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Mastering the art of rider surveys

The ridership recovery has stalled. To keep rising, agencies need to be in tune with riders.

June 2022

en français, svp

 Download the full PDF report 

Transit’s CBO David Block-Schachter, data scientist Marisa Henry, and partnerships maestro Kaj Huddart answer your questions about how Transit’s surveys work, what we’ve discovered so far, and how you can customize them to your agency’s needs in this 30-minute webinar.

Last fall, between the Delta and Omicron waves, we analyzed our quarterly Rider Happiness Benchmarking (RHB) data and predicted that the “new normal” had arrived. Public transit was finally beginning to settle into a new equilibrium. 

Now, we can say with confidence that without new changes to public transit offerings, the post-pandemic rider recovery has maxxed out. Over the past few months, a number of external factors seemingly evolved in favour of public transit patronage. Mask mandates have been rescinded in most places, both for public transit and other indoor environments. Gas prices have spiked to historic highs. Inflation has increased the cost of just about every other mode of local transportation, while unemployment has continued to sink to historic lows.

Despite all these tailwinds, the return of public transit patronage has stalled. 

That leads us to a central conclusion: with external factors no longer contributing to ridership recovery, the service provided by public transit agencies must evolve in order to compete for more riders.

Public transit’s customer experience gap compared to other modes of transport was already leading to declining ridership for most systems before the pandemic, and that trend was massively accelerated by COVID-19. Not since World War II — when transit ridership nearly doubled in the early 1940s — have we seen such a rapid shift in mode choice. 

Ridership patterns and mask usage, reported here by passengers using our Rate-My-Ride feature, have settled into a new equilibrium. It means that agencies can no longer rely on recovery from the pandemic alone to attract riders.

Agencies are scrambling to keep up with these dramatic changes. It’s more important than ever to know what’s keeping people onboard and what’s turning them off. With the Rider Happiness Benchmarking survey and new tools like Transit’s new Rate-My-Ride instant survey data, agencies are creating much-needed measures of customer satisfaction that give them the insights to decide how to improve their services.

Accurate real-time information remains the biggest pain point

With five quarters of survey data now under our belt, it’s clear that a lack of accurate real-time information is a key contributor to customer friction, with riders ranking it as more important than safety, cleanliness, ease of purchasing fares, or improving fare policies (i.e. by introducing fare capping).


The RHB survey: new metrics for the new normal

This quarter, we introduced a simpler way to measure riding frequency, added a question about the value for money of fare costs (including cross-tabulation by household income), and began separating out the purpose of trips into work, school, recreation, errands/appointments, and connecting to long-distance travel. 

An improved RHB report

We’ve also divided the RHB report into three thematic sections: 

RHB survey schedule

Transit’s Rider Happiness Benchmarking survey collects data over period of 10-12 days each quarter. The Summer 2022 RHB Survey is scheduled to begin collecting data across the United States and Canada in late July 2022. 


Want to dive deep in the stats?
Download the full report.
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