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Transit Twitter isn’t real life

Which riders are agencies really reaching? A hard look at communications channels by race and income.

January 2022

 Download the full PDF report 

Join Transit’s own Shanti Gonzales and Stephen Miller at TransitCon, where their 20-minute explainer dives into the survey results and talks about how agencies are looking at equity in communications.

For millions of people, communications from their transit agency — about service changes and fare payment, cancellations and mask mandates — can make or break their day, their job, or their ability to keep commitments to family and friends. 

If agencies aren’t thoughtful with their communications, they may end up speaking to mostly White or high-income people, and missing many of the riders they’re trying to reach.

So don that wetsuit: we’re diving deep into results from our quarterly Rider Happiness Benchmarking survey. Specifically, we’re taking a close look at the reach of communications channels, sorted by income and race in the United States.

Here’s what we found: When it comes to equity, public meetings and social media aren’t going the distance. But apps, signage, and customer support phone lines are effective at reaching low-income riders and riders of colour.

How we crunched the numbers

We asked more than 21,000 transit riders across United States about their public transit experience. The survey (which also ran in Canada) was available in English, Spanish, and French from October 20 to November 1, 2021.

Our question: “How do you recall receiving information from or communicating with your transit agency during the past 6 months? Check all that apply.”

A few notes: We define high-income riders as those with household incomes above $100,000 a year and low-income riders as those with household incomes below $30,000 a year. Our survey allows riders to select multiple options for race and ethnicity, so the categories are not mutually exclusive. And lastly: this survey is voluntary and represents only those who chose to take the survey in the app.


When it comes to equity…
Public meetings and social media aren’t going the distance

Social media may be easy and provide instant feedback, but there’s a catch. In our survey, social media is 3.5x more popular with high-income riders than low-income riders, with just 7.4% of low-income riders saying they used it for transit information. It’s also 2.3x more popular with White respondents than Latino respondents.

Twitter is the worst offender. In the August 2021 edition of our survey, we asked riders to identify specific social media platforms they used to communicate with their transit agency. High-income riders were 7.8x more likely to use Twitter for transit information than low-income riders and 2.1x more likely to use Instagram, whereas Facebook had a near-even split.

Public meetings are an important component of the decision-making process. However, not only were they the least popular selection across all groups, our data shows significant racial inequity. For example, White riders were 4.4x more likely than Latino riders to say they had attended public meetings. 



Apps, signage, and customer support phone lines go a long way

Over the past decade, mobile apps have become ubiquitous, increasing access to information for users in all demographic groups — and transit riders are no exception.

Low-income riders were more than 10x more likely to receive agency communications through an app (whether Transit or another app) than through public meetings and social media combined. Compare that with high-income riders, who are just 3x more likely to get info through an app.

Of course, this survey was distributed through Transit, so it’s no surprise that the vast majority of respondents recalled getting information from their agency through our app. Even so, it’s notable that no other distribution channel reached more than 1 in 3 riders in our survey.

Signs or posters at stops, stations, or onboard vehicles remain the second most-selected channel for all riders, including low-income riders and riders of colour — but it’s worth noting that high-income riders cited signage twice as frequently as low-income riders. 

Despite the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, customer support phone lines and text messages remain important. They were selected by low-income riders about as often as other non-app options like social media, email, and local media. But for high-income riders? Phone lines and text messages were two of the three least popular options.



Keeping Black and Latino riders in the loop

White and Asian respondents are more likely to report using a wide variety of channels to get information from and communicate with their transit agency, while Black and Latino respondents report using the fewest number of channels. Latino respondents are almost always the least likely to use any given communication channel to communicate with or receive information from their transit agency.

Use of mobile apps and the agency’s customer support phone number are more evenly distributed by race. Notably, local media (TV, radio, websites, newspapers) is the only category more likely to reach Black respondents than White, Asian, and Latino respondents.


About Transit’s user demographics

Transit’s user demographics are representative of, and in many cases even more diverse than, public transit ridership overall.

Like public transit ridership as a whole, Transit’s user demographics have changed with the pandemic. In April 2020, Black and Latino riders made up more than 60% of our users, while more than 70% of our users made less than $50,000 a year and just 5% made more than $100,000.

Since then, more White and higher-income users have returned but riders in households earning less than $50,000 (60%), as well as Black (28%) and Hispanic (30%) riders, continue to make up the majority of Transit’s users. Notably, these groups comprise a greater share of Transit app users than of regular public transit commuters in the 2020 experimental estimates from the U.S. Census American Community Survey.

At Transit we build the best app for public transit riders, and work with agencies to improve the rider experience. Part of that work: quarterly surveys of transit riders so agencies can stay on top of their riders’ needs. Sign up for detailed quarterly surveys of your riders at transitapp.com/happiness.

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