Promoting Public Transit in Urban Areas with Incentives and Commitment

Bachman, W. , & Katzev, R. (1982). The effects of non-contingent free bus tickets and personal commitment on urban bus ridership. Transportation Research, 16A, 2, 103-108.
In order to decrease dependence on single occupant vehicles and to improve fossil fuel conservation, a pilot program was designed to increase ridership on mass transit. A literature review revealed that commitment and incentives have been effective in promoting sustainable transportation. Then, non-bus riders were recruited and asked to participate in a pilot program. Those who agreed were given an identification card that was to be punched by the bus driver each time they rode the bus. Therefore, the frequency of bus ridership could be measured objectively. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: commitment, incentive, commitment and incentive combined or a control group. In addition, each group received information on routes and schedules. In the commitment group, participants agreed to ride the bus twice a week. Conversely, the incentive group did not commit themselves to bus ridership, but received free bus tickets. The combined group utilized both behavior change tools. Bus ridership was measure during treatment, after three weeks, and again after three months.

All three treatment conditions were successful in increasing bus ridership. Furthermore, these results were maintained during both follow up measurements. In contrast, there was no change in the control group. However, commitment and incentives were most effective when used in combination with each other. During treatment, for example, the commitment only and incentive only group averaged 0.83 bus rides per week. In comparison, participants who received both interventions averaged 1.28 rides per week. Moreover, while free tickets may increase the total number of bus rides, it did not stimulate as many individuals to ride the bus as compared to the commitment conditions. Yet, the free ticket incentive is a financially feasible method of stimulation new rideship. During the follow-up period, the public transit system nearly tripled their initial investment.
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