How would you feel if you had to give up your car for 30 days and take public transit to work instead?
Probably not very good. But a new study published in one of our fave academic journals, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, indicates that you might not be as upset as you think…
A group of 106 people in a midsized Swedish city who normally drove to work were convinced by researchers to switch to mass transit for 30 days. The transit passes were paid for by the research team.
Before their 30 day transit odyssey began, researchers asked the drivers to anticipate how satisfied they’d be with their subway experience. Each week the research team checked back with them to see how their expected satisfaction matched with their real satisfaction.
How did they feel? Well, a lot better than they had expected! The drivers-turned-riders were significantly more satisfied than they’d predicted on measures of safety, cleanliness, seating, travel time and overall experience.
So what happened?
It seems the most interesting finding produced by the study was that the riders’ rating of each criteria rose over the course of the month. The drivers-turned-riders enjoyed their commute more as they became more accustomed to taking transit.
Eric Jaffe, writing about the study for one of our favourite new websites “The Atlantic Cities”, notes that people accustomed to driving to work often focus on the negatives of taking transit, such as waiting on a platform or at a bus stop, but often ignore positive aspects like reading on the train (or getting thirty quality minutes of Angry Birds in!).
He identifies this tendency as a cognitive bias known as the “focusing illusion.” The authors of the study believe that policymakers could entice people onto public transit by gaining a better understanding of the focusing illusion so they can diminish the effect of this bias.
While the study doesn’t suggest any changes, Jaffe has a few that he throws out such as an introductory fare for new riders or breaks for businesses that subsidize employee transit.
Interesting food for thought!