Management & Operations

Survey finds cost effectiveness, productivity most appreciated benefits of public transportation

Posted on November 17, 2015

AC Transit
AC Transit

With U.S. public transportation user estimates now numbering more than 158 million people, or two-thirds of Americans ages 18 and older, the most frequently cited reasons among those who have ridden public transportation in the last 12 months instead of driving are cost-effectiveness (38%) and increased productivity or relaxation (37%), according to a new national survey by HNTB Corp.

The latest America THINKS survey, “Why Americans use public transportation,” finds that transit users in the last year have taken this option over driving because it is more convenient (30%), reduces their carbon footprint (23%), is quicker than driving (20%) and safer (16%). And, 20% took public transit because they don’t enjoy driving.

“People increasingly recognize the value delivered by public transportation,” said Michael Townes, HNTB’s transit sector market leader and sr. VP. “Our nation’s most successful and livable cities have healthy public transportation systems. Americans want more from public transit. They want a modern, effective system that meets their needs today as well as into the future.”

Location, location, location

The America THINKS survey found that having public transportation stations in close proximity to their homes impacts the nation’s day-to-day mobility decisions such as how often they use public transit (42%), how often they decide to drive (33%), where they shop (22%), where they go for entertainment or culture (18%), and where they choose to live (17%).

“Public transportation is a vital factor people use to determine where and how they choose to live, work and play,” Townes said. “The ability of our public transportation network to keep pace with this increasingly strong, growth-oriented demand will require public and private investment in the infrastructure that will support it.”

Fifteen percent of all respondents say proximity to public transit would impact where they choose to work, while more respondents aged 18 to 34 than those 35 and older (23% vs. 11%) agree that nearby access to public transit would affect where they choose to work. Other impacts Americans cited are frequency of visits to friends or family (14%) and how much they would be willing to spend to buy or rent their homes (10%).

At the same time, people who have access to public transportation where they live said inconvenience (42%) and lack of speed (33%) are most common reasons that kept them from using this mobility option in the past 12 months.

What’s in it for me?

While so many Americans now use public transit, such as bus, streetcar, light and passenger rail, four in five (80%) say they could be motivated to ride even more. Nearly half (45%) of this group cite improved service reliability as an incentive to increase their use of public transportation. Other motivators are real-time schedule displays (38%), cleaner equipment, stations and restrooms (36%), Wi-Fi access (35%), reduced crowding (33%) and comfortable seats (30%).

Among those who use public transportation, when asked what they liked most about it, riders cite affordable cost (28%), being a passenger (21%) and ease of use (16%). At the same time, overcrowding (19%), lack of speed (17%) and inconvenience (14%) are qualities transit users like the least.

Americans also believe modernized features need to be implemented to better the nation’s public transportation. Features cited were improved transit equipment and stations (40%), new payment options (31%), added amenities (29%) and access to bike-sharing docking stations (14%).

“Transit agencies are struggling to find the capital needed to balance maintaining the state of good repair of their systems, and to meet ever-increasing demands from the public for improved service,” Townes said. “It’s time to bring alternative funding and financing to the table and change the process of how we finance, plan and deliver transportation projects. These investments will reduce congestion, enhance our economic growth and improve the quality of life for everyone.”

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