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Do smartphones help us save time and money when using public transport?

Researchers in China investigated whether public transport passengers using real-time information from smartphones were able to save time and money by choosing better routes to their destinations.

Public transport systems have never been more important as the world deals with increasing urbanization.  One challenge that these public transport networks currently face is providing up-to-date transit information to the commuter. To this end, many organizations are investing in intelligent transportation systems and advanced public transport systems, which aim to provide real-time information to riders, such as schedules, arrival and departure times, and even vehicle occupancy.

With access available in various formats, including smartphones, these technologies are intended to shorten travel times and reduce costs to riders. But do these systems actually succeed in achieving that aim for smartphone users?

One of few studies of smartphone benefits to public transport passengers

With this question in mind, a group of researchers in China studied the hypothetical behaviour of passengers based on their access to public transport information via smartphone. There have been few studies to date on this relationship. They recently published their results in PLOS One. 

Computer simulation and comparison of three information scenarios

The study was done via computer simulation, based on the current mathematical models of public transport networks. The researches simulated and compared three different scenarios:

  1. Passengers had no access to information.
  2. Passengers only had access to the arrival time information, displayed on the station information board.
  3. Passengers had access to complete transit system information via smartphone.

Passengers with smartphone information reduced travel times by over 15%

The study revealed the following results by scenario:

  1. Passengers with no access to information normally took the first arriving vehicle.
  2. Passengers with only access to arrival time information chose routes based on personal preferences with respect to travel time.
  3. Passengers with access to complete transit system information via smartphone used a more comprehensive methodology, taking into consideration preferences with respect to travel time, waiting time, and number of transfers.

Furthermore, the study showed that public transit passengers having real-time information via smartphone could reduce their travel times by more than 15%, and save almost 4 minutes per passenger. The study also found that these passengers also noticeably reduced their travel cost.

Real-time smartphone information validates new transport information technologies

The application to public transport commuters is that having real-time information accessible via smartphone is beneficial both in terms of reduced travel times and reduced costs. Thus, technologies such as intelligent transportation systems and advanced public transport systems are worth the investments made in them by public transport networks, although this payoff is dependent on passengers having access to the information provided.

Accordingly, future areas of research could include studies of vehicle-accessible (i.e., not just smartphone-accessible) information, or a more detailed analysis of how passenger costs are impacted by public transport information.

Written by Raymond Quan, MASc, MBA

Reference: Song et al. (2018) “Potential travel cost saving in urban public-transport networks using smartphone guidance.” PLoS ONE 13(5): e0197181.



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