Posts Tagged: Emotional Transit Planning



A Minute Is Not A Minute

In yesterday’s post I put forth the idea that maybe there is a psychological impact caused by how we design public transit. That there is a kind of Emotional Transit Planning that doesn’t occur but should. That maybe having sunlight and a view would be psychologically more beneficial to the average commuter than being stuck in a tunnel, underground.

The comments which followed that post were in general agreement with each other: A room with a view would be nice, but speed is most important. Most said they would want or choose the fastest option.

But how do you know what you want?

The logical, rational man might call that a stupid question. After all, it’s rather simple matter. If you want the shortest, fastest travel time possible you will opt for that which provides you with the shortest, fastest travel time there is.

Or will you?

The Transportation Research Board’s Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual states that studies show wait times to be on average 2.1 times more onerous than in-vehicle time. That number increases to 2.5 times when the waiting occurs at a transfer point.

To the rational, logical mind that makes no sense. A minute is a minute whether you are riding a subway, waiting for a subway or waiting to transfer from a subway to a bus. A minute is a minute and not 2.1 minutes or 2.5 minutes. And yet, despite what the rational models wish you to believe a minute is not a minute.

As Einstein once said, “put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute.”

In other words: Our perception of time changes depending on the situation. It’s relative.

Like time, what one wants is relative. When what we want is time, even more so. It all depends upon the situation and your perception of reality. You can say you want something, but your mind has other ideas. Or like the restaurant that always ensures chicken is the medium-priced menu item in order to boost profits, what you want can easily be manipulated by anyone with the wherewithal and inclination to do so.

Unless you time and record your daily commute meticulously (which is no way to live a life), you’re unlikely to notice the difference between a 25 minute commute and a 35 minute commute. In the mind of the average commuter, they’re likely the same: Half an hour to get to work each day.

When you are, however, likely to perceive a difference is when the difference in comfort and pleasantness diverges greatly. If the 35 minute long commute was more pleasant than the 25 minute long commute, the former is more likely to be perceived as shorter than the latter.

And yet that 10 minute difference would represent a huge premium to a transit planners model. To those models a 25 minute commute is clearly superior to the 35 minute commute, but would have no connection to the reality that the user actually experiences.

Like yesterday’s post, this is not to advocate for one transit method or technology over another. It’s to put forth the idea that when we put ourselves in the shoes of the user, we quickly see that our models may not be as relevant as we’d like to believe.

This is to suggest that maybe we should consider the hearts and minds of transit users rather than just the models and stopwatches of transit planners.

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In The Dark, Underground (Emotional Transit Planning)

I’m fond of subways, but I don’t like riding them. They’re fast and efficient and they make a statement. They’re also ridiculously expensive. But that’s not the point. The point is this:

What is the psychological impact of traveling to and from work every day underground, in the dark?

In my own life, if I have the chance to stay above ground instead of using the subway, I do so. I’d rather look at the world passing me by even if it means a few minutes longer commute. It’s more pleasant and that’s important. It makes me feel good to see the sun, people and buildings rather than simply the armpit of some guy in front of me.

In Toronto, when the subway bursts out from underground for a precious few minutes on the Bloor Street Viaduct you can feel a certain relief within the subway which only collapses back on itself the moment it plunges back underground.

So again, what is the psychological impact of commuting underground? I know of no study that asks that question and I doubt our current transit planning regimes would even consider it remotely important. But shouldn’t they? Shouldn’t it be important?

Economists are quickly learning a similar thing. A new branch of the discipline called Behavioral Economics is teaching policy-makers that humans make most economic decisions based on emotion and psychology not the cold, hard reality of logic and rationalism that standard economics takes for granted.

Shouldn’t the way transit makes you feel factor into your equations and models? Wouldn’t more people ride your transit lines if they actually enjoyed it? How about it?

Emotional Transit Planning anyone?

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