Traveller Information Systems. By Kevin S. Hutchby
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Appendix III : King County Metro Transit Survey Results

King County Metro Transit
Online User Survey

The key goals were:
  • To characterise the Metro Online users and to compare their characteristics with those of transit riders using Metro Transit in general.
  • To analyse the use of Metro Online, to understand what works well and what works less well for users, and to explore possible improvements to the Web site.
  • To assess the satisfaction and behavioural responses of transit riders based on their use of the information provided on the Metro Online site, as well as the value of the information to the users.
The key points in the analysis of the survey, as quoted directly from the report, follow:

Internet Site Use

  • Metro Online attracts a significant amount of repeat use, to the extent that repeat users are an indicator of a useful, relevant, and effective (well-designed) Web site, Metro Online fares well: about 40% of the respondents stated that they had been using the site for over a year, and 15% of them had been using it for more than two years. First-time users constituted about 14% of the sample.
  • Very few respondents accessed the site more than once a week on average. About 80% of the respondents (76% of the non-first-time users) stated that they had accessed the Web site five or fewer times in the last four weeks. There was a small group of intense users: 9% of the respondents said they had accessed the site 10 or more times over the previous four weeks.

Travel Behaviour

We found that bus use characteristics (longevity of use and intensity of use) in the sample were similar to those of transit rider characteristics in Seattle in general:
  • About three-quarters of the respondents indicated they had been using the bus transit system for over a year. This is very similar to the corresponding figure (70%) for transit ridership in the Seattle metropolitan area as a whole.
  • About 37% of the sample indicated that they used the bus for most of their transportation needs, 44% used the bus for some of their transportation, and the remaining (18%) used the bus for a small proportion of their transport needs. This is statistically no different from the general population of Seattle bus riders.
  • Similar to the general population Seattle bus riders, about 23% of the respondents indicated that they do not have access to a private vehicle for their use.

Demographics

  • Our analysis reveals that the sample of respondents is younger than the general population of Seattle region riders. In particular, very few of the Metro Online users (3%) were older than 55 years of age. The corresponding figure for the general population of transit riders is 20%.
  • The distribution of 1998 household incomes for the survey respondents was statistically no different from the household incomes for the general population of Seattle region transit riders reported in the 1998 rider/non-rider survey. In addition, similar to the general population of Seattle region transit riders, 46% of the survey respondents are male.
  • The sample was very highly educated: 88% of the respondents indicated they had attended at least some college. Comparable figures were not available for the general population of Seattle transit riders, but the average education for all transit riders is assumed to not be as high as in this sample.

Attitude, Opinions & Technology Use

Respondents were asked about their use and ownership of high-technology products such as cellular phones and personal computers. All the respondents were also asked a battery of questions designed to elicit information about their attitudes, questions relating mostly to travel, information seeking, and technology use behaviour.

No comparable statistics were available for the general population of Seattle region transit riders. Still, these data provide the basis for a rich characterisation of the Metro Online user. They indicate that:

  • Not surprisingly, the respondents are 'wired.' As expected, personal computer and Internet use is very high among Metro Online users. Given that this sample is composed of self-selected users of a Web-based service, most of the respondents indicated that they had regular access to desktop computers and the Internet. Indeed, most of the respondents stated that they had access to the Internet and personal computers both at home and at work/school. For comparison, estimates for the representative sample of the general population obtained from the PSRC travel diary panel survey conducted in 1997 suggest that 65% of all commuters have access to a computer and 43% have access to the Internet (though these two-year-old estimates are probably somewhat dated in view of the rapid proliferation of computer and Internet technologies).
  • The respondents are technologically savvy and comfortable trying out new technologies. Since these are respondents who have responded to an Internet survey, it is not surprising that they say they are comfortable using high-tech equipment, and disagree with statements such as 'savvy When I need information, I like to be able to ask someone rather than rely on a computer', and 'I don't like to take risks with new products and services.'
  • Metro Online users are a good constituency for real-time bus information. The respondents strongly endorsed statements such as 'I feel better just knowing about traffic or bus delays, even if I can't do anything about them.'

Awareness And Use Of The Web Site

  • Most users' first experience with Metro Online was through a Web search. Thirty-three percent of the respondents indicated they had found Metro Online by searching the Internet for this particular site. Other respondents indicated word of mouth (15%) and 'surfing the Web' (13%) as their introduction to the site. Very few respondents (1.4%) said they first learned of the site through broadcast or print media. However, most of the 25% of the respondents who stated that they learned of Metro Online through 'other' means stated that they found out about the web-site from bus schedules or posters on buses. This is a clear endorsement of the value of K.C. Metro's promotion of their Web site on their printed schedules.
  • The survey indicates that the most popular reason to visit the Web site is to obtain schedule and route information. Ninety-two percent of the respondents said they had (at some time) visited Metro Online to obtain schedule information, and 82% stated they had visited the site to obtain route information. The use of schedules and route information was even higher among long-time and heavy users of the site. Virtually all of the long-term users (those who had used the site for at least a year) and heavy users (those who use the site more than 10 times a month) reported accessing the site to obtain schedule or route information.
  • Both regional maps and direct-to-route features were popular among respondents seeking route information. Respondents were asked what they did to access route information in their last use of Metro Online. The trends among both the long-term and the heavy users of the Web site were consistent with the trend in the overall sample.
  • Regional maps are the most popular way to access route information. Fifty percent of the respondents who said they had used Metro Online to find out which routes to take, also stated that they clicked on the regional and area maps to find the route they needed.
  • Many respondents (35% of the respondents who had used the Web site to determine route information) did so by looking directly at schedules or maps of particular routes.
  • The popular destinations button was much less popular, and only about 10% of the respondents indicated they used it to access route information.
  • Many respondents also reported using information about transfers, fares, and park-and-ride facilities. About 53% of the respondents said they had visited the site to obtain information about transfers. Thirty-six percent indicated they had obtained fare information from the site and about 30% stated they had used the site to obtain information relating to park-and-ride services. In addition:
  • About 28% of the respondents stated they had visited the Web site to obtain basic information about using the bus system.
  • 27% of the respondents visited Metro Online to find out about bus service to and from the SeaTac airport.
  • 25% had visited the site to find out ways to contact Metro to send a message to Metro.
  • About 23% of the respondents had visited the site to find out about temporary service changes.
  • 25% indicated that they had accessed BusView, a site that shows users where buses currently are on various Metro bus routes. Long-term users and heavy users of the site were more likely to have accessed BusView than other respondents. Men were also much more likely to have accessed BusView than women (men constitute about 47% of the total respondent base but account for 66% of the BusView users).
  • There is a small niche audience for specialised information such as information about handicap accessibility, and the Boeing custom bus.
  • Very few respondents stated they had used the site to get information on the waterfront streetcar or employer commute services.
  • Only about 10% of the respondents had subscribed to Transit Alert!, an e-mail service that automatically notifies users about Metro bus route changes in adverse weather. About 25% of these subscribers had not yet received any alerts about changes in service.


Impressions Of Metro Online

The survey asked users of Metro Online services how easy or difficult they found it to navigate the site. These questions were asked only of respondents who indicated they had indeed used the particular service in question. In addition, all the respondents were asked to respond to a battery of questions about their opinions of Metro Online, some of which were designed to analyse the user-friendliness of the Web site. Finally, at the end of the survey, respondents were given an opportunity to comment on their opinions about the web-site in general.

Responses To Web Site Opinion Questions

Respondents answered the opinion questions by picking a number on an 11-point scale that ranged between 0 (complete disagreement) and 10 (complete agreement). Our results present re-scaled aggregate results that represent agreement (positive) or disagreement (negative) on a scale of 5. Thus, a score of -5 indicates complete disagreement, a score of 0 indicates indifference, and a score of +5 indicates complete agreement. In general, the survey responses show that a majority of respondents find the Web site an easier source for transit information than other available alternatives, though there were also many respondents who did not agree. We found that:
  • The respondents weakly agreed (a score of +1.4) with the statement 'Getting metro bus information from the Web is much more convenient than any other way.'
  • The respondents were largely indifferent (a score of +0.1) to the statement 'Working out bus transfers on the Web is not as easy as working from printed bus timetables.'
  • The respondents weakly disagreed (a score of -0.7) with the statement 'It's hard to find the maps for individual bus routes on the Web site.'
  • The respondents strongly disagreed (a score of -3.2) with the statement 'The Metro Web site was designed for people who are more comfortable using computers than I am.'
  • The heaviest users and the long-term users endorsed the opinion of the entire sample of respondents that Metro Online is convenient and technologically accessible, but not as user friendly as its users would like, and they did so slightly more emphatically.
Most Metro Online services are moderately easy to use and are perceived to be useful

In general, the results were consistent with the responses to the opinion questions: between half and two-thirds of users found it reasonably easy to use most of the services the Web site offers. In addition, we found little systematic correlation between a respondent's length and intensity of use of the Web site and how easy he or she found it to use.

In particular:

  • Schedule information. Close to three-quarters of the users (71%) stated that they found it very or somewhat easy to access schedule information. There was no discernible difference across users with respect to longevity or intensity of use of the Web site.
  • Route information. About 61% of the users stated that they found it very or somewhat easy to find the routes they needed on Metro Online. This was consistent across both light and heavy users of the site. For the most part, there also was little difference between the responses of long-term users and relatively new users, with one exception: as many as 30% of the first time users of the Web site stated that they had been unable to find the route information they were looking for. The corresponding percentage of users who stated they had been unable to find the route information they were looking for among the rest of the sample was 6%.
  • Information relating to transfers. Respondents who said they had used the Web site to plan trips that required transfers were asked separate questions that examined the user-friendliness of six different elements of the site's capabilities in this regard: determining the bus routes involved, the time and location of the first bus, the location and length of time of the transfer, and the location of the final destination.
  • About three-quarters of the respondents found it very or somewhat easy to obtain information on transfer routes (72%), the timing of the first bus (79%), and the location of the transfer stop (78%).
  • The results indicate that respondents had slightly more trouble determining the length of wait at the transfer stop (60% found it very easy or somewhat easy), and the location at which they needed to get off the bus (66%).
  • Apart from first-time users of Metro Online, these results were consistent across user groups with different levels of experience with the site (in terms of length of use and intensity of use). About 30% of first time users of the Web site reported that they were unable to find at least one of the pieces of information involved.
  • Information relating to fares and passes. About two-thirds of the respondents felt that getting fare information off the Web site was somewhat or very easy. A similar proportion of users (69%) found it very easy or somewhat easy to get pass ticket information off of the site.

General Opinion Of Website

This section outlines some of the most frequent and potentially interesting responses to the open-ended 'comment' section of the KC Metro web site survey. Comments on the survey (e.g., 'This took way more than 15 minutes to fill out'), and general, non-specific comments, generally compliments and a few complaints (ranging from 'Nice job' to 'This site was a terrible disappointment') together accounted for about another third of all comments. Analysis of the rest of the responses indicate:

Specific suggestions about overall transit service dominate. These are generally unrelated to transit information per se. The most frequent responses, representing a bit more that one-fourth of all comments offered, were suggestions about transit service. A few examples:

  • 'Bus service to Microsoft's RedWest campus could be greatly improved. Most people have to walk half a mile from the bus stop. Swinging the 242 through campus would really help.'
  • '[Provide] more or larger bicycle racks on buses that cross Lake Washington. During the summer a cyclist may have to let several buses go by before one comes that has an open space on its bike rack.'
  • 'The 128 bus is generally 5-8 minutes late in the afternoons - it costs me an hour because I can't get my next route.'
There is an interest in information and information sources. A few respondents commented on the importance of having a variety of different media (telephone, paper, Internet) through which they can obtain information. Some respondents indicated interest in getting web-site information at transit stops. While there is broad support for the web site, there is also a concern that it not replace the telephone line completely.
  • 'I'd love to see access to the Metro web site from public terminals, perhaps at places like the ferry terminal or in the bus tunnel or at malls.'
  • 'I appreciate the on-line help I can get through this web site. As a hearing-impaired individual, I can get more information and make better use of this visual medium. I find 'phone trees' and oral instruction exceedingly hard to follow, so this service makes it painless for me to plan trips and get the information I need.'
  • 'Keep the telephone people, though, as the web isn't always available all the time. There are times when that voice is a very reassuring thing.'
Respondents offered many suggestions for improvement. Among the remaining comments, a number of survey-takers asked for an itinerary planning service and more detailed maps. In addition to specific requests for these services, a more general theme emerged from the comments: Make the site more user-friendly for newcomers and infrequent riders, and make it easier to plan complex or unfamiliar trips. Respondents noted the following:
  • 'Like the printed schedules, the web site is a lot easier to use for people who already know Seattle, and Metro, pretty well. Friends of mine just moved here, and they find it easier to ask me what bus to take to a specific neighbourhood and then look up the route information. The site needs to be better for newcomers to the Seattle area.'
  • 'This site is cool if you already know what your bus route/number is. I was looking to compare different routes to Northgate from downtown/Cap Hill and see which route is most direct, and had a hard time finding that specific info.'
These comments about the difficulty of planning unfamiliar trips are consistent with the large number of respondents who requested itinerary planning and/or more comprehensive route and area maps in their answer to a question that invited suggestions for improvements in the information content of the web site. These comments were also closely related to another broad theme that emerged from the comments: Metro's web site should take advantage of the dynamic properties of the Internet to provide integrated solutions, rather than simply providing an on-line version of the same static information available from printed schedules. Two sample comments express this point - the second with a slightly more technical outlook:
  • 'Getting schedules, etc., is good, but it's usually useful only if you're taking a new bus. An itinerary feature would make the web site do things that you can't get with a stack of paper.'
  • 'You really need to turn your flat-file timetables into dynamic databases; that in and of itself will give you the flexibility you need to make a dynamic and far more useful site.'
A few miscellaneous comments about Metro and its web site also offer some interesting potential improvements:
  • 'I would like descriptions of the amenities (shelters, benches, coffee shops, inside waiting areas, fast-food restaurants, etc.) that are available at major and midsize transfer points. It would help in deciding between multiple routing options for a given trip.'
  • 'It would be great to be able to order informational materials on the website, such as the 'Your Guide to the Ride' transit map.'

Benefits Of Metro Online

The survey contained two kinds of questions we could analyse to determine the level of satisfaction Metro Online afforded its users: first, a series of questions that examined the influence of Metro questions on travel behaviour (mode choice, trip-time choice, and route choice); and second, the battery of Web site opinion questions discussed earlier.

Travel Behaviour

Input from Metro Online:
  • Mode choice. About half (49%) of all respondents found the Web site somewhat or very useful in making mode choice decisions. Most of the others were neutral (17%) or stated they had not used the Web site for input into a mode choice decision (21.4%). As expected, many more of the respondents who did not have access to private vehicles stated that the Web site was never an input into mode choice decisions (34%) relative to the respondents who indicated they always had access to a private vehicle (17%).
  • Time of travel. More than half (57%) of all respondents found the information from Metro Online useful (somewhat or very useful) in making decisions about time of travel. Most of the rest indicated either that they were either neutral (16.3%) or had not considered using the Web site as input to this decision (21.5%). These results were consistent across different user groups.
  • Choosing the fastest route to destination. Forty-six percent of all respondents found Metro Online to be at least somewhat useful in determining the fastest route to their destination. Close to one-fourth of the respondents were neutral (10%) or said the Web site information was not an input into that decision (12%). The remaining 24% of the respondents thought the information on the site was not very useful in determining the fastest route.

User Satisfaction

A slightly but definitely better transit experience As described earlier, the findings from the opinion questions are presented on a 11-point scale such that a score of -5 indicates complete disagreement, a score of 0 indicates indifference, and a score of +5 indicates complete agreement.

Our analysis of these questions reveals that:

  • Respondents find the information on Metro Online to be comprehensive, complete and of higher quality than printed information. The respondents disagree (score of -1.1) with the statement 'The transit information I need is not available on the Metro Web site,' and agree (score of +1.4) with the statement 'The timetables on the Web site are likely to be more up-to-date than the printed versions.' The respondents also agree with the statement 'With the information on the Web site, I can work out how to make an unfamiliar bus trip a lot faster than I could before.'
  • It does not appear that respondents use Metro Online as a resource for contingencies. Respondents generally disagreed with statements such as 'I use the Metro Web site most often when the weather is bad,' (score of -1.8) and 'I only check the Metro Web site if I've reason to suspect that services are not operating normally' (score of -2.5).
  • In general, our results indicate that though Metro Online is useful, it does not by itself increase the respondents' propensity or frequency of riding the bus. Respondents expressed mild disagreement and mostly indifference (a score of -0.5) to the statement 'I ride the bus more due to the Web site.' This is not unexpected considering information is but one of multiple dimensions that constitute the overall transit experience.

Metro Online And Safety Considerations

An important goal of both Metro Online and this evaluation was to gauge the impact of the Web site on transit customers' perception of safety while using the bus, especially on trips involving transfers. Two questions in the attitudinal battery were explicitly designed to understand the safety-related impacts of the Web site. Our results indicate that:
  • Safety is not a significant concern for most respondents, and few respondents think the Metro Online web site helps enhance safety:
  • Personal safety at transfer stations was not a significant concern for the respondents, though women were slightly more concerned than men were. The respondents were largely indifferent to the statement 'An important reason why I need bus information is that I don't want to find myself waiting or transferring between buses in an unsafe area' (score of +0.1). There was, however, a statistically significant difference in the responses of men and women: women were marginally likely to endorse this statement (score of 0.8), while men were likely to disagree (score of -0.6). When asked to compare the Web site with another source of information - the Metro phone line - the sample response fell between indifference to mild disagreement (a score of -0.3) to the statement: 'I trust the bus information I get from the Web site more than what I get by phoning Metro.' Separate focus groups of select Web site users indicated that though the information on the phone line was reliable, getting through involved long waits
  • Correspondingly, when asked if the Metro Online information was useful in 'judging which possible boarding or transfer points would be most safe,' 32% of the respondents said they had not considered using information from the Web site for such a decision. A further 21% of the respondents were neutral to this query.
  • Most of the remaining 47% do not think the Web site is very useful in judging the relative safety of alternative boardings or transfer points. Only 11% of the respondents in the full sample found Metro Online useful for this purpose, while 25% indicated that such information was not useful in making such a judgment.

Suggestions For Improvement

Respondents were asked an open ended question: 'Could the information provided on the Metro Web site be improved in any way to make it more useful to you? Please think about both the information that is presented, and its appearance on the screen.' Three main types of suggestions, summarised below, accounted for over half of all the comments offered.
  • The KC Metro Web site should provide a door-to-door route planning service, whereby users could enter their starting and ending addresses and receive a complete public transit itinerary, including transfer locations and times. This service is already available via Metro's telephone information line, but a large number of customers would like to be able to use an online version as well. Almost 25% of all survey respondents mentioned this potential improvement.
Sample comment: 'Ideally, I'd like to be able to just enter my starting point, destination, and arrival or departure time and get directions for which buses to take.'
  • The Web site should provide more detailed maps and specific information about the bus routes and stops. Respondents feel that the neighbourhood maps need to be more detailed, especially downtown, and that using the maps can be difficult if one is not already familiar with the area in question. Customers also want the maps to show the exact locations of bus routes and stops, park-and-rides, major destinations, and the like. Similarly, a number of respondents want the schedules to provide detailed listings of exactly where and when the buses stop, listing all the stops on a particular route, not just the major ones. A handful of respondents also suggested adding an interactive map of the region that would link to bus route maps and schedules.
Sample comments:

'Even though I've lived here for over a year and a half, I still find that I don't know specific areas of the Seattle Metro area very well. Having a more comprehensive list of stops, and having detailed maps of those stops, in paper and electronic form, would help me a great deal.'

'A street map showing the bus route would be helpful. I live close to a bus stop, yet none of the routes say they stop there. Having a map showing how the bus travels on the route would be helpful.'

'List every possible stop for a bus route. I know where I want to get on and off, but I don't always know where it fits into the route. Or, I've gotten off earlier than I needed to, because I didn't know a better corner was available.'

'You might want to include a more detailed neighbourhood map. Sometimes I am not familiar with the area that I am going to and don't know which bus would get me closest to my destination.'

  • Make it easier to read and print the bus schedules. Respondents want the font, sizing, and colour of the schedules to be changed so the whole schedule can be read easily, and so all the information can be seen at once. They also want the column and row headings to stay in place as they scroll through. Though this is perhaps a minor issue, a full 5% of all respondents specifically mentioned the need to change the formatting of the schedules.
Sample comments:

'It's very difficult to scroll through information, because you lose sight of the column markings. It would be helpful if that information at the top of the column could be included at the top of the screen, regardless of where you're looking in the column. This is done in spreadsheets all the time.'

'Careful use of colour in the schedules might make them easier to read than the black-and-white pages currently available. Also, a smaller font - or using an HTML table with a proportional font instead of PRE text - to  fit more data on a smaller display would be nice.'

Conclusions

The users are younger than the general Seattle transit rider. Availability of personal computers and Internet access continues to proliferate, and we expect the character (and size) of the population that will access Metro Online a year from now will be different from - and more representative of the general population - than the present sample. Even so, somewhat surprisingly, we found that the user sample mirrored the general population of Seattle area transit riders in terms of income, gender, availability of private vehicles, and bus use behaviour.

The Web site provides valuable services to its users. Our analysis suggests that Metro Online gets a lot of repeat use and that the user base includes many long-term users. This in itself is evidence that the site is useful and is providing value to its users. These findings are further corroborated by the responses to the survey, which indicate that Metro Online is used to obtain a variety of information, route and schedule information being chief among them.

Metro Online can be made easier to use, especially for new users. The responses suggest that some of the services provided by Metro Online - route information, BusView, and transfer planning, in particular - can be modified to make the services more user-friendly and easier for the user to navigate through. Our analysis suggests that first-time users find it more difficult than experienced users to use the website as it is presently designed.

There is potential to increase the value provided by Metro Online. The users were very articulate about the kinds of enhancements to the Web site they believed would provide value. The three most popular enhancements were:

  • Provision of a door-to-door trip planning service.
  • Provision of more detailed maps and specific information about the bus routes and stops.
  • Maps and schedules that are easier to print.
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