Public Transit

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Promotion of the Use of Public Transportation/Transit in Large Cities: Best Practices

Overall, public transportation in the United States is facing declining ridership on a national level. This decline in ridership may be a result of competition posed by convenience apps and ride sharing, or problems present in aging systems. Some cities are responding to the challenge presented by shared mobility apps by developing their own public transportation convenience apps, and maximizing their use of technology in other ways. They are also finding ways to integrate their services with mobility sharing companies. Public Transportation operators are also attempting improvements through traditional renovation, line additions, and the introduction of new services and amenities. Adapting to mobility sharing, new technology, and practicing traditional methods of improvement can all be considered best practices for promoting public transportation and reducing car-driving.


Even after an extensive search through industry-related sites, government sites, and media reports, it was not possible to find the exact details requested. This lack of information may be due to the transit systems not being keen to publicize their current challenges as some have faced declines. However, while exact information wasn't available, particularly information specific to best practices in promotion of mass transit along the lines of behavior change, there was an assortment of information available on ways the New York and Boston areas have worked to increase change in ridership behaviors. Those details and more are outlined below.


One approach to encouraging the use of public transportation is through Mobility Orientation Development. According to a report prepared by the Arcadis firm, Mobility Oriented Development "is an evolution of transit-related planning and execution." This approach evaluates the big picture of a city or town's transportation dynamics. Rather than focusing solely on traditional public transportation aims of increasing ridership, and decreasing driving, Mobility Oriented Development supports these outcomes by focusing on developments that increase overall mobility and create a "wider social benefit." For Arcadis, a key element of this approach is in the evaluation of transportation hubs regarding their social value, connectivity, and the safety and economic potential of the neighborhoods where they are located.


One challenge of public transport initiatives is to create greater access for those who do not live within walking distance to public transportation. The term last-mile refers to additional transportation needs at the end of a transit journey. According to a 2017 report prepared for the city of Richmond, California by Nelson/Nygaar Consulting Associates Inc., some solutions to this problem include making improvements to stations where passengers can transfer to other modes of transportation. These improvements include sidewalks, and bikeways, car sharing pods, bus stops, bicycle sharing stations, bike parking, and rail connections. The report also highlights shuttles as valuable tools for providing last-mile connectivity.


Another way that cities can encourage the use of public transportation is by employing the type of convenience applications used by ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. According to a 2017 article by, in recent years, ride-sharing apps have outdone public transport services by measures of convenience. cites a report by the American Public Transportation Association which found "that a drastic decline in ridership has been taking place in major public transport systems in cities nationwide." New York and Boston have been able to buck this trend, apparently, by adopting the use of the same type of convenience apps used by ride-sharing companies that appear to be luring riders away from public transport overall. Commuters like the convenience of payment, route prediction, and near-instant availability of ride-share drivers. also points to common public transportation weak spots such confusing schedules and maps, which ride-sharing gives commuters the chance to avoid.

BOSTON, NEW YORK, & LAS VEGAS IMPLEMENT APPS highlights the methods Boston, New York City and Las Vegas are using to fight public transport decline. These include the development of apps and convenience features for ticketing and stations. For their commuter rail, Boston has created an open data portal so that developers can use it to create apps that offer transport commuters information about delays, and arrival times. Mayor Cuomo of New York has implemented mobile ticketing, charging stations, and Wi-Fi. He has also initiated traditional improvements such as adding lines and renovating stations and vehicles. To combat the decline of bus ridership, Las Vegas has implemented an app that offers real-time bus locations and arrival times, as well as route planning, and mobile ticketing.


According to a report prepared by the Shared-Use Mobility Center for the American Public Transporation Association, "The more people use shared modes of transportation, the more likely they are to use public transport." The report explores the developments, changes, and opportunities that have resulted from new technologies in recent years. "Some have predicted that, by creating a robust network of mobility options, these new modes will help reduce car ownership and increase the use of public transportation." The report advocates increased integration and coordination of information, payment, and services. It argues that public transportation should adapt to the trend of shared modes of transportation, including by partnering with companies that provide shared modes of transportation.

Public Transport problems and cuts

According to an article by Robert Puentes of US News, there may be more driving the decline of public transportation beyond ride-sharing apps. Puentes discusses common problems of public transportation systems, including a lack of funding, delays, and aging infrastructure. He surmises that cuts of poorly attended routes may be the biggest factor in ridership decline. Puentes explains cities have bus routes that were "designed decades ago." Cities such as Houston and Seattle have redesigned routes, and implemented technology to improve bus service, and Baltimore is now working on updates for their bus system.


Best Practices for the promotion of public transportation are evolving with new developments in technology and the development of new modes of transportation, such as the trend of shared mobility. In this rapidly changing environment, the successful models of New York and Boston offer best practice solutions for other cities. Thanks to their implementation of technology through the use of apps, open city data sources, increased amenities, and traditional improvements in the form of renovations, these cities have improved their public transportation numbers at a time when public transportation has declined nationwide. One key element of their success is undoubtedly their adaption to technology. For instance, New York City's public transportation ridership increased overall in 2016, though its subway ridership did decline slightly, by 0.7 percent. Boston's overall ridership increased by 1.4 percent, and its rail increased by 3.5 percent. These implementations have created convenience and "increased good will" for Boston commuters. Best practices may also be gleaned from the world's best used and most efficient hubs, such as the firm Arcadis' measure of hubs by connectivity, social factors, and the safety and economic health of the municipal areas in which they are situated.
Although we did not find a comprehensive pre-compiled list of best practices for the promotion of the use of public transportation, the sources we found suggest the following best practices.
1. Adapting to new technology and maximizing its potential for user convenience.
2. Connecting traditional transportation networks with evolving ones.
3. Maximizing the potential of local transportation hubs in terms of connectivity, efficiency and social value.
4. Improving rider amenities through updates to infrastructure, and design.
In considering changes to user behavior, the increased ridership of New York City and Boston that came after the implementation of various improvements. In Boston, that meant opening the city's data so that developers could use it to create apps that made public transport more convenient. The 1.4% overall increase in overall public transportation and the 3.5% increase in rail riders reflects an improvement in public perception that showed up in their behavior. From this, we can surmise that at least some of these riders made a decision not to drive, or ride in a taxi or ride-sharing car. Likewise, the increase of overall ridership in New York City after improvements such as new lines, cell phone outlets, and mobile ticketing reflects the positive influence of these changes on the public and their riding behaviors.
Promotion of the use of public transit in cities is currently focused on drawing people back with improvements. These improvements include renovating infrastructure, redesigning service, and implementing amenities. A key element of public transportation improvements also involves new uses of technology and partnerships with mobility sharing companies to better suit needs of the riding public. The success of improved public transportation programs in New York and Boston indicate that these approaches may serve best practice models for promoting transit.
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Promotion of the Use of Public Transportation/Transit in Large Cities: Case Studies

Seattle, London, Philadelphia and Houston are all examples of large cities who have successfully promoted the use of public transportation/transit in recent years.


Below are 4 examples of case studies of large cities who have successfully promoted the use of public transportation/transit by successfully getting the public to change their travel behavior. I have aimed to give you the most recent examples available, however, as some campaigns are long-running some data comes from 2015. However, I selected the campaigns which had the most significant impact (e.g. the biggest increases in use of public transport).

1. Seattle

Recently Seattle were successful in going against the national trend and were able to get more of their citizens riding the bus. This City Lab article points out that "almost every major U.S. city has seen years of decline in bus ridership" apart from Seattle. The city achieved this by doing three things. The first was to give buses priority on the roads, so that bus riders would see the benefit of taking this transport. The second was spotting small fixes. The city focused on making small, surgical improvements to bus routes that added up to something big. Finally, they got funded. Seattle was honest with its voters about what it planned to do with the buses and proposed to increase the sales tax and a car-tab fee. This resulted in people voting "to pay more for transit because of the clear and expansive picture provided by the city of just what a budget shortfall would do their service".

Their marketing campaign surrounding the changes they made to the bus service that encouraged people to take the bus was essentially to spread the word by getting people involved in the planning of the changes prior to them taking place. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) began planning the bus route changes over a year before they occurred. They communicated with the public that they wanted to increase reliability and passenger capacity. They took on a board of Seattle residents who made specific route suggestions and provided feedback on different alternatives.

This resulted in Seattle seeing the numbers of bus riders increase, peaking in 2015 with 78,000 people (1 in 5 workers) taking the bus to work. In 2016, they saw a total 4.1% increase in riders.

2. London

Over the past few years the City of London has done much in order to promote cycling, in particular the use of their city bikes as public transportation. They have launched several campaigns in recent years in order to change the users' behavior toward this method of public transportation. To begin with, this have promoted cycling in general. For example, they run annual "Skyride" events where cyclists in the city come together to achieve different goals. These events have the aim of showing that cycling is accessible to all. They also ran the ‘Catch up with the bicycle’ marketing campaign over several years. The aim of this campaign was similar, to encourage "people from all walks of life to give cycling a try". These efforts have mostly surrounded trying to get people to use the city bikes.

In 2015, London's 'Boris bikes' (named so after London's Mayor at that time, Boris Johnson) were re branded as 'Santander Cycles' after Santander took over the sponsorship after Barclays. Marketing of the bikes at the time of the change over of sponsorship included 'family-focused events' and 'Cycle Champions' promoting the scheme across Santander's own London bank branches. At time of takeover, Santander held and event to officially announce its sponsorship of London's cycle hire scheme with an event at Trion Square near Regent's Park.

London's efforts to get people to use their city bikes has resulted in a cycling boom (Londoners are making more trips by bike, regardless of whether this is a city bike or their own). This year it has been declared that it has peaked, mostly due to the bike hiring scheme, that "has been a strong force in popularising cycling." Data shows how the use of cars in London has gone down as bicycles has gone up during the time of the first campaigns.

In terms of increase in use in the cycle scheme in particular we know that over 600,000 cycle hire trips made in January 2017, which beat 2016's January record of 586,325. 2016 in fact saw a record 10.3 million journeys made on the Santander Cycles, which was a 4.4% increase on 2015. 2017 saw 5 out of 9 months which data is currently available for beating year-on-year records for the number of journeys being made.

3. Philadelphia

Philadelphia opened its Indego bike-share system in 2015 in order to get people traveling by bike. Along with the launch of their bike-share system they also launched a campaign “Philly to a Milli”, which had the aim of getting Philadelphia to take a million trips by the bike-share system. The bike-share program saw an increase in daily trips to nearly 4000. Overall, the result was that bicycle commuting the Philadelphia city center skyrocketed, with rates up almost 80%.

4. Houston

In August 2015 Houston switched their entire bus service overnight. "The new system stuck to a grid, creating quick, cross-town routes designed to increase ridership and speed." Replacing the old system that ran on a traditional hub-and-spoke system, filled with zigzagging lines headed toward the downtown with numerous redundancies.

Houston went on an "advertising blitz to trumpet their new bus network". The city kept their citizens informed by handing out paper maps of the new routes, and filling the press with stories of the change over. In addition to this, a social media campaign began where the hashtags #GoMetro #Houston were used to create a social media storm about the new bus system. This was in conjunction with a promotion where all bus rides were free for the first week of the new system to entice people to take the bus.

The results of these campaigns showed good results from the off, with ridership jumping 6.8% from September 2015 to July 2016. Overall, the campaign was a long term success, as ridership rose by 2.3% on average in less than a year.


To sum up, I have found that in the past few years Seattle and Houston have successfully been able to achieve an increase in citizens using their bus systems, and London and Philadelphia have been able to increase the number of journeys made on their city bike systems.