How can we improve public transport users perceptions?

We are in fiscally challenging times with demands for increasing public transport mode share and seriously constrained budgets.

It is evident that users perceptions are their reality.

So what is important to public transport users? And what are the low cost ways we can address concerns and improve the quality of service provided?

Research shows that the time and energy travellers spend walking to, and waiting for public transport greatly influences their perceptions of the quality of journey.(1) Travel time outside of the public transport vehicle has considerably more influence over user’s perceptions of the journey than in-vehicle time.

A trip on public transport is a door-to-door experience from origin to destination, which involves walking, waiting, boarding, travelling, and transferring or interchanging from one service to another.

As demand increases and services become more complex, more time is spent waiting and/transferring, so this is an area needing focus. With more mass transit services being used to move larger volumes of people quickly, such as metro rail or bus rapid transit, then an increase of feeder services and transfers becomes necessary.

Research indicates that public transport users value time differently for different parts of the journey:

  • In-vehicle time is valued at 100% (ie 1 minute of travel is perceived as 1 minute)
  • Transfer time is valued at 300%
  • Transfer time, with real-time next service information is valued at 150%

So for a trip involving 20 minutes of in-vehicle travel time and 10 minutes transfer time, providing real-time passenger information can mean a reduction of 30% in the perceived duration of the trip!

In the California study (1) public transport user’s perception of stops/stations and transfer facilities was researched to assess satisfaction and importance and some interesting results were obtained (see figure).


Source: Ref 1

Users valued safety, service reliability and on-time performance the highest, followed by information. As users put a premium on waiting time, expected delays are perceived as shorter than unexpected delays.

Reducing the uncertainty by providing real-time information by various means, whether at stops or by a smartphone app, would reduced the perceived journey time considerably.

Reference (1) Iseka, H., Smart, M., Taylor B. and Yoh, A. (2012) Thinking Outside the Bus, Access, No 40, Spring 2012

Picture credit: “Waiting for the bus” by Julia Stuebing

6 thoughts on “How can we improve public transport users perceptions?”

  1. Nothing new here; the concept of keeping customers informed is basic to the hospitality industry and PT is just as much a hospitality service as is a hotel, motel or restaurant. Mass transit services are an issue in that as with hospitality services our experiences are personal. The experiences of other diners, customers, passengers are of little interest to the individual. It is MY time being spent; it is MY money being spent; it is MY experience that matters most.
    If I am prepared to pay for a Wagyu beef it should be available; if I want first class door to door service a limousine should be available.
    If I am only prepared to pay for a nice lean steak it should be available; if I want door to door service a taxi should be available.
    If I am only prepared to pay for mincemeat it should be available; if I am prepared to share my ride and travel at someone else’s schedule this should be available.
    Either way I should be comfortable that the choice provides value for money and meets my needs. It is only when I don’t get a choice or when I don’t get what I expect and/or think I am paying for that I have a right to complain.
    Public transport needs to be developed in the mode of Mass Transit but it needs to meet the needs and provide choices to the individual.

    Ray Wombold

  2. It gets back to the quality and quantity of public transport services provided, plain and simple. In most large cities, around 80% of trips are by car (not for the CBD specifically but the whole metropolitan area). That means there’s a great need to improve public transport quality and quantity metro wide. However, we seem to persist with pursuing unaffordable solutions and will never close this gap unless there is a change in direction. For more about what solutions will work, see my website
    John Morandini

  3. PT is a public service, can not, should not, never will make a profit, or even break even. PT is the only solution to traffic congestion. The better the road network the more motorist we have. There is no point in deterring private travel unless you can offer a viable alternative. Frequent, on time, affordable, accessible PT is the only solution to everyone’s traffic management solutions. A fact is a fact

  4. One of the key messages from the Commuter Pain Surveys IBM has conducted over the last few years in a number of global cities is consistant and reinforced by the comments above. Thats is, while we all relate the journey experience to our own personal lens or set of views, regardless of the dimensions of the journey, ie mode(s) and time, disruption or change impacting the journey is much more able to be accommodated if we are informed. The earlier being informed, the amount of information provided, the frequency of update, all combine to reduce both the anxiety and impact of the change.
    Of course reliability and trustworthiness of the information has a role to play as well.
    The simple example being if a journey to the airport is planned at 45 minutes yet takes 55 minutes no one thinks any more about it but if you are stuck enroute to the airport and 80 minutes have elapsed you are getting anxious. At 90 minutes you are calling people and making alternative arrangements and possibly missing the flight. If you knew it was 90 minutes early you could plan accordingly without the stress or likely impact. In todays cities managing the transport network where there is no capacity or fat left for absorbing unplanned incidents is a huge challenge but if we can improve the information flow and reliability issues we can go a long way to improving our journeys. Now where did I put my magic wand!

  5. How can we improve public transport users perceptions? One sensible start would be for the owners of the system to actually operate a safe, reliable and on-time service with real time feedback information conveniently available to the user when there are delays. The service operators need to advise waiting users as realistically as practical when they hope to deliver their contractual obligations next. Forget perception for now…OK perception will come when the owners deliver the contracted service. Future contracts need to include clauses to cover how the advice to users for irritating and serious delays will be transmitted. Proven IT options already exist…

  6. Dear group members,

    You are sincerely welcome to the Final Seminar of my Ph.D. thesis entitled

    “Urban Transit Quality of Service: User Perception and Behaviour”.

    Time: 10-11 a.m. Friday 20 July 2012
    Venue: Room 310, M Block, QUT Gardens Point Campus

    Best regards,



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