MNTRC Newsletter Vol. 21, Issue 1: Summer 2014

Study reveals perceptions of transit


Leo E. Hanifin, PhD, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Man holding sign in support of transit

Transit is a primary means of mobility for many.

University of Detroit Mercy News – Before a transit agency can create solutions to perceived problems, it must understand what people think. The University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) presented the results from “A Study of Public Opinion Regarding Transit” at a conference in New Orleans on May 29. This study represents an intersection of two areas. These are public perception/sociodemographic studies in relation to transit, and transportation planning and design.

Among the key factors for effective public participation processes, The Transportation Planning Process Key Issues report by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA-HEP-07-039, 2007) lists educating the public on transportation issues, identifying techniques for engaging the public, and defining methods to measure the participation program’s effectiveness.

Other studies highlight the limitations in current public participation efforts (e.g., Bailey and Grossardt, 2006) and indicate new trends for public participation in transportation planning (e.g., Innes and Booher, 2000), including interactive and collaborative methods.

Understanding the rider is key

In Trends Affecting Public Transit Effectiveness (Hemily, 2004), a study prepared for the American Public Transportation Association, the author specifically refers to the increasing underrepresented populations and why it’s important to consider their needs for mobility and to provide access to jobs for low-income groups. The complex and shifting contemporary transit landscape calls for a comprehensive study investigating the perceptions and beliefs regarding transit and planning initiatives for defining best practices for transit educational public opinion efforts and, broadly, for improved planning processes.

UDM’s study investigated public knowledge, opinions, and attitudes toward transit in southeastern Michigan, especially understanding the differences in perceptions and beliefs of diverse population groups in the region. The study included the design, administration, and analysis of a comprehensive public opinion survey (800 respondents), including automated call and online surveys. Public opinion was measured in relation to travel behavior and transportation priorities, to willingness to support transit and improve its sustainability, and to perceived benefits and negatives of transit initiatives.

Policy makers benefit, but so do riders

Findings highlight the political nature of transit issues, as well as the impact of ethnicity, educational levels, and urban contexts on perceptions and priorities. Results led to increased understanding of key issues connected to public opinion of transit and to development of a set of recommendations for effective education about transit. Findings benefit policy makers, planners, community designers, transit agencies, and transit advocacy groups. Ultimately, they will benefit riders, as well.

The report was authored by Claudia Bernasconi, Xiaohui Zhong, and Leo Hanifin, who will present the results.