March 14, 2014

Taking the pulse on taking the C-Train

Schulich grad student's LRT study shows real-time information increases rider satisfaction

Yuan Bai, a graduate student in the Department of Civil Engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering, studied how Calgary Transit riders respond to real-time information about LRT schedule on the platform. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Every week, people in Calgary take about 285,000 trips on the city’s LRT system and every week, tens of thousands of people on the platform look up at the electronic display to find out how long it will be until the next train arrives.

Calgary Transit installed the real-time display of information, an Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), in 2011 and Yuan Bai, a graduate student in the Department of Civil Engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering, is the first to study how people respond to it.

“The study shows that reducing uncertainty in waiting time helps increase satisfaction,” she says. “The riders stated that they are happy with the real-time info.”  Bai presented the study results and recommendations to Calgary Transit in December, 2013 and the organization plans to use the information in its future development.

Bai tested how people in Calgary responded to different scenarios on the platform—train delays with and without information about how long the delay would be, when there is information about other sources of transit available, and summer versus winter weather.

The colder the wait, the more crowded the train
Not surprisingly, people were less likely to wait for the next train when it was cold. “We found that on a typical winter day in the downtown area when the train was very crowded, especially during the peak hours, people tended to squeeze into the train,” says Bai. “So we think if there was a heated area on the platform, it may let people wait for the next train that may be less crowded.”

The LRT travellers’ actions varied by the reason for their trip, (commuter or non-commuter), the trip time and their own personal characteristics. “The results show that various socio-economic attributes—age, gender, number of automobiles per household—had strong influences on travellers’ behavioural responses in the context of real-time LRT information,” she says.  

Providing information about nearby bus schedules at LRT stations “may be key to induce transit riders to access other transit choices during their trip,” says Bai.  This study, and more like it, could help Calgary Transit make LRT a more attractive option which in turn could reduce Calgary’s daily traffic jams.

“It’s well-known that congestion is mainly caused by commuters traveling in single-occupant vehicles,” says Bai. “So it makes sense to alleviate congestion by encouraging more commuters to use public transit.”