Friday, January 22, 2010

We Do Research

You may have noticed a new "Research" link up at the top of the OneBusAway. I'm actually a grad student at the University of Washington working on a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering. Working on a Ph.D. means doing research and while OneBusAway is first and foremost about helping out bus riders like you and me, it also supports a number of interesting research efforts here at UW.

This was not always the case. When I look back to a year ago, I was working on OneBusAway as a personal side project and worrying about getting kicked out of grad school for spending too much time hacking on OneBusAway. That's why it's so remarkable that we now have a number of papers published on various aspects of OneBusAway and I'm making solid progress towards graduation (though I still worry about getting kicked out of grad school for spending too much time hacking on OneBusAway). You can check out all our work on our research page:

My colleagues at UW working directly on OneBusAway include Kari Watkins, a Ph.D. student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Alan Borning, one of my advisors in Computer Science and Engineering.

What kind of research do we do? Kari's work falls into the area of transportation research, while mine is generally in the area of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). I'm most excited about our latest paper, which has been accepted at CHI 2010, a competitive HCI conference. The paper reports on some survey work we did of OneBusAway users. You might be one of the 480+ respondents who took a survey last August asking about how you used OneBusAway and how your perceptions and usage of transit had changed as result of using OneBusAway.

If you are a dedicated user of OneBusAway, the results probably come as no surprise: users of OneBusAway showed a number of positive changes. For example, 92% of users reported an increase in overall satisfaction as result of using public transit.

Chart - Change In Satisfaction with Public Transit

What's more, users of OneBusAway reported using public transit more frequently and spending less time waiting for public transit. Users of OneBusAway also reported an increase in feelings of safety and even reported walking more.

The safety result is interesting, as real-time tools like OneBusAway support riders who might need to make a decision about waiting for a bus late at night in a sketchy area. The result about walking was unexpected, and we did some further surveys to figure out why users were walking more. Users reported that OneBusAway allowed them more flexibility in deciding when to walk to a different stop without worrying about missing a bus that might be just around the corner. Some users walked to find a faster route home and others for exercise, among various reasons given.

Our results join a growing body of work that support the value of real-time transit information to riders. However, our results come with the regular caveats of self-report bias in the survey results and lack of control group. That's while our next project is focused on using instrumented smart-phones to create a very accurate picture of how selected study participants are using public transit. What is the exact tipping point between when someone gets in a car vs when they take a bus vs when they walk to their destination? We hope to help answer that question.

I consider myself lucky as a grad student that I've found a research project that is not only leading to a publication or two, but is also immediately useful to my community. Now all I need to do is graduate at some point!

1 comment:

astrospiff said...

I am a UW faculty (@ the Astro Dept) and I love OnebusAway. It certainly made my life better. If you ever need
an external committee member...let me know...