Research Request – Transit Study

After writing yesterday’s post on the economics of opendata and transit I’ve really been reflecting on a research question that emerged in the piece: Does having transit data embedded in Google Maps increase ridership?

My hypothesis is that it would… but I did some googling on the topic and couldn’t find anything written on the subject, not to mention something that had been rigorously researched and would stand up to peer review. This leads me to believe it could be a great research project. I willing to bet that some transit authorities, and Google would be of enormously interested in the results.

Obviously there are a number of variables that might impact public transit ridership: budgets, fleet size growth or cutbacks, the economy, population growth, etc… That said, I’m sure there is someone out there who could think of a methodology that would account for these factors and still allow us to tell if becoming available in Google Maps impact’s a city’s ridership levels.

The helpful thing is that there are lots of data points to play with. A brief scan of the public transit feed lists suggests that there are roughly 150 cities that provide Google with GTFS data of the transit schedule. That’s a lot of cities to play with and would allow a study to offset regional variations. I’m also confident that each of the transit authorities mentioned in the list publicly publish their ridership levels (or they could be FOIAed/ATIPed)

If anyone has done this study, please let me know, I’d love to know more. If no, and someone is interested in doing this study, please go for it! I’m definitely happy to offer whatever support I can.

3 thoughts on “Research Request – Transit Study

  1. Gerry

    Hi Dave …

    I know that many public agencies have provided data to Google that can then be accessed by citizens for some benefit but I am always aware that Google is a private US company listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange and when data (content) is provided to Google then it makes that company more profitable (possibly at the expense of its competitors). Do you have any opinions regarding this.

    1. David Eaves

      Gerry – I have no problem with Google making money off a service that many, many citizens find useful. Nor do I have a problem if that is at the expense of its competitors, if it’s because its service is superior. What I find more problematic is cities sharing their data with google, but not sharing it with their own citizens on the same terms…

  2. BusUser45

    Hi Dave,

    One way to back into an answer to your question, is “Are the Transit companies that are providing data to Google, printing less paper schedules, while there ridership is increasing?” Google’s service allows us to see  many more options to getting somewhere, than the transit guides every could.

    The problem with Google’s service at the moment is that the times are all estimate. Once the buses can provide real time GPS feeds so I can tell if the bus I want to catch are already left my way point, it is a guide.


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