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Providing Real-time Information to Transit Riders When and Where They Need It

Case Study

Sound Transit

Light rail car
Transit station
Transit schedule

The Problem

Throughout their journey, Puget Sound transit riders face various sources of uncertainty:

  • What time am I going to arrive at my destination?
  • What is traffic like between here and my destination?
  • Are there any alerts for my route?
  • How delayed is the bus/train from its scheduled arrival?
  • When is the bus/train going to arrive?

To alleviate some of this consternation, riders employ various digital tools to help give them more control over their trip. Real-time arrival information has been a positive tool that riders have come to expect both on mobile devices and on station digital signage. Advances in signage technology from simple dot matrix signs to more dynamic digital signs allows transit agencies to explore ways to display not only real-time arrivals, but more in-depth information.

We worked with Sound Transit to learn how dynamic signs displaying real-time arrival information fit in the rider’s journey and how other rider needs could be met through these signs.

The Solution

Implementing a useful sign displaying real-time arrival information involves not only understanding the rider and what they need, but also understanding the context of the stations and stops where riders are using this information. We worked with Sound Transit to install pilot signage in four stations to gather feedback and data on rider attitudes and behaviors and to do usability testing. Our goal: Develop a framework strategy that could be applied to all stations.

A Trip to The Intersection of Confidence and Certainty

Confidence and uncertainty are two factors that figure heavily into rider behavior and needs. There are riders who may be new or inexperienced and are not confident or are uncertain about riding public transportation. Other riders may have a lot of confidence in their trip plan and/or know how to navigate the transit system and need to know just a small amount of information to make sure things are on track. But as uncertainly creeps in (such as delays, traffic, or the general unexpected) even experienced riders may begin to need more and different types of information. Our research revealed two distinct groups with basic needs.

It's All About The Flow

We discovered three locations in transit stations that define the behavior and flow of riders and the type of information that can be presented:

  • Decision Points: Where a person is presented with multiple paths and must choose based on their trip
  • Transition Areas: Where people pass through for only a short amount of time
  • Waiting Areas: Where people stop and remain for a period of time
Diagram showing: Decision Point, Transition Area, and Waiting Area

These three locations defined the behavior and flow of riders and the type of information that was presented to them.

The Framework

Using this information, we created a framework that delivers different information in specific areas to accommodate different rider needs.

Chart showing decision points, transition areas, and waiting areas.

Stations Have Needs, Too

Each station has its own particular variables that contribute to what information users need to navigate its premises.

  • Multiple modes of transportation vs. single mode of transportation
  • Number and frequency of arrivals and departures
  • Location and number of entry and exit points
  • Surrounding geography and other nearby stops
  • Station layout and flow
  • Rider volume and distribution