Converting Commuters with Public Transit

In the November 2012 issue of Transport Policy, two researchers published a report which showed that almost 30% of commuters gave up their full-time parking permits after a brief free public transit trial.

The report, Travel mode switching: Comparison of findings from two public transportation experiments, was created by Maya Abou-Zeid of the American University of Beirut and Moshe Ben-Akiva of M.I.T.

They conducted this test with 67 M.I.T. University workers who had full-time parking permits but agreed to commute using public transit for a few days within a one week period. Many of the participants believed commuting with their vehicle was the best option, came from two car households and eight had never used public transit as part of their commute.


The Results of the Public Transit One Week Trial

After this week trial, all participants completed follow-up surveys. The results showed that nearly 30% of regular car commuters, who were located in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, gave up their full-time parking permits immediately.

Most of the individuals switched to an occasional parking permit and a few fully switching to public transit as their commuting option.

Both researchers delved further into the reasons for participants’ decision to embrace public transit. They found the following:

  • Lower driver satisfaction with vehicle commutes
  • Higher satisfaction with public transit (including being able to get something done while riding on transit)
  • Better perspective on the cost of their vehicle commute vs. public transit

They also found that the participants who switch to transit had longer average transit commutes (90 minutes vs. 74 minutes), but had longer car commutes (57 minutes vs. 44 minutes) as well. For those who did not switch to public transit, they became happier with their vehicle commute even though nothing had changed. The researchers believe that this was due to the fact that they tested out other commuting options and vehicle was the best for them.


Free Transit in Other Countries

Several developed cities have offered drivers free transit opportunities with a lot of success. Even if the trial has been limited, it has been successful in cities such as Kyoto, Leeds and Copenhagen. Swedish commuters were able to ride public transit for a month and found that they were more satisfied with it than they originally thought they would be.

In Châteauroux, the mayor made public transit free due to lower than average ridership. Total ridership increased 208% and the average annual trips per resident increased from 21 to 61.

This chart shows the increase of annual trips (blue) and number of kilometers traveled (in red). From 2001 to 2011, there was a 208% increase in total ridership.


Reducing Congestion with Increased Public Transit Use

Having a higher ridership rate for public transit will reduce congestion on city roads and highways especially during peak periods. This will improve the capacity on roads and is imperative for urban areas. It will also reduce the wear and tear of roads and effectively utilize current infrastructure.

Miovision provides traffic studies that can measure the volume and movements of traffic on a given road. This information can be applied to expanding infrastructure, creating transit routes in the most congested areas and understanding the current use and future needs for the transportation network.