Transit agencies prepare for infrastructure bill funding: Here's what they should know about rider demands to make Smart Investments

Sept. 22, 2021
Aligning with these new rider demands will help restore trust and confidence in using public vehicles and broaden access to efficient transportation services.

The transportation industry is entering a revolutionary period backed by the infrastructure bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate. This massive round of federal funding aims to facilitate necessary upgrades and investments into improving public transportation systems and the infrastructure supporting them. For transit agencies to best allocate the funds, they should get proactive about receiving feedback from those on the ground level: their riders. 

TransLoc recently commissioned a survey to help transit agencies -- and the municipalities they operate in -- understand riders’ new demands and expectations. The Transit Value Index found that most U.S. riders are seeking government funding for public transportation (46 percent), even above investments in repairing roads and bridges (44 percent). This makes sense given that public transit is the most preferred method of transportation both prior to (46 percent) and post-pandemic (36 percent). 

However, there is still a lot of work to do as the survey uncovered key areas for immediate improvement, as well as opportunities to lay the foundation for the future of transit. Aligning with these new rider demands will help restore trust and confidence in using public vehicles and broaden access to efficient transportation services. 

Immediate Investments in Improving the Rider Experience 

Transit riders are eager to get back on public transit with 72 percent saying they plan to use public transportation services as frequently as they did before the pandemic. However, they have new concerns that agencies will need to address, especially when it comes to reliability and cleanliness.

The biggest immediate investment riders want to see is improving on-time performance (62 percent) to ensure transit systems are dependable. This includes implementing user-friendly mobile applications that provide riders with real-time updates and notifications about when to expect vehicles and overall occupancy rates. These enhancements to the rider experience will encourage more frequent usage with 74 percent of transit riders saying they’re more likely to take a local bus or train if they offered new apps or technology. 

The pandemic also created new concerns around overcrowding and cleanliness. Transit agencies must address riders’ new fears of viral spread on public vehicles. In fact, three in four U.S. transit riders say they would use public transportation more often if there were systems in place to prevent overcrowding (73 percent) and more frequent cleanliness protocols in vehicles (73 percent). If transit agencies fall behind on prioritizing health and safety, they could risk losing ridership to private transportation options. Of those that plan to primarily use ridehail or personal vehicles post-pandemic, most say the main reason is that they fear catching an illness on public transit (71 percent).  

To mitigate these concerns, transportation agencies must offer a transparent look into overall system operations. This includes posting signage in vehicles, deploying real-time ridership tracking systems that monitor congestion and ensure capacity standards are maintained, and enabling push notifications to notify riders of cleanliness and safety measures.  

Looking Ahead at the Future of Transit Innovation 

Once transit agencies upgrade systems to support current needs, they can start planning for the future. American transit riders see value in sustainable and innovative transportation options -- such as electric and autonomous vehicles (EVs and AVs) -- because they will make their rides more efficient, while also positively impacting their community. 

With transportation being the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, transit agencies must accelerate efforts dedicated to improving sustainability in their communities. Roughly half (45 percent) of transit riders believe transportation agencies should prioritize implementing sustainable practices by investing in EVs, as it will both improve public transit as a whole (70 percent) and reduce carbon emissions (56 percent). As the industry looks toward widespread deployment of EVs, the entire transportation ecosystem will need to make an effort to deploy green technology -- from public buses and shuttles, to subways and ride-hail services.  

In addition to sustainable transit options, riders want innovations that make their commute or travels more seamless and efficient. The automotive industry is focused on developing self-driving technology for personal use, but TransLoc’s survey found that 71 percent of riders would be willing to use autonomous public buses or shuttles if they launched in their community today. Transit riders believe that self-driving technology will radically improve public transit systems (60 percent), especially when it comes to timeliness and reliability (49 percent). 

Successful deployments for both EV and AV services will require smart planning and design. Transit partners can help cities and local agencies implement simulation programs to create a successful EV strategy catered to specific communities. 

Transit agencies can’t solve all these issues alone. It’s integral that they work closely with technology providers and local officials to prioritize the necessary infrastructure improvements, make smart investments and properly allocate funding to meet American riders’ evolving preferences. In turn, these efforts will help to improve rider experience, retain public transit ridership and increase transit equity. 

In addition to allowing Americans to move freely, the benefits of investing in transit are much broader. TransLoc’s survey found that American transit riders believe enhancing transportation systems will help people find jobs (38 percent) and encourage more businesses to open (27 percent), therefore aiding economic recovery in their local communities.  

About the Author

Brett Wheatley | CEO, TransLoc

Brett Wheatley, CEO of TransLoc, has more than 30 years of experience at Ford and brings a unique perspective to mobility and transit equity.