Customer satisfaction is a primary driver of whether or not people choose public transit over other travel options. Unsurprisingly, almost every respondent (97 percent) noted one of their agency's goals is to improve the overall passenger experience. The same share emphasized improving safety and security as a primary goal. Nearly as many (93 percent) said their agency was likely to enhance the courtesy and empathy of staff and instill a stronger service culture. Eighty percent of respondents are either interested in, or already use, data science to develop or increase customer knowledge in order to serve them better.
At the same time, nearly one-third (32 percent) of agencies cited the need to improve services as a major challenge over the next three years. This included both expanding to address service gaps geographically, and running service beyond traditional commute hours (e.g., on weekends). A handful of others cited their desires to decrease service and reduce the number and size of the vehicles they operate in response to declining demand. In addition, several officials are keenly aware that they need to do a better job marketing and branding their agency's services. These responses included outreach to both young people and the elderly.
Another way to provide better service is to redesign bus systems to better reflect contemporary travel and development patterns. In some regions, buses operate on routes that were designed decades ago. While these routes may have made sense for the makeup of a particular city at that time, they may no longer provide the best service for riders. Metro areas like Seattle, Baltimore, and Houston have redesigned their entire bus networks using new technology and routing tools to optimize the system and provide better customer service. The recent bus redesign in Columbus, Ohio put 100,000 more residents within a five-minute walk of buses that arrive at least every 15 minutes, and 110,000 more jobs will be within a five-minute walk of transit. Other agencies may pick up on this trend as only one-third of respondents said applying urban planning principles and redesigning their bus network was very unlikely.
Yet at the same time, transit professionals recognize they are operating in an increasingly digital world and express strong interest to integrate activities such as fare payment and trip planning, known as "mobility as a service" (MaaS). Three-quarters of respondents indicated they were interested in developing such a platform with the strongest interest coming from small agencies. However, just 27 percent specified they were currently doing so and, of those respondents that wanted a MaaS system, only 28 percent think their own transit agency is most suited to develop and manage it. The remaining majority wants to involve private sector help to launch the product.
In 2016, less than 40 percent of transit agencies nationally used smart card payment systems but an overwhelming majority of survey respondents (84 percent) indicated a desire to diversify their existing payment options through technology. Information technology services provider ETA Transit surveyed self-selected transit riders across the United States through email blasts and found great variance in payment method preferences: 52 percent preferred to pay with a pre-paid pass, 31 percent with a smart device, 10 percent with cash, and 7 percent with a credit card, showing that riders do vary in their preferred payment methods.