The US continued its trend of increasing transit ridership last year, despite the dramatic drop in gas prices. While numbers varied widely across cities, the total number of transit trips in the country increased by 1% relative to 2013. Some of the increases in ridership were attributed to growths in transit service, while others were a result of economic growth. Interestingly enough, most of the national growth in heavy rail transit ridership can actually be ascribed to one city: New York. New York City makes up about one-fourth of all transit ridership in the US, so any changes there will have a significant effect on the overall numbers.
As mass transit continues to grow, one of the most useful tools to riders will undoubtedly be accurate, real-time information about their buses or trains. In fact, a study of New York’s Bus Time program, which provides real time bus tracking, found that ridership grew by about 2% on busy routes in the boroughs where the program was launched in 2011. A study done in Chicago found similar results, with ridership increasing about 2% for buses where a real-time information system was implemented. These are promising results for real-time tracking programs, but unfortunately, many of such systems in the US are often inaccurate, or broken.
On Monday, Google and Trimet rolled out a wireless train arrival beacon in Portland for the MAX light rail. The beacon connects to bluetooth-enabled Android phones and sends automatic notifications to riders at the MAX station. Whether the beacon will be a success will have to be seen: the service is not available for ios, and currently only works with Android 5.0 or newer. Riders can also access their train info online, so it’s uncertain if having an extra notification when they are already at the station will be worthwhile. Nonetheless, as public transit grows in the US, it’ll be important to expand and improve our current systems of tracking arrivals.