Moving Minds: The Next Generation of Real-Time Transit Information in San Francisco

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, planning - methods, planning - signage/information, planning - surveys, planning - service quality, technology - intelligent transport systems, ridership - behaviour, ridership - demand, ridership - mode choice


real-time information, service quality, travel behavior, mode choice


In 2001, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) revolutionized the transit riding experience by implementing its first-generation customer information system to predict when its Muni transit vehicles would arrive in real time. Since then, mobile technologies have ushered in on-demand ride-hailing services and raised expectations for transit service quality. Seeking to stabilize and increase ridership, transit operators like SFMTA are working to adapt and innovate in this rapidly changing environment. SFMTA is now embarking on the next generation of real-time customer information. To guide this multi-million dollar investment, SFMTA conducted extensive quantitative and qualitative research to design new system features and uncover how they could shape travel behavior. An in-depth survey of 5,856 Muni customers revealed that income is a primary mode-choice driver, coupled with the relative availability of ride-hailing services. As income rises, the propensity to wait for Muni decreases, particularly when nearby ride-hailing options are plentiful. Applicable to other cities, this research also affirmed that better real-time information such as alternative routes and transfer connections could increase ridership overall, potentially reducing demographic influences on mode choice and fostering a more equitable and sustainable transportation system. Informed by this research, SFMTA’s new system will focus on improving prediction accuracy, keeping customers informed throughout their journey, and developing a transit-focused mobile app.


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