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Assistant professor Kari Watkins' OneBusAway app featured in The Atlantic Cities post

Assistant professor Kari Watkins was recently featured in a post by The Atlantic Cities that asks: Which is more important to bus riders - real-time data, or better service?


Photo: Flickr/Seattle Municipal Archives.

Via The Atlantic Cities:

The wait for the bus is the worst wait. It's worse than the wait to get to the front of the checkout line at Trader Joe's – there at least the endgame is within sight. It's worse than the wait at the doctor's office, where someone has thoughtfully provided magazines and betta fish and soothing music. It's worse than the wait for a table at any restaurant, where at least you have some hope of parlaying a free appetizer in exchange for all your patience.

The bus, on the other hand, is invisible until it's right in front of you. It could be a minute away. It could be 20 minutes away. You're craning your neck around the corner, praying for the first glimpse of that electronic sentinel – The No. 6! YES! – when for all you know, the blasted thing passed two minutes ago. And maybe you're late. Or it's sleeting. There's no one on hand to give reassuring updates or take escalating complaints. And the opportunities for distraction are minimal.

"There are all these insecure feelings you have when you're not sure what the full situation is," says Kari Watkins, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech who has studied how people wait for the bus. "With your automobile, it’s parked right there, you know where it is at all times, if you need to run out and go somewhere, you can do that. But when you make the choice to be a transit rider, you say, 'I'm going to give this power over to the agency.'"

In other words, you give up a lot of control.

The psychology of how we experience time in these situations is fascinating. Research from all kinds of settings – including the doctor's office and the grocery store – suggests that people routinely think they've waited twice as long for some outcome as they actually have. Waits feel particularly long when we're not doing much in the meantime, when we're already feeling anxious, and when the time horizon itself is uncertain. Tell someone, for instance, that "the doctor will see you in 15 minutes," and those 15 minutes pass more easily than if we had no idea how long to expect to wait.

You can read the full story here.

Be sure to also check out Professor Watkins' OneBusAway audio interview with San Francisco's KCBS radio here!
 

Watkins is currently working on several Georgia Tech and NCTSPM-sponsored research projects: