TransitScreen real-estate partnership looks to spread availability of transit information

Deal with property manager JLL will make the screens a common feature of lobbies

Changing habits is a tough business, especially when it comes to commuting.

Cities are attempting to nudge commuters away from driving alone, but they must overcome the complexities of neurology to effect notable change. Where non-driving options exist, they need to be as accessible and understandable as the typical default option of driving. Effective transportation demand management requires traveler education to help people make sustainable choices and refrain from driving alone.

There are certain times that this education is most effective, such as when a certain service is disrupted, when commuters are forced to reconsider their options. TransitScreen, which provides real-time information displays of nearby transportation options, has been working at the educational aspect since 2013 by presenting non-car transportation as an easy, obvious choice at strategic “decision points.”

The company has recently expanded its reach by partnering with JLL, a major commercial real-estate firm. So why does this kind of partnership make sense?

Being seen

Ryan Croft, TransitScreen’s cofounder, explains that the expansion is an opportunity to reach more commuters and residents, convincing them to think about transit by placing information in more lobbies and offices. Croft explains that commute transportation choices are a key factor in a building’s environmental impact. In turn, JLL is one of the world’s largest commercial property managers, so influencing the commuting habits of tens of thousands of tenants can have a sizable impact on emissions and traffic.

As it has grown, TransitScreen says it has learned more about how to best employ its technology to encourage travelers’ behavioral changes. It pays attention to the size of the displays and what information they show, but the most important factor is screen location.

“As close to the door as humanly possible,” Croft says. “We’re creatures of habit, and people don’t go out of their way to change. If it’s hidden away in the broom closet, of course nobody will use it.” By making transit information obvious and easy along people’s habitual routes and at key decision points, it helps them better understand their options and consider new ways of getting around.

“There is a growing understanding in the real estate community that the modes we take to get around have a big impact on emissions,” and these companies are figuring out the role mass transit plays in sustainability initiatives, not to mention money saved on reduced parking demand. Subtle nudges towards transit end up creating a large collective benefit for property managers and renters alike.

Getting attention

Though Croft says it’s still hard to quantify how much they have directly affected commuter behavior, early tenant surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest they’re on the right track.

“We don’t have anybody quitting the service,” he jokes. “So the value proposition is there,” suggesting that buildings still see the benefits of having a screen in their lobby.

TransitScreen cites a survey of Toronto lobbies which found that “80 percent of people who saw TransitScreen used it” to check transit information, and that “85 percent of tenants found it useful or extremely useful, and 86 percent found it easy to use.” The company describes these usage numbers as comparable to figures for captive audiences, despite users being free to ignore the displays.

Anecdotally, Croft has heard from users that the information has helped people, especially newer residents, discover what’s around and available to them. Users have responded that the information aided in demystifying bus routes, making a confusing system easier to understand, or just helping to time their trips more comfortably, rather than rush or waste time waiting.

Playing a long game

Croft has found particular success in influencing people who have not yet formed a transit habit. New residents and visitors see additional benefits from transit information, since their lack of knowledge about an area means they are more open to discovering new options.

With this in mind, TransitScreen is working to reach people in more public areas such as sporting events, like their spaces on digital billboards at D.C.’s Verizon Center (above) or across from Boston’s Fenway Park.

TransitScreen’s success, Croft says, validates that this is a national and international problem that cities need to solve. The easy availability of transit information reflects a trend of cities and developers finding new ways to reach people and shift their habits, convincing them to them to try new options.

Ed. note: TransitScreen began as a project at Mobility Lab.

Photo: A TransitScreen on an LED screen in D.C.’s Gallery Place (TransitScreen).

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