Using real-time travel information to encourage transit

By Logan Dredske

Real-time travel information at a glance empowers travelers and can support transit-oriented development by providing information in an easy-to-access format. Smartphone apps are beginning to provide this service, but few can reliably show all options easily on a small screen, and many miss important local information, such as the distance to transit stops or bikeshare kiosks.

TransitScreen, a company that installs visual displays in major cities to inform travelers of different transportation options, is trying to put the information where travelers need it: in the lobby or public area of offices and residential buildings, shopping centers, and public gathering spots. Their displays inform travelers of all available travel options for their location, such as bus, rail, bikeshare, rideshare, and more. The displays offer real-time information such as when the next bus is coming, carshare locations, or bikeshare availability. The company’s focus is to inform travelers of travel times to popular destinations and to bring awareness to alternative options to driving.

A TransitScreen display in Washington, D.C. showing various travel options to popular destinations.

The company started as a project of Mobility Lab, the research arm of the Arlington County Commuter Services, and now operates in 33 cities in five countries.

An important element contributing to the success of TransitScreen is the layout and design of the screen, which is quick and easy to interpret. Since its initial release, TransitScreen has updated its displays to cater to nonlocals who are not familiar with the available transportation options a city has.

By placing displays in strategic locations, this type of service allows travelers to quickly glance at their options, even if they are not familiar with the area. In July, SSTI wrote about Traveler Information Displays at the Tysons Corners Center shopping complex and surveys done by Virginia DOT showing that shoppers overwhelmingly appreciated having the information in the mall. They used them to time their departures, and reported that the displays allowed them to spend more time (and maybe money) in the mall because they had better transportation information. VDOT hopes that displays such as these can also help alleviate congestion by showing drive time as well as transit options, and perhaps helping people better time their travel.

TransitScreen has also developed MobilityScore, a web-based app that considers all transportation options and generates a score for the transportation efficiency of different areas. Similar to scores offered by WalkScore or its siblings TransitScore and BikeScore, MobilityScore allows anyone to compare areas of a city to assess how easy it would be to move about without a private vehicle. However, MobilityScore combines the options in one bundle. Currently in beta, it is only available in the top 30 metropolitan areas of the U.S.

Logan Dredske is a Project Assistant at SSTI.