Redesigning subway map to mitigate bottleneck congestion: An experiment in Washington DC using Mechanical Turk

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - subway/metro, place - north america, place - urban, policy - congestion, operations - crowding, ridership - behaviour, technology - passenger information, planning - methods


Subway map, Route choice, Congestion, Washington DC, Mechanical Turk


This paper explores the possibility of using subway maps as a planning tool to influence passenger route choice to mitigate congestion. Specifically, it tests whether extending the appearance of an overcrowded subway line on the Washington DC subway map would encourage passengers to use other underutilized lines. The experiment was conducted through the Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform, with 3056 participants, producing 21,240 route choice decisions on the official and six alternative maps. Results show that redesigned maps significantly affect participants’ route choices. Depending on the specific design, a 20% length increase of the overcrowded line could move 1.9–5.7 percentage points of ridership to an alternative, underutilized line. The change could remove up to 10 passengers per car during the highest peak, reducing the number of highly congested half-hour periods (max load = 100–120 passengers per car) on the overcrowded line from 4 to 1, and the number of crush periods (max load > 120 passengers per car) from 3 to 1. This is done at minimal or zero cost. The paper calls for more attention from transit agencies to the planning potential of transit maps.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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