Riders are coming back. Here’s what they have to say.

Are transit riders getting vaccinated? What would get them to ride more? What's in your local agency report card? All that and more, in our Rider Happiness Benchmarking survey.

May 2021

Watch the webinar

Ready for your briefing, Mr. President? Watch Transit’s own David Block-Schachter and Kaj Huddart lead a deep dive into the data, moderated by Emily Gates from our partnerships team, and answer questions from transit agencies across the U.S. and Canada.

Download the complete PDF report
🇺🇸 United States
🇨🇦 Canada (click here for the French version)


Want a detailed quarterly read-out for your transit agency? Talk to us about subscribing to Rider Happiness Benchmarking reports, to see how you performed this spring and how you compare to similar agencies going forward.

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As shots get in arms and cities start to reopen, transit agencies across the U.S. and Canada are preparing for their COVID recovery glow-up. A key part of that recovery is knowing what riders are thinking. When agencies zero in on the rider experience? We’re at the ready.

Enter Transit’s ✨ Rider Happiness Benchmarking ✨ program. Since our first survey more than a year ago, we’ve been leading discussions with agencies to keep tabs on customer satisfaction indicators amid a topsy-turvy global pandemic.

Knowing that Transit app users are representative of ridership at large, we worked with agencies to run a second survey in November. Now we’re collecting quarterly in-app questionnaires from riders, spanning hundreds of cities across North America.

We turned to our agency friends large and small, scattered across the U.S. and Canada: for this survey, that was Greater Dayton RTA (Dayton, OH), LA Metro (Los Angeles, CA), Pierce Transit (Tacoma, WA), Saskatoon Transit (Saskatoon, SK), STO (Gatineau, QC), and WMATA (Washington, DC).

We asked: what do you really want to know about your riders??

Together, we settled on the most crucial industry metrics. Ones that would help public transit agencies benchmark themselves against their peers, and also ones that would give them the most accurate assessment of their own agency’s performance, over time.

More than 30,000 active transit riders across the U.S. and Canada rated their agency’s performance and told us what would get them using public transit more often. We’re sharing those national-level results publicly, with U.S. and Canadian reports ready for download. (Participating agencies are getting their own city-specific, hyper-localized Rider Happiness Benchmarking reports by email.)

Want quarterly metrics for your agency, and a say in what gets asked in our next rider survey? Send us an email and let’s get you some custom-tailored reports.

Okay, enough windup. Let’s get to the results. ⚾

Riders are riding more

As regular followers of our APTA Ridership Trends dashboard will know, transit riders are coming back. What we’re seeing is that once they do come back, they’re also riding more frequently than six months ago!

Combined data for the U.S. and Canada

In our November 2020 survey, half of all U.S. riders (and 43% of Canadians) said they were riding public transit as much or more than they did before the pandemic. Now, that stat’s jumped up to 68% in the U.S. and 61% in Canada.

More posteriors in bus interiors. Sounds good to us. 👍

Transit riders lead the pack on vaccination…

By now, everyone knows to wear a mask when using public transit. Riders also know to get vaccinated. Transit agencies are working with us to add vaccination clinics in the app, and the good news is that more and more riders are getting their doses of plague-fighting potion.

61% of U.S. respondents reported being partially vaccinated, and 39% were fully vaccinated. In Canada, 28% reported partial vaccination, and 4% were fully protected — a number that’s sure to increase as Canada starts to receive more vaccines.

The best news? Transit riders are ahead of the curve. In the U.S., transit rider vaccination rates outpaced stats for the general population during the survey period, from April 23 to May 7.

…but overestimate the risk of catching COVID onboard.

Early in the pandemic, everyone was worried about getting sick from doorknobs and cardboard boxes and joggers on the street. That made public transit a superspreader nightmare, right?

Well, no. Today, we know more about how the virus actually spreads. The evidence has been mounting that public transit — where buses and trains are ventilated, people are wearing masks, and most riders don’t linger, talk loudly or eat — is not nearly as risky as it was once feared.

Two-thirds of riders say other passengers are always, or nearly always, wearing masks. But unlike an airline or sporting event, transit agencies don’t have hired bouncers to prevent unmasked people from coming in! The negative perception of transit as an uncontrolled den of sneezing strangers has therefore stuck, even among regular transit riders.

Combined data for the U.S. and Canada

Only half of transit riders in our survey said that a large indoor gathering, like a wedding, is riskier than riding public transit. More than 20% said transit was riskier than all the listed activities, including working out at the gym or working in an office all day. What’s worse: that percentage is up from November, when just 13% of Canadians and 16% of Americans thought transit was the riskiest thing on the list.

In short, public transit has a perception problem… and it’s not getting better. But there are ways to change people’s minds: half of our survey respondents say they’d ride more often if their agency distributed masks onboard. Makes sense!

Agencies are getting better grades from riders

Now for some better news. Riders are more apt to recommend transit to friends and family than they were six months ago.

Back in November and again this spring, we asked riders if they’d recommend their local transit system, rating it on a scale from 1 to 10. We then took the percentage of responses that are a 9 or a 10, and subtracted the percentage of responses that ranked a 6 or below. In the marketing biz, this is called a Net Promoter Score.

Almost everywhere, transit agencies’ scores rose between last autumn and this spring. Riders have generally been satisfied with their agency’s response to COVID-19. But riders were less impressed by how their agency communicated route disruptions and changes, and ratings also slid on service reliability.

But all is not lost: riders were quite explicit in stating what measures would get them to use transit more, including:

By now, the real transit nerds are already whipping out their calculators to see how these measures break down across the best- and worst-performing agencies. And just for you statistical Sherlocks, we’ve prepared national reports — tallying scores across scores of transit agencies to all of our 44 questions, including 22 agency satisfaction metrics in 5 categories.

That’s more rankings and factoids than the average Gob could handle. 💥🧙🍌

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