Trees Can Make Waiting for the Bus Feel Shorter

In the Twin Cities they made a 10-minute wait feel like a breezy 7 minutes.

Image Matthew Tichenor / Flickr
Matthew Tichenor / Flickr

Understatement alert: No one likes waiting for a city bus. Fortunately, there are a few things public transit agencies can do to make the wait feel less brutal (outside of, you know, actually running more buses). Real-time arrival clocks or apps can ease the pain, as can a basic bus shelter—and new research suggests planting a few trees around a stop might also do the trick.

The work comes courtesy of University of Minnesota scholars who collected data from 822 riders at 36 bus and rail stops and stations across the Twin Cities. Each stop was audited for various amenities and features of the surrounding environment. The researchers then collected the actual wait times of riders via video and compared these with on-board surveys of perceived or estimated wait times—basically, how long the wait felt.

Riders tended to overestimate wait times, especially short wait times—perhaps a sign of their dismay. Across the whole sample, a 2.5-minute wait felt like nearly 5.6 minutes, with an average overestimation of 19 percent. A 10-minute wait, meanwhile, felt just about right, at a little over 9 minutes.

Three things shifted that perception significantly: air pollution, car traffic, and trees. The researchers chart those findings here:

(Lagune-Reutler et al, 2015)

Air pollution and car traffic had a negative impact on waits, especially longer ones. Together they made a 10-minute wait feel more like 12 minutes. Lots of tree cover near a stop or station, meanwhile, made the same 10-minute wait feel like a breezy 7 minutes. The benefits of greenery were enough to offset the downsides of traffic and pollution, according to the researchers:

Planting trees around stops offers local authorities an opportunity to significantly improve users' wait time perception, but falls outside the purview of transit providers themselves. The ability of the presence of trees to compensate for the negative effects of pollution and traffic suggests that planting trees or moving a problematic stop to take advantage of existing tree cover can significantly improve the user experience at reasonable costs.

Yet another reason to plant more city trees, as if we needed it.

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