The Arlington Transit (ART) Satisfaction Study (2019) explores the motivation and impediments for Arlington residents, workers and visitors in using the Arlington Transit (ART) bus system. The study is the result of the collaboration between the Mobility Lab Research Team, operated by DS&MG and a division of the Arlington County Commuter Services Bureau (ACCS), and the Arlington County Transit Bureau within the County’s Department of Environmental Services.
As described in the background section of the report, transit ridership in Arlington has experienced dynamic trends over the past two decades: after a consistent increase in ridership between the 1990s and 2013, ridership has stagnated and decreased since. This trend mirrors a nationwide trend of decreasing transit and bus ridership since 2013.
In 2013, ART conducted a ridership survey that concluded that “ART is truly an Arlington County service, providing transit for residents and workers with a high turnover, gaining one-third new riders and half of riders transferring to and from metro”. However, the mobility landscape in 2018-2019 has drastically changed since 2013, given the surge in prominence of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and changes in commute patterns driven by the increase in telecommuting. This shifting mobility and travel landscape warrants a return to the examination of the determinants of ridership for ART in order to identify the underlying dynamics behind changes in ridership patterns, and pinpoint ways to attract riders again.
This research effort aims to answer the following questions:
- Why do current ART riders choose ART? How satisfied are ART riders with the current service? Why don’t they ride more often? And what would it take to encourage them to ride more often?
- Why did previous ART riders stop riding? And what would it take to encourage them to ride again?
- How can ART attract new riders? Build confidence in the system? And build and reward loyalty among current and new riders?
- How does all of this differ across segments of the population? (For example, are we losing the battle with the younger generation? Are we catering for minorities?)
To answer these research questions, a mixed method approach was used, leveraging both qualitative and quantitative findings. Qualitative and quantitative inputs were solicited from four focus groups that were held between November 28 and 29, 2018, 1,000 intercept/on-board ART surveys were held between January 23, 2019 and February 11, 2019 and 399 online panel surveys were collected from respondents between March 6, 2019 and March 28, 2019. All respondents were traveling to, from or within Arlington (i.e. either living, working or visiting Arlington – although the online survey was limited to residents and locally employed non-residents). Mobility Lab designed the survey and Mobility Lab’s research subcontractor, WBA Research, reviewed survey materials, collected the data, and analyzed the results. This was done under the supervision of Mobility Lab and using input from Arlington County’s Transit Bureau. All survey materials were approved by Arlington County’s Transit Bureau.
The main results indicate that ART is often used by riders for work or school trips regardless of their access to a car but does not seem to be the top choice for choice rider’s leisure or personal trips. People mostly use ART because it is cheaper than other services. Those who ride it frequently have experienced limited incidents, are satisfied and have a positive image of ART. The strongest disadvantage of ART compared to other public transportation options, according to the focus groups results, is route coverage. In the focus group research, participants discussed how more routes would be helpful, especially when moving beyond the main corridors of Arlington or out towards Reagan National Airport. While in reality, ART should have a better coverage than other buses (WMATA), respondents might be referring to service coverage outside of Arlington. The nature of the data collection and the questions in the online and on-board surveys (e.g. “more service areas” as an option to what would make them rider more often) does not allow us to make any conclusions regarding that aspect. This is left for future research.
Many factors were found to influence transportation choices and thus a decrease in bus ridership including life changes (e.g., job/school/residential location change, schedule changes, having children, separation or divorce), age and level of income. Findings from this report cannot provide clear evidence that ride-hailing is replacing ART bus rides, but respondents who report increasing ride-hailing usage also report taking less trips on other transportation modes.
Based on the findings, the research team has outlined four main suggestions to increase ridership:
Suggestion 1: Continue to study current and potential customers to understand how to better tailor services to their transportation needs and target investments in service and marketing. In particular, the results of this work reveal that the County should possibly be cognizant of its tech-savvy travelers, Spanish-speaking travelers, choice riders and people experiencing changes in their lifestyle.
Suggestion 2: Invest in in improving the bus service by prioritizing: (1) on-time arrivals, (2) expanding route coverage, (3) frequency and (4) providing amenities such as bus shelters. These were the dimensions that stood out as important factors in the riders’ perceptions of transportation options and mode choice.
Suggestion 3: Invest in ART marketing to: (1) make it more inclusive, (2) increase awareness and understanding of the service, (3) target specific segments such as seniors, and (4) promote cost savings of shifting to public transit and a hassle-free commute experience. According to the results of this study, such an investment could increase ridership by either making it more competitive to other modes or maximize participation of subgroups in the population such as seniors and the Spanish-speaking population.
Suggestion 4: Celebrate ART’s well-perceived image and high satisfaction, but explore innovative ways to stay competitive. Examples include: (1) new alternative modes of payment, (2) include drivers in the effort to promote the user experience, and (3) appoint ambassadors to promote the ART service and build rewards programs.
This study and the recommendations derived from it provide an important roadmap for transit agencies more generally and Arlington Transit more particularly in their strategic planning for the ART Bus system. Continued research on the wants and needs of Arlington travelers in general and in particular the motivations and barriers to using ART, is an important step towards making transit more attractive in Arlington and boosting ridership.
MORE RESOURCES FOR THIS REPORT:
Study findings also found on Arlington Transit’s official website.
Read the blog post.
Check out the infographic.