty and frustration of not knowing when a bus is really going to arrive. Ttypical comments:

  • ‘The biggest frustration with taking busses is the inconsistency with being able to adhere to schedules because of road traffic. Onebusaway solves all of that frustration.’
  • ‘I no longer sit with pitted stomach wondering where is the bus. It’s less stressful simply knowing it’s nine minutes away, or whatever the case.’ “

Flexibility in planning

“The next most common response, mentioned by 35% of respondents, concerned how OneBusAway increased the ease and flexibility of planning travel using public transit, whether it be a question of which bus to take or when to catch it. A typical comment: ‘I can make decisions about which bus stop to go to and which bus to catch as I have options for the trip home after work.’ and ‘It helps plan my schedule a little better to know if I can take a little extra time or if I have to hurry faster so I don’t miss my bus.’ ” (OneBusAway 5)

Wait time

“Among respondents, 91% reported spending less time waiting, 8% reported no change, and less than 1% reported an increase in wait times.” (OneBusAway 6)

While 95% of Transit Tracker users agreed the system reduces their wait time, there are at present, no solid measures of what the average reduction in wait time actually is. (Booz 49)

Survey responses from users of Transit Tracker information displays at equipped bus stops suggests that actual reductions in total wait time may be negligible. However, this seems unlikely to be the case for those users accessing Transit Tracker via either phone or the internet. Given the availability of accurate, real-time arrival information, riders accessing Transit Tracker via phone or internet have the opportunity of optimizing (i.e., delaying) their bus stop arrival time and thus reduce time spent waiting a transit stop. (Booz 49)

As noted above, the value of time for transit riders waiting at stops is twice that for riders once they have boarded the vehicle. This wait-time premium reflects a variety of wait-time costs that are not experienced “in-vehicle” including reduced personal comfort (e.g., exposure to the elements), potential safety concerns and uncertainty regarding the arrival time of the next transit vehicle. (Booz 50)


“We asked users how their perception of personal safety had changed as result of using OneBusAway. While 79% of re- spondents reported no change, 18% reported feeling some- what safer and 3% reported feeling much safer. This in- crease in the perception of safety when using OneBusAway is significant overall (X2 = 98.05, p < 10?15). We also found that safety was correlated with gender (X2 = 19.458, p = 0.001), with greater increases for women.

We additionally asked respondents whose feeling of safety had changed to describe how in a free-form comment. Of such respondents, 60% reported spending less time waiting at the bus stop as their reason, while 25% mentioned that OneBusAway removed some of their uncertainty. Respondents specifically mentioned waiting at night (25%) or at unsavory stops (11%) as potential reasons they might feel unsafe in the first place. Respondents also described using OneBusAway to plan alternate routes (14%) or to help de- cide on walking to a different stop (7%) in order to increase feelings of safety.” (OneBusAway 6)

Two representative comments:

  • Having the ability to know when my bus will arrive helps me decide whether or not to stay at a bus stop that I may feel a little sketchy about or move on to a different one. Or even, stay inside of a building until the bus does arrive.
  • Onebusaway makes riding the bus seem more accessible and safe. I can plan when to leave the house better and spend less time waiting at dark or remote stops.

These results are consistent with a 2006 King County Metro rider survey which found that 19% of riders were dissatisfied with personal safety while waiting for the bus after dark [7].” (OneBusAway 6)

Transit tracker information gives one the power/tools/ability? to decide if walking to a stop on another route is a good idea (OneBusAway 7).

Also means people can walk to next or previous stop (for exercise or better seat) and know the buss won’t pass them while walking, or arrive before they get there.

Also means you can walk if wait is long and walking is faster than waiting. Might work best with transfers.

Also means that you can take the bus instead of walking if the trip is short, walking is your primary mode, and the bus is arriving within minutes. “…users might be taking advantage of the real-time arrival information from OneBusAway to hop on a bus arriving shortly to save a trip of a few blocks that they would have otherwise walked. Some 26% of respondents in the follow up survey indicated that they do in fact take the bus for short trips for which they previously would have walked based on information from OneBusAway, but overall the balance is more walking.” (OneBusAway 7)

Case against transit tracker at ALL stops (both bus and train)

“However, it is likely prohibitively expensive to provide and maintain such displays at every bus stop in a region. With the increased availability of powerful mobile devices and the public availability of transit schedule data in machine read- able formats, a significant number of tools haven been de- veloped to make this information available on a variety of interfaces, including mobile devices. These systems are often cheaper to deploy than fixed real-time arrival displays at a large number of stops. Further, these systems, especially mobile devices, can support additional, personalized func- tionality, such as customized alerts.” (OneBusAway2)

Implications on service planning

“In the transit service planning industry, 10 minutes has long been considered the barrier between schedule-based and headway-based service. A recent study found that at 11 min- utes, passengers begin to coordinate their arrivals rather than arriving randomly [15]. This is consistent with earlier stud- ies documenting random versus coordinated arrivals. There- fore, at a time between buses greater than 10 minutes, pas- sengers want a schedule to coordinate their arrival times. However, with the introduction of real time information such as OneBusAway, we have shown that users more frequently refer to real time information than to schedules to determine when to wait at the bus stop. This is important for transit ser- vice operations because a significant amount of time is lost in attempting to maintain reliability for scheduled service — planners must build a certain amount of slack time into the schedule. One study found the slack ratio to be 25% in Los Angeles [8]. With headway-based service, supervisors use real time transit data to maintain a certain amount of time between buses, rather than attempting to maintain a sched- ule, thereby allowing free running time and saving slack time [21]. This savings in running time can reduce agency costs to provide the same level of service on a transit route.” (OneBusAway 9)


“In addition, the investment in website and phone-based real time transit information can also save an agency substan- tially in deployment costs. As an example, Portland de- ployed their Transit Tracker program in 2001 with informa- tion displays at transit stops, a webpage and more recently a phone system. The transit tracker signs at light rail stations and 13 bus stops in Portland cost $950,000 including mes- sage signs and conduit. The cost for computer servers and web page development was much cheaper at $125,000 [4]. Given the widespread availability of cell phones and web access, providing real time transit information via a service such as OneBusAway could yield a substantial savings for an agency over constructing real-time arrival display signs. At the same time, we don’t want to unfairly disadvantage people who do not have access to such technology.”

Other notes

Also, better opportunity to provide focused tools for people with different cognitive and physical abilities. (OneBusAway)