January 15, 2019

Swiftly’s 2019 Transit Executive Survey

by Swiftly

We sent a survey to 150 transit executives at agencies of all sizes. Here’s what we found. Image: Dan Loeff.

At Swiftly, we’re always trying to get a better understanding of the issues transit professionals face. That’s why last month we sent out a survey to 150 transit executives, at agencies of all sizes, to understand the problems they consider most important. Here’s a summary of what we found.

1. Transit execs are deeply worried about ridership and funding

Our first finding shouldn’t come as a surprise: transit execs continue to cite declining ridership as their number one concern. 31 of America’s 35 largest cities have seen decreases in transit ridership in the last year, and our findings are consistent with this data, with nearly all respondents listing ridership woes as the thing they worry about most.

A large number of execs mentioned that the spectre of budget cuts keeps them up at night as well. More specifically, one-third of respondents said funding volatility makes it difficult to plan, while 8% said they’re concerned about the vicious cycle of budget cuts — that is, budget cuts leading to service cuts, leading to ridership declines, in turn leading to further funding issues.

2. A majority of transit execs are still nervous about Uber and Lyft

Our second finding is consistent with transit conventional wisdom as well: 27% of transit execs listed Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft as a major concern for public transit in their cities. Many execs went one step further, with 24% of respondents considering TNCs an existential threat to transit.

But many respondents see a silver lining here. In follow-up conversations, we heard some execs mention TNCs’ positive role in low-density areas, as well as a forcing function to break old habits, including pressure to provide better real-time data, improve on-time performance, and increase vehicle speeds.

3. Despite research, transit execs have mixed feelings about New Mobility options

Transit researchers generally agree that New Mobility options — scooters and bikeshares in particular — could be a saving grace for public transit in a time of declining ridership. But transit execs haven’t quite made up their minds.

According to our survey, execs are about equally split between sold and skeptical; 26% see “mobility as a service” as an opportunity to offer riders more options — as well as helping to solve the first mile/last mile problem — while 23% worry that riders could substitute shorter transit trips for on-demand modes.

Our conjecture is that as agencies become more accustomed to these new modes in their cities, and see the effects on transit ridership, they’ll warm up to these changes in the future.

4. 75% of execs gave themselves a C

Despite being mathematically impossible, an overwhelming 75% of executive respondents rated the service they provide as “average.” Most of these respondents cited difficulty balancing coverage and frequency, stemming from limited budgets, as a major factor in their middling self-assessments.

16% of respondents gave themselves a B (“above average”), mentioning a lack of funding as a hurdle to new projects and, as a result, preventing truly excellent service. A slim 8% of respondents gave themselves “below average” marks, giving similar reasons as the “average” camp.

Surprisingly, no respondents gave themselves an A or F.

5. Execs are generally pretty satisfied with the transit software landscape

Transit software used to get a bad rap for being cumbersome, time-consuming, and hard to understand. But in recent years, the transit software available to agencies has become more user-friendly than ever, and transit executives have noticed.

82% of respondents stated they’re either satisfied or neutral toward the software options available to them, with most respondents mentioning the shift toward simpler interfaces and the software-as-a-service model as main reasons for their satisfaction. Only 8% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the transit software in the market.

However, it’s worth noting that one-third of respondents cited a lack of funding as a major barrier to procuring the right software stack.

Just a glimpse

Of course this is just a glimpse at the state of the union, but it’s always helpful to hear from the horse’s mouth how things are going. To ensure we build the best, most useful product possible, we talk a lot with transit professionals, so as we learn new takeaways, we’ll be sure to pass them along!

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