Transit of the future needs smarter routes, not more gadgets

Author Matthew Yglesias

Technology is changing the commuting experience across the board, and politicians looking to present a forward-thinking image are trying to embrace it. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York City Transit Authority, for example, are eagerly touting a soon-to-arrive new bus fleet that will feature “enhanced amenities like USB charging ports and Wi-Fi.”

But a recent nationally representative survey of transit riders from TransitCenter, a New York–based foundation focused on improving urban mobility, indicates that high-tech gimmicks are a very low priority for the people who actually use mass transit.

The future of successful, high-ridership systems may or may not involve USB ports but will definitely include reworked routes that provide reasonably fast and frequent service close to where many people live.

What riders want: fast, frequent service

The key data comes in a chart, which compares how people who recommend their local transit service feel about various transit attributes versus how transit detractors feel about them.

On some measures — like fare payment options — both promoters and detractors feel pretty good, indicating both that agencies are probably doing something right and that merely getting it right isn’t good enough to convert detractors into promoters.

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