Researchers identify eight things that drives customers from taking mass transit

In the latest news from the Ivory Tower, researchers at UC Berkeley have published a list of the eight things that are most likely to tick off transit riders to the point where they’ll give up on transit. The study was done by talking to riders and ex-riders on San Francisco’s Muni system.

The research paper is titled “Passengers perception of and behavioral adaption to unreliability in public transportation.” Forbes has published an article about it, too, emphasizing that customers can cope with extenuating circumstances. What drives customers bonkers are problems they believe are within control of a transit agency.

I’m not sure that any of the following is an earth-shaking revelation. That said, I do think it’s a nice reminder to transit agencies how their service is experienced by customers. Here are the top eight things that really tick off customers:

1. Delayed on board due to transit vehicles backed up or problems on the transit route downstream.

2. Experienced long wait at a transfer stop.

3. Missed departure due to wrong real-time information. 

4. Unable to board or denied boarding due to crowding.

5. Delayed on board due to emergency or mechanical failure.

6. Experienced long wait at origin stop.

7. Ran to stop but the bus or train pulled away.

8. Delayed on board due to traffic.

The Forbes article has more, including recommendations for transit agencies to keep their customers, well, their customers. Is this list missing anything, Source readers and transit riders? Go ahead–get it out of your system…

73 replies

  1. This comment is directed at the folks arguing for distance-based fares. Your arguments need support from data showing that 1) distance-based fares will resolve the problem you’re identifying; and 2) they won’t create worse problems elsewhere.

    You need to first identify who is using the service and how far they’re traveling on Metro. If the majority are only using Metro to go short distances in the Wilshire corridor then distance-based fares may not resolve your issue.

    Metro probably has data and models that estimate how long people ride according to tap on/off data it collects. You should be able to request reports on the subject to help analyze the source of the overcrowded buses on the Wilshire corridor and create better arguments. It’s probably a good bet this data is an input in the project analyses related to the Wilshire BRT, subway-to-the-sea (purple line extension), and other transit projects.

    Moreover, articles and research papers that don’t specifically address issues with L.A. transit may not translate well to our unique circumstance. The same goes for modeling a fare (or other) system on other cities and regions that don’t have the same characteristics as our region. Just because something works in Japan doesn’t mean it will work here unless the regions have substantial similarities in density, job centers, and alternative transportation beyond transit (i.e. cars). In fact, blindly instituting such changes could lead to worse problems.
    For example, distance-based fares would serve as an incentive for people commuting greater distances to get back into and rely on cars. In case you aren’t already aware, the vast majority of people in L.A. County commute by car including into the city.

    The Census Bureau publishes rolling estimates about how people commute to work. Here are some heat maps I built using the Census Bureau’s numbers. Each uses the same gradient from light (smallest percentage) to dark (highest percentage).
    Drive alone:
    Take Public Transit
    Other (bike, taxi, etc)

    Source: US Census Bureau
    Built with Google Fusion Tables

    The Census Bureau data also demonstrates that poorer people live throughout L.A. city and county. I created a heat map with a gradient showing median income levels per household by census tract for all of L.A. County. White is the lowest median household income ($6600) and deep red the highest median household income ($226,000).

    Really, Metro is between a rock and a hard place and, sadly, it is partly responsible for its own predicament with regard to public transit, most noticably with its past design failures (really, who else builds a rail line that doesn’t directly connect downtown to the airport and requires an inhospitable transfer?) and poor choice of contractors (is that big red line suit still going?). I don’t feel the need to defend Metro – I have my gripes, too – but I do ask for a more data-driven analysis of your arguments.

  2. After getting tired of hearing both sides of the argument, I went online and started searching on my own which party was more right.

    If anyone should know about transit pricing, I think these people are smarter than anyone here. These people are experts in urban transit planning so they’ll be the experts in what’s the fairest fare method:


    Flat versus differentiated transit pricing: What’s a fair fare?

    Transit Dwell Time Under Complex Fare Structure

    The Urban Transit Challenge

    The High Cost of Flat Fares: An Examination of Ridership Demographics and Fare Policy at the Los Angeles MTA

    Financing Roads and Public Transit in the Greater Toronto and
    Hamilton Area


    Allegra: UTA seeks fair fares

    Discrimination in Mass Transit

    Fiscal Equity in Urban Mass Transit Systems: A Geographic Analysis

    Transit pricing research

    Job Access, Commute and Travel Burden among Welfare Recipients


    Moving Welfare Participants to Work: Women, Transportation, and Welfare Reform

    All of these studies, as well as numerous others that can be searched in Google Scholar seem to point what more people have been saying:

    “The poor tend to live in the urban city center and have shorter distance jobs nearby”

    “Flat rate fares end up hurting them overall as fare hikes happen”

    “Distance based fares should be looked at to lower the cost of the most vulnerable to get to their jobs which tend to be close by”

    I think this settles the issue. Metro needs to look at distance based fares more seriously. It turns out that transit experts and university professors in urban transit planning all say the same thing an increasing number of people here have been saying.

    Looks like they were the ones who were right all along and the antis were only being against the idea to self-serve their own interest.

  3. Oh come on, get real. You really think Metro isn’t going to raise fares? Even Metro stated they’ll eventually have to raise fares soon. There’s no denying this, there’s no point in sticking our heads in the sand thinking it won’t happen.

    Metro raised the per ride fare back from $1.25 to $1.50 in 2009. Metro eliminated the semi-monthly pass. Monthly passes were raised from $62.00 to $75.00. Those are the only two choices we have. And those two choices suck.

    And there’s no guarantee that fares will remain at current levels. Metro is facing budget problems so eventually there’s going to be another fare hike. Or service cuts. Or both.

    What do you expect when Metro raises fares and starts cutting back services? People are just to go back to the car again. How is that going to be of any help reducing traffic in this city?

    Metro is making the same mistakes as everybody else. There has to be a better way to avoid the same mistakes. If every agency in America is making the same failures, its time we start looking at new ideas that no one in America has tried to prevent this from happening.

    The more we think about it, it’s very true that there’s a lot of residents in LA who live and work close by that still drive cars.

    Heck, I even do. That’s why I drive and use only Metro when I have to travel far. What’s the point of waiting for the bus to come when my work is less than five miles from my place and I can drive there faster than waiting for it to come? I live near a bus stop, it’s less than five minutes walk from the front door of my apartment to the street corner so don’t say that I have to live closer to a bus stop; I already do. It still ain’t worth the wait when I can just hop onto my car and go. And Metro expects me to pay $75 a month for this? Heck no, I’ll stick to driving.

    Metro needs to figure out how to encourage more people like me, and there’s a lot of people like us, to re-consider taking transit. If Metro is not convincing enough to make us choose between the $75 a monthly pass or the $1.50 per ride options, Metro should give $75 a month or pay per distance rate option a try.

    That way, I might consider riding Metro again if I know I will only have to pay 5 miles worth of travel; pay just what I use like paying for my LADWP and Southern California Gas bills. That would be worth the wait time for the bus. Let the long distance whiners keep their beloved monthly bus passes if they’re so afraid about them going away.

  4. South Bay Commuter,

    AAA studies are normally based on a national average of driving. 15,000 miles of driving would be the norm for many parts of the U.S. like Atlanta or Denver for example.

    But in L.A. where we have so many multi-family residences and places of work spread out throughout the city proper, realistically there could be a large number of Angelenos who rack up way less than 15,000 miles per year.

    If that is the case, basing an AAA study that says “oh it costs 44 cents a mile” so people are well off taking public transit, doesn’t really add up when that AAA study is based on a nationwide average.

    In fact, if you look at another study made by Chicago based Center for Neighborhood Technology, we’re actually number 2, right behind NYC in the most least gas-guzzling cities in the nation:

    “The Raleigh-Durham area and Charlotte took the number one and two spots on the gas-guzzling list.

    Motorists in New York City use the least amount of gas per year in the United States. Los Angeles was the second least gas-guzzling city.”

    Surprised? Forbes says the same thing too:

    “But what about the city that everyone immediately associates with traffic jams and car culture: Los Angeles. Incredibly, the city of angels is among the top gas misers. That’s because residents of centrally located areas of L.A. don’t have that far to drive to get to work or the beach. As a result, the L.A.-Long Beach area ranks second among the cities that use the least gasoline, just 630 gallons a year per household. As for the No. 1 least driving-est city? That honor goes to New York, where even in the unlikelihood that a household owns a car, they probably still get to work on the subway. The average New York household uses just 481 gallons a year to go 9,800 miles–that’s half the gas guzzling of the North Carolinian Triangle.”

    So we have a surprising data here. Per person, we use the second least gas in the nation. Yet we’re also known for high bumper to bumper traffic.

    So what is it that Metro is doing wrong?

  5. J P,

    While the link you posted is interesting, it is also important to note that AAA study was based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving as the article states.

    When it comes down to those who have very short commutes, some people put in way less miles than that. If the recommended change for some auto part is at 15,000 miles and you drive 15,000 miles a year, auto maintenance cost is going to become part of the annual cost of your drive.

    If someone drives only 5,000 miles a year the cost of auto maintenance will be spread out over 3 years instead, lowering the overall cost of driving per year. 5,000 miles a year divided by 365 days a year comes down to about 13 miles per day. For someone who lives in an apartment complex, has a job at their local shopping mall (parking is usually free) and does grocery shopping at their local Vons, that amount of annual low driving is very plausible in Los Angeles.

    If it’s 44 cents a mile at 15,000 miles of annual driving, a person who only travels 5,000 miles a year could be paying much, much lower, if not 1/3rd of that price. If that’s the case they very well as might be getting by with less than 15 cents a mile.

  6. “they would determine the highest price that the market would allow and discontinue service on unprofitable bus routes. Get your facts right.”

    Every major transit agency in the US has done fare hikes and service cuts or both. It’s bound to happen to LA. We are not immune to them. I doubt we’ll be able to sustain $1.50 fares much longer so fare hikes are bound to happen. I expect monthly passes to rise as well. Metro has already made service cuts to several bus routes.

    • In fact, Metro’s $75 monthly pass is a bargain when compared to other cities monthly passes:

      New York City $112
      Chicago, Portland, and Sacramento $100 each
      San Francisco $64 or $74 (for only 1/30 of the size of LA’s service area)

      The $1.50 fare is probably among the lowest in the country. Many cities have fares ranging from $2 – $2.50, with or without transfers.

  7. “Of course their must be someone who is making your salary or even less who must travel further than you. Did you think of that???”

    Unless you can prove otherwise, in all likelihood the people who work and shop at a mall based in Northridge will be likely to be made up of people living in Northridge or at least close to it. If there were any 20 mile commuters or shoppers to the Northridge mall, it would consist of a very, very, small minority.

    This is true elsewhere in L.A.

    West L.A. residents will find it more convenient to work and shop at the Westside Pavilion or the Fox Hills Mall.

    Torrance residents will find it more convenient to work and shop at the South Bay Galleria or the Del Amo Mall.

    Should the minority have to subsidized by the majority of those who live and work close by? That’s sounds more “socialist” to me, an idea that you profoundly have against.