Real vs. perceived travel time: your trip is shorter than you think it is

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(San Francisco – Casey Miner, KALW News) A huge inspiration for new transportation projects – and the Bay Area has a lot of big ones in the works right now – is efficiency. How much more efficient is the Oakland Airport Connector, the BRT or High Speed Rail going to be than what we have now?

As it turns out, the answer to that question isn’t as straightforward as you might think. When calculating travel times, planners don’t just calculate how long it actually takes to get from point A to point B. They calculate how long people think it takes. And people think it takes more than twice as long as it actually does.

A recent study by researchers in the Netherlands put a number on it: when asked about how they get around, people perceived transit to take 2.3 times as long as driving a car. Interestingly, that number fell when the people surveyed habitually took transit in addition to driving – they were more familiar with what was involved and planned accordingly.

The perception principle also holds true for time people spend waiting for transit as opposed to being on it: a continuous ride will be perceived as taking less time than one that involves transfers and waiting, even if the second trip is actually shorter. Federal transit planners estimate that penalty to be somewhere between two and three times the actual time – so, a wait time of 10 minutes is perceived as 20-30 minutes. A 2009 report from the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies found that a number of factors influence this perception: uncertainty about when the next bus or train will arrive, weather conditions and familiarity with the stop all factor in.

In the Bay Area, we’ve seen this play out in a number of projects as planners try and figure out whether, say, a trip to downtown San Francisco on the planned Central Subway is faster than one on the bus. It’s not logical, but it’s reality. And when you’re trying to convince people to change their habits, especially to use a system that hasn’t been built yet, you have to account for it.

Full story at KALW.