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Time Competitiveness

When someone goes to Google Maps to figure out how to get from A to B, they can see how long it would take to drive or to take transit. If it takes 20 minutes to drive but 60 minutes to take transit, most people will choose to drive.

Exclusive right of way for buses in Istanbul
Exclusive right of way for buses in Istanbul

Of course, some people will take transit and incur long travel times because they don't have a car or can't afford to drive. That places a time burden on those who depend on transit for economic reasons or due to a disability. And this burden can have a big impact on their lives, causing loss of income, loss of sleep, loss of time with their families, or (for students) less time to study.

For all these reasons, time competitiveness is a critical part of transit CX.

When breaking down transit travel times, every phase of the journey counts:

  1. The time it takes a customer to get to a transit stop or station (which relates to how far apart routes, stops, and stations are spaced)

  2. The feeling that you need to leave early due to unreliable service or inaccurate real time arrival information to lessen the chance of being late to your destination

  3. The time waiting at the stop or station (which relates to the frequency of service as well as reliability)

  4. The time spent on the bus or train (which relates to traffic conditions, vehicle speed, the directness of the route, and the number of stops)

  5. The time spent waiting for connecting services (which relates to service frequency).

  6. The time it takes a customer to get from their final stop or station to their destination

With all of these phases, a comprehensive approach is essential to identify where improvements can be made most cost effectively. Transit planners are trained to assess each situation. Unfortunately, though, many factors may feel beyond their control - for example:

  • Suburban sprawl can make it hard to cost effectively provide bus stops near everyone's home and/or trip destination. This lengthens the time it takes to walk to a stop or station.

  • Traffic can slow service and make real time departure predictions inaccurate.

  • Inadequate resources (transit operators or vehicles in particular) can make it challenging to run frequent service.

  • Aging tracks or track equipment can limit train speeds.

girl listening to music with her ear pods, with crowded subway car in the background

Transit is faster and more reliable when it has an exclusive right of way. That can be a bus-only lane or overhead tracks and/or tunnels that skirt intersections, for example. These come at a cost though. Bus-only lanes require adequate roadway width and support from local residents and businesses, and overhead tracks and/or tunnels are costly to build.

In this context, the starting point for transit improvements often starts with an assessment of what's possible, rather than an assessment of what's needed to be time competitive. What if instead we start projects by asking: What infrastructure is needed to provide transit service that is reasonably competitive with driving times? That mindset is essential if we want to someday Google our options and find that transit is the fastest choice.

How can we bring a CX mindset to the table to maximize pressure to make new transit projects time competitive? Projects currently reach out to impacted residents and businesses to get their input, but how about input from transit riders? Shouldn't they be at the table?


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