Friday, June 21, 2013

Improving public transit usage by improved information interpretation

1. Literature review

Public transit refers to municipal or regional shared means of transportation such as ferries, buses and streetcars that are open to all members of the public without reservation (May et al, 2006). The most important form of public transit is the rapid transit comprising of subways and surface light rail systems which are used for commuting between urban and suburban areas. Public transit is divided into two categories, namely, fixed route systems and non-fixed route transit (Cresswell, 1979). The fixed route transit consists of subway trains and streetcars while non-fixed transit consists of ferries and buses. Taxis, airplanes and long-distance rail transport are not included in the public transit category because they involve formal ticketing procedures. The public transport modes are characterized by fixed schedules which involve boarding and alighting at designated locations. The passengers therefore need to understand how various modes operate, their time schedules and stations. This essay seeks to highlight how the public transit usage can be improved by information interpretation.

Public transit systems usually carry very large shares of travel in large, old metropolitan cities around the world (Fitzroy & Smith, 1994). However, transit is slowly loosing its share to private vehicles in both old ands new cities. Other means such as foot and bicycle are also used in many cities. According to the research done in year 2000, 19% of the commuters in San Francisco metropolitan were using public transit (Headicar, 2003). This figure is almost five times higher compared to 4% commuters that were using public transit in metropolitan Atlanta. The use of public transit in a particular city is influenced by a number of factors.

Some of the factors include topography, parking cost and availability, ownership of private vehicles, extent of freeway network, service frequency, system safety and cleanliness and transit fares (Simpson, 1994). Understanding the influence of each of the factors on public transit is important for development of policies on transportation system investments. It also helps in pricing as well as deployment of the required transit services.

Public transit is considered as an inferior means compared to private vehicles (Fitzroy & Smith, 1994). The demand for this means greatly depends on the availability of private vehicles. In downtown cities like Manhattan and San Francisco, there are fewer private vehicles hence many people use transit services. However, in cities like Birmingham and Nashville most people use private vehicles leading to low utilization of public transit. Most people prefer travelling through private means because of the convenience involved. They can control their own schedule and travel at the speed they want using private vehicles as compared to public transit which has fixed schedules. The increased diversity and innovations in public transit also causes confusion on where and when to use various modes available (Marshall, 2007).

This confusion can be reduced through provision of comprehensive passenger information that can be easily understood by all. Proper signage should be erected at various to enable passengers determine where to board and alight from public vessels. Information booklets should also be provided to facilitate their understanding and enhance efficiency in the system.

2. Constraints

The main goal of public transit is to minimize unused passenger accommodation. This however comes with sacrifices to personal convenience. The passengers have to travel on a fixed schedule as opposed to private vehicles where individuals choose their own schedule (Cairns et al, 2004). The travelers in public transit also need to enter and disembark from the vehicles only at specific designated places. The situation is worsened by lack of clear information to guide passengers on the available modes in the public transit sector and the rules of each mode. Technological innovations have led to diversity in the public transit sector hence making difficult for passengers to understand how various modes operate (Marshall, 2007). This has led to preference of private means of transport over public transit among many people across the world.

3. Benefits

Public transit services have several advantages over other means of transport. When properly utilized, public transit vehicles can carry a very high passenger load per unit volume and weight as compared to private vehicles (Wall & McDonald, 2007). They are also economical on fuel because they are large enough giving them the ability to carry efficient engines. If there is proper planning of the future transport systems, public transit requires less amount of landscape to be paved for roads and highways. The public transit system offer significant savings in terms of labor, energy and materials as compared to private transit systems (Simpson, 1994).

Very few operators are required which makes it easier to train, license and strictly supervise. The use of public transit also reduces congestion on the roads as one vehicle carries many passengers. They have designated stations hence they do not require parking spaces within the central business district. Public transport is cheaper as compared to owning a private vehicle thus many people can afford to use this means.

4. Criteria

Despite loosing its market share to private vehicles, public transit is still important for the commuters who have limited access to private vehicles such as children, the disabled, poor people and the elderly. It is also useful for commuters moving to large employment centers in downtowns that have limited and expensive parking. There has been a considerable growth in the use of private vehicles in several cities over years (Sloman, 2003). This has necessitated enhancement of public transport to provide an alternative for private vehicles. Different modes of public transit are being constructed and planned in many countries hence the need for cooperation and coordination of all these modes. Integration of the public transportation system enhances provision of reliable services to the public (Hibbs, 2000).

One of the most important aspects of integration is information. A comprehensive and easy-to-use passenger guide is important for successful usage of multi-modal travel (Cairns et al, 2004). Stops and stations are very critical decision making points for commuters in the public transportation systems. Signage should therefore be properly designed at rail and bus stations for easy interpretation. Passengers should be able to understand what different signages mean so that they can be able to make decision on where to alight and board.

Transport system information should be integrated into a unified set of concepts with a common language that is understood by all passengers (Banks N, Bayliss D & Glaister S (2007). This helps to remove barriers that hinder utilization of the public transportation system. It also informs the passengers about various possibilities that are offered by the entire public transport system. Intelligent transport systems and information technology helps in integration of information by providing clear, timely and brief information (Sloman, 2003). Special attention should be given to the disabled and elderly people to facilitate their travel. Passenger information booklets comprising all modes of public transit should be developed. Information should be accessible through various means including electronic and print media.

5. Case studies
Singapore has a total population of over 5.07 million people and is famous for high reliance on public transport (Ibrahim, 2003). They have implemented congestion pricing in 1975 with an aim of reducing usage of cars in the CBD and encouraged utilization of various modes of public transport. This city has paid more attention on integration of public transport to enhance connectivity of various modes in public transport to provide an alternative to private cars and reduce congestion on the roads as well as environmental emission. A service company called TransitLink was established in 1989 by the government to implement integration of information (Luk & Olszewski, 2003).

This company was responsible for provision of travel guide for the passengers and coordination of public transport information such as routes, multi-modal data and timetables at interchanges. The company provides comprehensive and well coordinated information about various modes of travel in the public sector within a single book. The information book is updated every year and it is also available in electronic version through the internet.

The Land Transport Authority has also developed a system called Traveler Information Services to provide instantaneous information about the public transport system (Luk & Olszewski, 2003). All the stations are equipped with information panels to give passengers important real-time information including departure and arrival times. A new unified alphanumeric coding has been introduced at all stations within the public transport (Ibrahim, 2003).

Signages have also been installed at bus interchanges, taxi stands and bus stops. This has led to efficiency of the public transport in Singapore as compared to Sydney. There has been an increase in public transport usage in Singapore with the research done in 2004 indicating a market share of 63%.

South East Queensland is a region with the Queensland state of Australia. This region includes Brisbane, the capital city of Queensland with a total population of over 1.1 million people (Trans Link Annual Report 2009-10). The area covers over 6300 km2 and the most common means of transport are bus, rail and ferry. These public transport services are offered by different operators and they are owned by both private and public sectors. Integration among different modes was discovered to be the obstacle to public transport investment. They sought to integrate all the modes of public transport and develop a common information system.

A new authority called Translink was established to integrate the public transport system. Translink was also given the Authority to market the system and provide passenger information (Trans Link Annual Report 2009-10). They have developed comprehensive guides that are used to provide the required information to the passengers. The information is interpreted into various languages to facilitate understanding and enable many people to successfully use the public transport.


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