Research has confirmed yet again that biking for transportation makes people happy.
But this new study from the University of Minnesota and Northwest University in Xi’an, China also brings some bad news: that of all transportation modes, public transit makes people the least happy.
Researchers Jing Zhu and Yingling Fan analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey to find out how people across the United States felt during daily trips and what factors influenced their emotions. They found that trip duration strongly influenced happiness, with happiness decreasing as trips got longer.
Other factors affected happiness besides mode and trip duration. For example, trips to get food were happier than commuting, and trips accompanied by partners or friends were happier than traveling alone or with parents (sorry, parents).
But one constant was that biking was the happiest mode and transit the least, which are both findings consistent with prior studies, according to the researchers. Interestingly, driving a car was associated with lower levels of pain than biking or being a passenger in a car.
The question remains: is transit the least happy mode because public transportation in the United States, is, well, crappy? Or are car drivers predisposed to enjoy their trips more because of the illusion that they’re in charge of their mobility by the virtue of driving the vehicle?
It might be both. A study of Ghent, Belgium – a city with a reputation for great public transportation – also found that transit users were less happy than drivers, even though Ghent makes driving difficult.
If my theory (that people like to drive because they like feeling in control) is true, then I wonder if that is similarly a reason why biking is the happiest mode – besides the fact that biking feels great. In that case, it would make sense for policymakers to capitalize on biking by building better biking infrastructure.
The only thing we do know is that transit in the United States must be improved in order to reap the environmental, economic, and equitable benefits of reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips. Bus network redesigns across the country demonstrate that better service can result in more riders.
Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab