Online Bus Tracker Attracts Modest Number Of New Riders

More people take public transit when they can access bus and train arrival times on their cell phones and computers, according to a study of Chicago’s Bus Tracker and Train Tracker system.
Since the Chicago Transit Authority implemented its Bus Tracker system, ridership gains have been only modest, warn authors Lei Tang and Piyushimita (Vonu) Thakuriah. Ridership has increased an average of about 126 riders per day per route, or about 2 percent.
But that may be because many riders still don’t know they can access arrival times.
“This may seem to be a modest gain,” Tang and Thakuriah write in “Ridership effects of real-time bus information system: A case study in the City of Chicago,” which appears this month in the journal Transportation Research.
“However, when considering that the ridership effects may expand over time after the lag periods if the learning and adaptation phases are overcome, and additional user benefits that may accrue due to connectivity to related LBS and social media systems, the return on investment from the additional fares raised may more than offset the investment cost, and may lead to new revenue sources.”
In 2006, the Chicago Transit Authority began tracking buses and trains. CTA rolled out the service in large scale beginning in 2008, making the data available to the public. CTA has implemented Bus Tracker on 144 routes, and riders can access the data via, text messaging, smartphone apps, and most recently, via digital displays on bus-stop kiosks.
Tang and Thakuriah studied changes in ridership from 2002 to 2010 and adjusted for many other factors, including fare price, gasoline price, weather, and employment levels, to isolate the effect of Bus Tracker and Train Tracker.
“The period of time during the implementation of Bus Tracker coincided with a general trend towards widespread use of Internet-based technology, smartphones and data services that connected users to a variety of Location-Based Services (LBSs), and in general, a heightened socialization in mobile applications via personal digital assistants,” the authors write.
Initially, riders could only access bus arrival times via the web. CTA implemented customizable email alerts and a text messaging system. Third-party developers have created many apps that access the data for smart-phone users.
Increased ridership varied on different routes between 1.8 percent and 2.2 percent on routes that typically carry 5761 to 6876 rides per day.
“Those routes where Bus Tracker technology was rolled out at a later stage of the entire deployment period tend to have greater positive percentage change in ridership compared to those that were provided with such information at an earlier stage,” the authors found.
The authors draw on earlier research on electric cars and hypothesize that consumer preferences are evolving along with technological change.
“We surmise that Bus Tracker users have gone through a learning and adaptation phase, where they have to integrate new technologies in their travel practices and routines, as the technology is being domesticated, resulting in myriad impacts on the way travelers benefit from technology and use it.”

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