According to a recent survey of over 1,000 US residents with access to public transit, the perception of public transit services across North America is a positive one, with 32% reporting that their local transit options are improving and 49% believe they are remaining the same, while only 19% say the quality of their local transit is declining. Why then has this positive view of mass transit not translated to growth in ridership for agencies across North America?

To help answer this question Masabi conducted a mass transit rider survey in order to understand the trends taking place and look at the effect that new technologies and urban mobility services, such as ridesharing, are having on the mobility ecosystem.

Check out the full Transit Rider Research Report, Key Factors Influencing Ridership in North America

The Emerging Urban Mobility Ecosystem

While private car journeys still dominate how people move around, with 70% of respondents driving themselves on a weekly basis, there are reasons to be positive about the future of mass transit with over one-third (35%) of respondents supplementing mass transit options with ridesharing for full first-last mile journeys.

This is an interesting trend and fundamentally presents an opportunity to reach out to riders seeking increasingly convenient transportation options enabling people to move away from private car journeys by offering a complete shared first-last mile experience. This, in turn, should help to reduce congestion, while being more environmentally friendly.

An interesting shared mobility trend also emerged. While 95% of weekly ride-share users surveyed ride public transit services, only 20% of weekly drivers do so. This points to an urban mobility user base that is inclined to use shared public and private mobility options in order to reach its destination and is already doing so in order to make full first-last mile journeys using public transit and ride-sharing. 

Full First-Last Mile Experiences

Public transit has always been on the back foot in terms of the full first-last mile experience when compared to a private car, but this no longer needs to be the case. Some transit agencies across the country have already begun creating partnerships with private ridesharing and bike sharing platforms to help facilitate first-last mile service for riders. Such partnerships should optimize the rider experience by giving people a real alternative to a private car trip by enabling people to make complete shared journeys from the moment they leave their front door until they reach their destination.

Over one-third of riders surveyed said they are already combining ridesharing and public transit together for multimodal public/private journeys and we expect this number to increase as partnerships become more prevalent and formalized and services (Like booking your transit pass through the Uber app) become available.

Making multimodal journeys more convenient and seamless for riders will help make it more appealing and convert exclusive ridesharing and private car users to supplement their transportation with mass transit. Convenient, multimodal shared mobility options should move people away from private car trips and ultimately, ownership.

Riders are primarily looking for convenience in their transportation experience, and partnering with services like ridesharing can incentivize and enable customers to get to and from mass transit stations and stops faster and more conveniently.

Adopting Technology

One advantage most urban mobility services currently offer is a focus on mobile user experience. Most ridesharing apps offer a robust list of features, including location tracking, mobile payment, and trip planning.

Riders are searching for the most pragmatic way to get to their destination and offering features that make transportation a seamless experience will draw riders to public transit. Up to a quarter of survey respondents reported that convenience features such as combining modes of transit through an app, mobile ticketing and location tracking would cause, or already have caused them, to use public transit more often.

Replicating elements of the mobile experience offered by other urban mobility services not only helps facilitate partnerships with shared private modes of transportation; it also provides customers with a familiar, modern way for customers to interface with mass transit and can be deployed quickly and cost-effectively.

Stay up-to-date on ticketing and urban mobility here!

Why do people choose to ride public transit?

More than price (24%), travel time (8%), and even necessity (17%), convenience was the number one reason for people when asked what motivated them to ride public transit, with 33% of respondents selecting it as their primary reason for riding.

This is absolutely critical for anyone interested in improving public transit to understand. Riders with multiple options for transportation are concerned first and foremost with convenience, not cost or comfort. While this means that public transit agencies are vulnerable to losing riders to more convenient options, it also means that even minor improvements in convenience can boost ridership.

Creating a Seamless Shared Transportation Experience

American riders are, first and foremost, pragmatists. Riders care more about getting to a destination than using any specific mode or method of transportation.

Transit agencies can take this information to invest in features that drive convenient services. Partnering with private modes of transportation such as ridesharing can create a seamless, multimodal transportation experience for riders. Instead of working toward getting riders to replace other modes of transportation with mass transit, agencies facilitating travel between various shared transportation options can help funnel customers into public transportation.

Transit agencies can tap into the ubiquity of mobile phones and quickly and easily adopt services such as location tracking, mobile and account-based ticketing, and trip planning. Riders have also responded positively to increasing service hours and lower prices for transit. While these methods may restrict revenue, they may be offset by an increase in ridership.

Improvements in convenience may not affect daily or weekly transit and ride-share users, whose transportation options may be limited, but they provide an opportunity to reach a large demographic of infrequent riders, who can be incentivized to use mass transit more often if it gets them where they need to be more conveniently.