The science of wayfinding—a formula to increase transit ridership
October 22, 2018
October 22, 2018
Academic research shows how good wayfinding at transit stops can help increase overall ridership and user experience
It’s easy to make the case that taking transit is the right thing to do—it mitigates congestion, cuts pollution, and makes city life more livable. Unfortunately, most of us have an experience where transit was inconvenient, confusing, or even ended up being a regrettable choice.
Wayfinding should be part of the basic script of taking transit—just like when diners expect to see a menu at a restaurant. Clear information provides comfort, reassurance, and a common language through the experience.
While you’ve probably seen this information provided in a subway or train station, it is less likely to find a route map and/or timing information at a bus stop. One of the easiest ways to lower barriers to taking transit is to make it easy—and that starts with wayfinding.
Wayfinding is “the process of finding a path between an origin and a destination that has not necessarily been visited previously.” This could be visiting a friend at their new home, exploring a new neighborhood, or trying to get to Ikea.
Regardless of where you’re going, wayfinding is an essential part of route comprehension.
Wayfinding should be part of the basic script of taking transit—just like when diners expect to see a menu at a restaurant.
People need to understand the procedure for getting from Point A to Point B. Ambiguous information is frustrating for riders, and poor knowledge or understanding of transit routes can result in a barrier to use, or lost ridership.
You wouldn’t get on a bus if you weren’t sure where it went, would you?
When transit users get an accurate determination of travel time, they feel like they’re getting adequate information. Interestingly, more accurate information reduces perceived travel time as well. Conversely, research conducted in Chicago through the Regional Transit Authority found that the “complexity of trip making” decreased the likelihood of taking transit.
When asked what information they wanted improved at transit stops, users ranked transit route maps first, followed by wait time.
The National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), in addition to other work done in this area, provides some good recommendations for transit information:
At Stantec’s Urban Places, wayfinding is part of our mission to see transportation options and networks through the eyes of the user. We work to lower the barriers to access, ranging from improving information and communication, to infrastructure changes, to integrating microtransit.
IndyGo and the Maryland Transit Administration are two transit authorities that are implementing changes to make their system more user-friendly. And user-friendly systems are more likely to be well-used systems.