3 Ways to Increase Ridership on Public Transit
Transit agencies across the country are constantly looking for methods to increase usage and ridership. Reliable, accessible transportation helps communities thrive by stimulating local economies and providing mobility to those who need it. So why is it that many agencies struggle to attract riders when they offer such a vital service?
When ridership is low, this is an indication that something within the transit system is not meeting its community’s needs. If your service is too expensive, too slow, or too limited, low usage will be the result. Often, these inefficiencies aren’t fully within the agency’s control; lack of funding and subsidies harms many transit organizations’ operations. However, there are still steps agencies can take to optimize their service and better serve their communities. Here are three things transit agencies can do to increase their ridership.
1. Boost Service Frequency and Duration
In the US, most transit users and non-transit users agree on one thing: public transit can be very, very slow. This is why only 13% of commuters across the nation utilize public transport to get to work. Vehicles that show up only once an hour – if they’re not behind schedule – make planning a commute difficult. In many communities, walking or biking is faster and more reliable than a bus.
Increasing the frequency and duration of service directly correlates with higher ridership and productivity. High frequency comes with higher costs initially, but it pays for itself in the long run. For example: high frequency reduces wait times. No one wants to stand in the hot sun or rain for twenty minutes, wondering when the next bus will show. By introducing more frequent service, wait times are cut dramatically and ridership responds in turn. High frequency service also makes connections easier and enhances reliability. If a vehicle goes out of service, operations won’t be dramatically impacted.
In contrast, when frequency is low, connections are slow, difficult, and reduces the overall efficiency of your network. If a vehicle unexpectedly goes out of service, it ripples across the entire transit system—dramatically increasing the already long wait times.
Expanding the duration of service is also a way to increase ridership. To maximize ridership, you must first expand access. Late night and weekend services are a boon to workers, especially those who work night shifts or in retail, where schedules may shift from week to week. Ensuring they always have access to reliable transit, even at 10pm on a Saturday, will lead to high levels of usage over time.
2. Review Network Density and Coverage
Population density and ridership go hand-in-hand. You can’t offer service to passengers who aren’t there. Reviewing your network’s coverage and the population density in these areas might offer valuable insight. Density can change over years due to a variety of socio-economic factors; there may be areas that have grown more crowded over the past five years, or the reverse. Adjusting routes to better serve these areas is an important aspect of increasing usage.
On the other hand, if your network doesn’t service the areas people want or need to go to, ridership will be low no matter how dense the population. Giving your riders easy access to in-demand destinations such as large local employers, hospitals, grocery stores, and town centers is key to increasing ridership overall.
Examine your community and coverage. Which routes are used most frequently? Which routes rarely have riders? Where is the population the densest, and where do those people need to go? If you have the means, surveying current riders and local citizens could reveal gaps in your transit network that can be easily covered by changes in routes.
If transit agencies want to be indispensable to their citizens, they must be in touch with their mobility needs. Knowing where people live and where they need to go is key to gaining new riders.
3. Prioritize Accessibility for All
As we’ve already mentioned, having access to transit is key to achieving and maintaining ridership. Those who are often most in need of transit services, such as disabled and elderly citizens, often find it is inaccessible in many ways. While all transit agencies in the US are bound to comply with the ADA, this is only the first step in providing truly accessible transportation.
For example: bus stops. Many bus stops in the US do not have benches or protection from the weather. Those that do are often small, only capable of accommodating two people at a time. If someone wants to wait for the bus at their stop, they may be forced to stand for long periods of time in the elements; this can be harmful and stressful for disabled, elderly, and pregnant passengers. By simply adding awnings and benches to your stops, you make transit much more accessible for the public.
Another simple way to ensure easy accessibility for all is to train your staff in how to load mobility aids of all kinds quickly and safely onto your vehicles. Other options, such as public displays and Automated Voice Announcements, aid all passengers while also catering to the needs of the hearing and visually impaired.
Full transparency and frequent communication are also key to netting more passengers. In the 2020s, an age of GPS technology and smartphones, no one should be stranded at a bus stop for half an hour wondering when their ride will arrive. Apps like Passio GO display vehicle locations and ETAs in real-time, allowing passengers to see when the bus will be approaching their stop and time their arrival accordingly. Many of these tools also include trip planners, which map a detailed route to a passenger’s chosen destination, including any necessary transfers or connections. Visible passenger counts can also help reduce overcrowding on vehicles and reveal areas where more coverage is necessary.
Even a comprehensive route map and list of stops can be greatly beneficial, as it provides the public with the information they need to effectively utilize transport. Expanding access is key to increasing ridership. Passengers want a reliable, convenient, and easy-to-manage transit experience. If you build a truly accessible transit network that dependably services major community centers, passengers will arrive in droves.
Building Better Transit
Public transit offers a vital service to cities and towns across the country, but many organizations are still using outdated, analogue processes. These slow down operations and increase costs, which ultimately impairs the experience for riders and decreases usage. In a fast-moving, technology-driven world, transit must be able to adapt quickly. To increase ridership, transportation must be reliable, designed for their specific communities’ mobility needs, and accessible to as many people as possible.
To learn more about how transit technology can benefit your agency’s riders, explore Passio’s variety of solutions designed to increase operational efficiency and upgrade the passenger experience.