Passenger Transport - February 19, 2016
|LA Metro CEO Phillip Washington and Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas join other agency employees to cut the green ribbon at its newly completed District 13 bus maintenance and operations facility,|
Photo by Gary Leonard for Metro
Transfort, Fort Collins, CO, recently introduced a new weekday express service between Fort Collins and Boulder that provides a one-seat ride with limited stops, funded through a federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant administered through the Denver Regional Council of Governments.
“This new regional express service is a culmination of a lot of work and the growing partnership between northern Colorado communities including Fort Collins, Loveland, Berthoud, Longmont, Boulder and Boulder County,” said Transfort General Manager Kurt Ravenschlag.
“This service is an expansion of an existing service called FLEX currently traveling between Fort Collins and Longmont that Transfort has operated for the past five years. The success of this route has meant that we were able to extend that service further into Boulder County to the city of Boulder, creating an efficient and attractive one-seat ride between the communities of Boulder and Fort Collins,” he added.
Boulder County Director of Transportation George Gerstle said, “Boulder County is pleased to continue this partnership with Transfort to expand connectivity in the Front Range through this innovative collaboration. The addition of FLEX routes between Boulder and Fort Collins increases the number of efficient transportation options available to the public and helps to reduce congestion on key corridors.”
The service provides a new option for commuter travel between the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins. The limited-stop service means that travel time is comparable to driving.
|Transfort General Manager Kurt Ravenschlag, second from right, joins representatives of its FLEX program partners to commemorate the beginning of service between Fort Collins and Boulder, CO.|
APTA Chair Valarie J. McCall recently addressed members of the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), calling for even greater cooperation between the organization and APTA in remarks that emphasized her central theme as the association’s chair.
“Now is the time for the respective stakeholder groups, metropolitan planning organizations and public transit agencies we represent to collaborate more closely than ever before,” said McCall, who spoke at the opening general session of NARC’s National Conference of Regions in Washington, DC.
“My priority initiative as APTA chair is to take the already strong partnership that exists between our two organizations and bring it to a new level of excellence,” she said. “Through closer collaboration and greater visibility, NARC and APTA will be stronger, more effective and of greater value to our respective members.”
McCall, chief of government and international affairs for the city of Cleveland and board member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, said the passage of the FAST Act is an example of effective collaboration between the two groups, and she encouraged ongoing cooperation during the law’s implementation, noting that regional planning is one of the FAST Act’s core themes.
“Having worked on legislative matters for the city of Cleveland, I know firsthand how important it is to have efficient program delivery on the federal side and to have regional, state and local partners united in working toward the same strategic goals. That’s what needs to happen on the FAST Act,” she said.
“We always accomplish much more when we work together rather than separately,” McCall concluded. “The FAST Act proves that.”
APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy participated in a panel discussion of the FAST Act and what the future is likely to hold for public transportation at the local, regional and national levels.
“We all have a responsibility to turn those 500 pages [in the act] into real rewards for neighborhoods across all 50 states,” Melaniphy said.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us and it will continue into 2017, 2018 and beyond. By collaborating with regional councils and MPOs, we can make the FAST Act work for all of us,” he added.
|Conference presenters include, from left, Peter Ruane, president and CEO, American Road and Transportation Builders Association; Melaniphy; McCall; Bud Wright, executive director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Andrew Gruber, executive director, Wasatch Front Regional Council; and Robert Fogel, NARC consultant.|
The Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA), Lancaster, CA, has awarded BYD Motors a contract for up to 85 electric-powered buses over five years, moving the agency closer to becoming a 100 percent electric public transit fleet.
AVTA made the announcement at a recent event attended by elected officials, dignitaries and community leaders. The agency expects to take delivery of 29 electric buses within the next 12 months and is working to secure additional funding from the California Air Resources Board to purchase another 17 buses.
“This is a historic day for AVTA, which has been working diligently to secure grant funding to purchase these state-of-the-art zero-emission vehicles,” said Executive Director Len Engel. “We are proud to be the first transit system to adopt a goal of ‘100 Percent Green in 2018’ and we look forward to leading the nation toward a new alternative in public transportation.”
AVTA Board Chairman Marvin Christ said, “There are multiple benefits to electrifying our bus fleet, from creating jobs and eliminating harmful air pollutants to reducing dependence on foreign oil. These benefits will be seen at the local, regional, state and national levels. It’s really a win-win.”
Under the order from AVTA, BYD Motors will build—at its Lancaster plant—and deliver a variety of all-electric models, including a 40-foot low floor bus, a 60-foot low floor articulated bus and a 45-foot commuter coach, all of which will have a range of more than 160 miles on a single charge. AVTA is also installing a wireless charging system to extend the fleet’s range to ensure the electric buses can serve the agency’s longest rural routes.
“BYD Coach and Bus is proud to partner with AVTA on its groundbreaking decision to completely electrify its fleet,” said Stella Li, president of BYD Motors. “With more than 6,000 electric buses deployed worldwide and 90 million miles of dependable service already accumulated, we know that our technology will help AVTA save money and improve local air quality.”
AVTA anticipates saving more than $46 million over the lifetime of the electric bus fleet compared to an all-diesel bus fleet, reducing noise and air pollution and providing a safer work environment for technicians.
|AVTA staff and board members including Executive Director Len Engel, third from right, joined BYD officials and representatives of state and federal elected officials to commemorate a contract for 85 BYD electric buses that will give the Lancaster, CA, agency the first fully electric bus fleet in the U.S.|
APTA Chair Valarie J. McCall recently visited the manufacturing facilities of New Flyer and Motor Coach Industries (MCI), the country’s largest public transit bus manufacturers, and addressed a joint session of sales executives to discuss her major priorities as chair, including her initiative to enhance collaboration among APTA, business members and transit board members.
McCall also shared her experience in setting transportation policy as a board member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, and met with New Flyer and MCI executives to discuss strategies for strengthening interactions between public transit systems and vehicle OEMs.
During her visit to each factory, McCall toured production lines to see firsthand the complex process of rolling stock design and manufacturing.
|BMBG Chair Patrick Scully, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Motor Coach Industries (MCI); APTA Chair Valarie J. McCall; and Tom Wagner, vice president, public sector, MCI, on the production line.|
TransLink in Vancouver, BC, has named Kevin Desmond its new chief executive officer, effective March 21. Desmond, who currently serves as general manager of Seattle’s King County Metro Transit, succeeds Doug Allen, who has been serving TransLink on an interim basis. Before his tenure in Seattle, Desmond was vice president of operations and development at Pierce Transit, Tacoma, WA, and chief of operations planning for MTA New York City Transit. For APTA, he is a member and founding chair of the Sustainability Committee and serves on numerous other committees and the Board of Directors.
Johnson, Parsons Infrastructure
Parsons has named 25-year employee Michael W. (Mike) Johnson president of its Infrastructure Business Unit. He served most recently as executive vice president and global business development of Parsons Transportation Group Inc. (PTG), now known as Infrastructure.
Johnson’s earlier positions with Parsons include senior vice president, strategy development and implementation, and senior vice president and manager of PTG’s Bridge and Tunnel Division.
He succeeds Donald D. Graul, who held the position on an interim basis and will continue in his role as president of Parsons’ Construction Business Unit.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed Roger Millar, deputy secretary of Washington State DOT, as acting secretary of the department.
Millar has more than 38 years of transportation experience, including terms as public works director, city and county planning director and vice president of a multinational engineering firm. He was elected a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in 1999 and served from 2000-2014 on the ASCE Committee for America’s Infrastructure, which produces the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.
He succeeds Lynn Peterson, who also served as acting secretary.
FTA recently released a proposed rule for the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (Agency Safety Plan), a notice of availability for the proposed National Public Transportation Safety Plan (National Safety Plan) and a new Transit Award Management System (TrAMS) to award and manage federal funding.
FTA is accepting public comments by April 5 for both the Agency Safety Plan and the National Safety Plan. Links to the Federal Register notices can be found here.
FTA’s Office of Transit Safety and Oversight will host four webinars covering provisions of the proposed rule and plan and how industry stakeholders can become involved in the regulatory process. All four webinars will offer the same content, but the Feb. 24 and March 3 webinars are for small urban, rural and tribal agencies, the March 1 session for bus agencies and the March 2 session for multimodal agencies. FTA will record all sessions and post them to its website. For registration information, visit the FTA website.
In addition, FTA will hold a listening session during the APTA Legislative Conference at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 16, at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC.
“FTA is making great progress in establishing the regulatory framework which will become the blueprint for the future of safety performance in public transit,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. “Today’s proposals are about setting safety performance criteria and targets, voluntary minimum safety standards and a means to communicate safety issues industry-wide.”
The Agency Safety Plan proposed rule takes into account agency size, complexity and operations, providing flexibility in establishing processes to address safety risks in agencies’ safety plans.
The proposed rule would also require performance targets based on the safety performance criteria established under the National Safety Plan and to have their plans approved by the board of directors or equivalent and perform an annual review and update.
Additionally, the Agency Safety Plan proposed rule would require rail transit agencies to include an emergency preparedness and response plan consistent with existing regulations.
The proposed National Safety Plan is not a rulemaking action, but would guide the national effort in managing the safety risks of public transportation systems.
Launch of TrAMS
TrAMS, unveiled Feb. 16, replaces TEAM, FTA’s previous grants management system, to increase efficiency and improve transparency and accountability.
The new system allows public transit agencies to more easily apply for and report on federal funding and provides a one-stop shop for FTA to manage and monitor how transit funding is used.
The TrAMS process is almost entirely electronic, eliminating most of the antiquated paperwork requirements of TEAM.
FTA has scheduled a series of training webinars on several topics to help TrAMS grantees become familiar with using the new grant management platform. The sessions will include live demonstration and question-and-answer periods as time permits. For information, click here.
The Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA), also known as MAX, recently introduced a new pilot shuttle service connecting downtown Birmingham, AL, with the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, partnering with the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau and major hotels.
The shuttles operate hourly Monday through Saturday, alternating on southbound and northbound routes for a $5 fee. After the three-month pilot period, the agency plans to change to an on-demand model.
“Public transit now has a face for visitors at the Birmingham airport,” said Barbara Murdock, BJCTA interim executive director. “We are proud to fill the transportation needs for visitors, the city of Birmingham and area hotels.”
Murdock said the airport shuttle is the first of many service improvements planned under the agency’s 2016 Route Optimization Program. “Many of our routes have not been changed in over 20 years,” she said.
BJCTA recently received a $20 million federal TIGER grant to help with new and modified routes, BRT development and neighborhood circulators to allow passengers to travel without transferring at the downtown central hub.
|Travelers board BJCTA's shuttle to the airport.|
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) offered its first-ever “Green Bonds” to the public Feb. 17-18, promoting them with a targeted marketing campaign on websites and area radio stations.
“Eight and a half million people travel on MTA trains and buses every day,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast. “By leaving their cars at home and embracing mass transit, New Yorkers play a dramatic role in reducing carbon emissions. These bonds recognize the ways in which mass transit and commuters work together to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and that makes them the perfect choice for people who want to invest in the renewal and modernization of the greatest transportation system in the world, while at the same time helping New York to be greener and healthier.”
The bonds are certified by the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), an international not-for-profit organization that supports financing for projects that help reduce the impacts of climate change. The bonds’ proceeds of $500 million will pay for projects on MTA New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad.
MTA is not the first U.S. public transit agency to offer green bonds. Last year, Sound Transit in Seattle executed the sale of almost $1 million in green bonds.
Representatives of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), Caltrans and the city of Chula Vista, CA, broke ground Feb. 17 for the South Bay Rapid project, a BRT service that will operate on a 21-mile route between downtown San Diego and the Otay Mesa Point of Entry on the Mexican border.
“The South Bay Rapid project is the collaborative effort of many agencies at all levels of government,” said MTS Board Chairman Harry Mathis. “As a result of this ongoing collaboration, riders will enjoy a new level of transit service with frequent travel times and high-tech amenities when service begins in 2018.”
MTS will operate the line, which will connect residents to regional employment and activity centers on a dedicated transit guideway with seven stations, a guideway bridge over the South Bay Expressway and an intermodal transportation center near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
"South Bay Rapid is an important part of the SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan and will provide an innovative mobility choice to areas not currently served by mass transit,” said SANDAG Board Chair and County Supervisor Ron Roberts. “This TransNet early action project will keep San Diego County moving forward.”
TransNet, the regional half-cent sales tax for transportation administered by SANDAG, is one of the funding sources for the $113 million project, along with FTA, the state Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program and Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program, Chula Vista and the Otay Water District.
The project represents a collaborative effort among communities in southern San Diego County, SANDAG, MTS, Caltrans and Chula Vista. Construction is expected to take approximately two years.
Denver’s Regional Transportation District announced the highest single-day ridership in its history on Feb. 9, when more than one million fans of the Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos attended a downtown victory parade. RTD worked closely with Denver police and the city and county of Denver to coordinate service detours and interruptions to maintain pedestrian and vehicle safety. To accommodate the crowds, RTD stretched its capacity by deploying every available bus and operator and increasing the number of light rail trips. Despite being shut down for several hours because of the crowds, RTD’s 16th Street Free MallRide experienced an increase of about 20,000 passengers above its normal weekday loads.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) held a “We Love Our Riders” event in advance of Valentine’s Day to mark the agency discontinuing its use of Williams Park in St. Petersburg, FL, as a bus hub and transfer center after 50 years. PSTA is making the change as it moves toward instituting the first transit grid system in downtown St. Petersburg. PSTA Chief Executive Officer Brad Miller and St. Petersburg City Councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Brown joined agency staff and board members in personally thanking riders for their support and handing out Valentine’s Day chocolate.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), Tampa, FL, recently partnered with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful (KTTB) and local farmers at Florida Urban Organics to host a biweekly farmers’ market at the netp@rk Transit Transfer Center. The market also provides information about healthy eating and nutrition, wellness and smoking cessation. HART and KTTB will monitor and evaluate the success of this pilot program as they consider whether to extend it in the future.
Photo by Frank Wyszynski, HART marketing associate
The Eno Center for Transportation is accepting applications through Feb. 26 for its year-long Transit Senior Executive (TSE) Program.
The TSE Program is designed for top public transit executives to participate in an intensive and confidential forum on strategic management, leadership and critical emerging industry issues. It is appropriate for executives from public agencies, contract operators or private sector firms; general managers at smaller properties will find it helpful.
The nine-month distance education program, now in its 11th year, begins in March and includes an intensive five-day, in-person class April 17-22 in Washington, DC. The 2016 class agenda will cover leadership, managing board relationships, change management, organizational communications, generational diversity, safety and security, crisis management and managing private sector relationships.
During the five-day course, participants will hear from numerous nationally recognized experts who will share their perspective from decades of experience. Small group discussions will bring together participants to discuss and share individual challenges with their peers and faculty. The schedule also includes interactive real world exercises.
Program participants can access an online course portal to connect with classmates, share information and work collaboratively before and after class, as well as a pre-course leadership evaluation by supervisors, subordinates and peers and post-course webinars to reinforce class content and allow for additional guest lecturers.
The American Public Transportation Foundation’s Frank J. Lichtanski Memorial Scholarship provides $2,500 in tuition support for an eligible candidate from a small or medium-sized transit agency wishing to participate in the program. For details, click here.
To apply, click here. For questions, contact Erin Shumate, events manager.
Drew Lewis, Past DOT Secretary
“Thanks to Sen. Rock’s dedication and vision, today the RTA region’s system covers about 3,700 square miles and serves approximately 8.4 million residents providing two million daily rides each workday,” RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard wrote in a letter in the State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL.
Rock received his law degree from Loyola University in Chicago and was an Illinois assistant attorney general and an assistant state’s attorney for Cook County. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1970 and returned to private practice after his retirement from public office.
Passenger Transport is also available in a hard-copy format that makes it easy to pass along to colleagues, mark up with handwritten notes, display in your reception area or office and annotate with post-its for future reference. Get your own printed copy today.
Lester W. Bryant
Please describe your agency’s scope.
VIA Metropolitan Transit was created in 1978 under Chapter 451 of the Texas Transportation Code after a successful sales tax election in 1977 authorized the imposition of a one-half-cent sales tax within the city of San Antonio and seven other incorporated municipalities. Currently, VIA serves 13 member cities and the unincorporated areas of Bexar County.
VIA has roughly 2,000 employees who work together to serve a 1,213-square-mile service area—a service area that includes 450 buses, 7,200 bus stops along 92 routes, eight park-and-rides and six transit centers. Last year, VIA provided approximately 44.4 million passenger trips across our service area.
How long have you served in the industry? What drew you to board service?
I was appointed to the VIA board in September 2014. I became interested in serving on the VIA Board of Trustees because I realized the vital linkages that public transit provides in our community—access to opportunity, education, jobs, health care, recreation and social interaction.
I saw service on the VIA board as a way to work to enhance my community involvement with education and economic development by advancing the conversation about multimodal options for our community’s future.
Please describe your involvement with APTA.
I attended my first APTA meeting soon after my appointment in September 2014 and immediately became involved in a number of committees that I thought would help me be a better trustee for VIA. Since then, I have greatly expanded my involvement.
Getting to know—and working with—colleagues from around the nation makes my involvement in APTA rewarding. Together, we are able to advocate for effective public transit policy on a national level.
I also have the opportunity to interact with industry thought leaders and participate in discussions that could shape the future of public transit. These experiences and insights combined with the new ideas and opportunities that frequently come from them are what I find most rewarding.
What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource?
The most valuable APTA resource has been the Transit Board Members Handbook, which has been instrumental in bringing clarity to my role as a transit board member. Because the handbook so clearly outlines the importance of focusing on policy and governance, it is a “must read” for every transit board member. I have found it to be of great benefit specifically as a board trustee in our charge to oversee the bigger picture, set policy and help guide the overall direction of the agency. I also benefit from the annual Transit Board Members & Board Support Seminar; this year, it’s April 30-May 3 in my hometown of San Antonio.
What do you like most about your board service?
I especially enjoy helping to set transportation policy that will have a significant impact on the growth of our community in the future. As a board member, I am a part of the team that will ensure that our transportation system is an asset that drives economic development and is efficient enough to attract riders of choice while continuing to meet the daily needs of our riders of necessity.
I am honored to serve as a resource and offer linkages throughout the community for individuals and entities looking to partner with VIA to make our community stronger. Whether it pertains to workforce issues, small business opportunities, access to educational opportunities or partnering with other civic partners and businesses, we are working to advance a multimodal emphasis in our region.
What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
VIA is constantly challenged to do more with less. We are the only large metro public transit authority in the state of Texas to operate off a one-half-cent sales tax, yet we have the second largest service area in the state. The combination of these two factors means VIA has to be innovative and efficient in everything we do.
Like all Texans, VIA is proud when our hard work translates into being “first” at something. For example, we are the only AAA bond rated MTA in the state of Texas. Last fall, we became the first large public transit provider in the nation to offer free 4G LTE Wi-Fi across our entire fleet and in all VIA facilities.
APTA invites its public transit agency and business members to submit nominations by April 15 for its annual awards program, which recognizes excellence in the public transportation industry in North America.
Individual award categories are Outstanding Public Transportation Manager, Outstanding Public Transportation Board Member, Outstanding Public Transportation Business Member, Distinguished Service Awards (state and local) and Hall of Fame. Organization award categories are Innovation Award and Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award.
All nominations should include how the nominee demonstrates APTA’s core values: leadership, integrity, excellence, diversity, inclusiveness, fairness and equity, teamwork, professionalism and accountability.
Nominations can be made by any individual employed by an APTA member in good standing. All nominators need to complete the nomination form and supporting materials as described here.
Please submit nominations to Erin Cartwright or by mail to APTA Awards Committee, Attention: Erin Cartwright, Suite 1200 East, 1300 I St. NW, Washington, DC 20005-3375.
See other details and previous winners here.
APTA is accepting nominations through March 1 for its 2016 Bus Safety & Security Excellence Awards and through April 1 for its Rail Safety & Security Excellence Awards.
These awards recognize APTA bus, paratransit and rail transit systems that have implemented programs or projects that have achieved documented success in addressing specific safety or security program areas.
APTA presents the bus awards in four categories, three for public transit systems based upon annual ridership measured in unlinked passenger trips (fewer than 4 million, more than 4 million and fewer than 20 million, more than 20 million) and a fourth for private providers, either transportation management or contracted service. The rail awards are presented in three modal categories: commuter/intercity/regional/high-speed rail, heavy rail and light rail/streetcar.
APTA acknowledges winners during special events at the Bus & Paratransit Conference, May 15-18, and the Rail Conference, June 19-22.
Find evaluation criteria, nomination forms and past winners at the APTA website under Member Programs and Services. For questions, contact Dennis Lytton.
Bus manufacturer BYD brought one of its new 60-foot articulated electric battery buses to Washington, DC, and gave APTA staff a private ride, demonstrating the bus's maneuverability in city traffic. APTA staff gathered outside the association's offices to give the bus a close-up look.
Photo by Mitchell Wood
APTA announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the nonprofit NFC Forum on Feb. 17 that will enable the organizations to educate the industry on near field communication (NFC) technologies, which provide a wireless connection between mobile phones and wireless readers such as those seen in gated fare collection for public transportation systems.
“APTA is pleased to partner with the NFC Forum to help integrate NFC technology into public transportation,” said APTA Chair Valarie J. McCall, a board member of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. “It is through partnerships, such as this one with NFC Forum, that technological innovation is accelerated in our industry.”
APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy said, “NFC will improve the passenger experience by linking passengers with mobile phones and public transit fare payment and by increasing the opportunities to share digital content to improve the transit passenger convenience.”
As spring approaches, APTA encourages members to mark their calendars now for one of the many conferences scheduled in the coming months.
APTA has announced that pundits David Wasserman and Nathan Gonzales will address the March 13 Welcome to Washington General Session at the Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. Wasserman is election analyst for the Cook Political Report and Gonzales is editor and publisher of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.
Other upcoming conferences include:
* Fare Collection & Revenue Management Summit and TransITech Conference: April 11-13, San Diego;
* Public Transportation and Universities Conference: April 16-19, Grand Rapids, MI;
* Transit Board Members and Board Support Seminar: April 30-May 3, San Antonio;
* Bus & Paratransit Conference: May 15-18, Charlotte, NC;
* Rail Conference: June 19-22, Phoenix;
* Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop, July 24-26, Austin, TX; and
* Annual Meeting, Sept. 11-14, Los Angeles.
Learn more here.
BY SARAH LASKOW
Waiting at a bus stop or a subway station, it can feel like the minutes stretch on forever, forever, forever, foooooooorever, for-ev-er before the train or bus finally (finally!) arrives. This isn’t because your local transit agency is conspiring to make your life miserable. Your brain perceives the minutes spent waiting as longer than they actually are.
Studies of transit riders’ perception of time have found that people unconsciously multiple their wait times by a factor of 1.2 to 2.5. In this time warp, a five-minute wait can feel like it takes anywhere from six minutes to 12.5 minutes.
The vibe at the stop can make time feel even longer, too. Say a woman’s waiting for a bus at a stop where she feels unsafe. In this situation, time can feel three times as long. That woman might tell you she’d been there for about 30 interminable minutes, when only 10 minutes had passed.
Even under normal circumstances, though, transit riders hate waiting. “People actually consider waiting at the bus stop for buses as among the most unhappy moments of their life,” says Yingling Fan, an University of Minnesota associate professor who specializes in planning and policy.
Transit agencies do already have one proven strategy for mollifying the masses. Tell us exactly how long we have to wait, and we will quietly accept it, which is why transit agencies across the country have started installing wait-time clocks. … But these clocks are not a cure-all, in part because they can be expensive to install.
Market researchers have also spent years developing tricks to make waiting less terrible. …[S]tation designs can mitigate the exasperation of waiting and make people perceive the passage of time at a more-or-less normal rate. What they’re finding promises a better world for transit riders, because, according to their research, making wait times more bearable is quite simple. They’ve already identified one secret weapon in the fight against tedium—trees.
They began by choosing 36 rail and bus stations in the Twin Cities, in residential and commercial areas, in both urban and suburban neighborhoods. At each station, they documented the waiting area and the surrounding environment. Was there seating? Water fountains? Restrooms? How clean was the station? Was route info clearly posted? How wide was the street? How heavy was the traffic? Was it noisy? Were there landmarks around? Trees? Trash and graffiti?
They also observed the people waiting at the stop. A research assistant would find a discreet place to set up a camera and film riders while they waited. This video could be used to document all sorts of variables about the study subjects … .Most importantly, though, it allowed the researchers to measure the actual time people spent waiting at the station.
When the bus or train arrived, another team of research assistants would board along with the riders and ask them to fill out research surveys. The first and key question: How long did you spend waiting for the bus or train?
Across the more than 800 people who were included in the study, the average wait was 5.57 minutes. But the riders believed they had waited significantly longer. When the team analyzed riders’ reported wait times, they found their research subjects’ perceived wait times averaged out at 6.78 minutes.
What the researchers were really interested in, though, were possible connections between reported wait time and characteristics of the station or stop. And they did find some factors that were associated with more accurate perceptions of wait times.
The first was very simple. Basic amenities—a bench and a shelter—meant “significant reductions in reported wait time.” In other words, if people had a place to sit and a shelter, their wait didn’t feel quite so long. …
In a second study, Fan and her colleagues looked at environment around the stop. There, they found that if people were waiting for more than five minutes, high air pollution or traffic tended to push people to overestimate, even more dramatically, how long they were waiting.
On the flip side, though, people waiting at stops in tree-heavy areas didn’t feel like they were waiting all that long. Sometimes they even underestimated how long they had been waiting. The longer they were waiting, too, the more difference the trees made.
As simple as this finding is, it creates a bit of a conundrum for transit agencies. Usually, the duties of getting people places and planting trees are divided, and a transit agency wouldn’t have much to do with the tree cover around its stations.
But the Minnesota’s team research suggests that perhaps they should get into this business, or at least start inter-agency partnerships to get more trees near bus stops. If trees can actually make people underestimate their wait times, that is a powerful kind of time-warping magic.
Laskow is a staff writer at Atlas Obscura, a collaborative website that features blogs, articles and photos about far-flung places worldwide and explores off-the-beaten-track topics. Reprinted and excerpted for length with permission.
“Commentary” features points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.
Click here to see the latest hirings and promotions in public transportation agencies and business members. Items appear in People on the Move in the order in which they are received.