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Rob Perks’s Blog

Turning people off transit

Rob Perks

Posted January 17, 2013 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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So yesterday I blogged about how much people love public transportation and favor investment to expand and enhance it, according to recent opinion polling. Well, the caveat is that unless transit is reliable, people won't bother taking it.

Governing magazine just published a story on new research on the top reasons people stop using transit. According to a study conducted by the University of California-Berkley, so-called choice riders of transit -- folks like me who own a car but prefer transit for convenience -- tend not to stick with transit if the trains and buses don't run on time. Sure, accessibility are affordability are important but not as much as reliability.

According to Governing:

One statistic in the study stands out in particular and should give transit agencies pause: More than half of the riders said they had reduced their use of public transportation specifically because of its unreliability. Most of them didn't just make fewer trips overall; rather, they switched to other modes of transportation to fill the void. 

For what it's worth, NRDC's public opinion survey and focus groups last summer also showed reliability to be a related concern to the chief complaint of our respondents: convenience. What we found in our research was that most people would prefer to take transit but what holds them back is when it's a hassle to take a bus or a train. For example, if there are no stations within a mile or less of where they live or if there are too many stops required to get them where they need to go, then people have little choice but to drive to their destination.

In places where transit is readily available, we're seeing steady increases in ridership -- in many cases because people want to save money on gas or save time stuck in traffic. But with more passengers comes more wear and tear on existing transit systems that are already facing serious fiscal constraints nationwide. If budget cuts result in service cuts, then transit becomes unreliable -- and could drive more people back to their cars, clogging our highways and worsening congestion.

The solution then is to ensure more transportation choices for Americans by boosting investments to increase and improve public transit.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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