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Do Real-Time Updates Increase Transit Ridership?

In Chicago, the CTA Bus Tracker isn't just a great tool for existing riders — it's actually encouraged new ones.
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Flickr/John Bracken

Late last month Wade Roush of Xconomy took a long look at how Google is changing the way people interact with their public transportation systems. The search engine empire now publishes the operating schedules of more than 475 transit agencies around the world through its Google Maps and Google Transit platforms. And though it only displays live updates for four U.S. cities (plus two more in Europe), Google is pushing for more real-time status updates, Roush reports:

Roush is right to use the word "theory" here. The current research literature doesn't address the question of whether real-time data increases ridership in any definitive way. Some recent studies do suggest that ridership has increased on routes with live status updates, but that work has failed to account for other factors that influence ridership, from gas prices to employment levels. A 2003 survey of systems with real-time information, conducted by the Transportation Research Board [PDF], concluded as much: