People Don’t Know How They Feel About Public Transportation

A few weeks ago I mentioned a study showing that people are terrible at predicting how they will feel about using public transportation. Those results have now been confirmed in a new unrelated study.

Affective forecasting in public transport was investigated in 2 studies. Study 1 revealed differences in satisfaction between users (n = 870) and non-users (n = 137). Users were more satisfied than were non-users with regard to reliability and safety, as well as with regard to overall satisfaction. It was also found that non-users mispredicted their satisfaction with public transport. Study 2 revealed that habitual car users (n = 106) reported greater satisfaction after using public transport for 1 month than they had predicted initially, which provided additional support for the hypothesis that habitual car users would mispredict their satisfaction with public transport.

The authors attribute the poor affective forecasting to focalism (e.g. focusing on the salient drawback of waiting rather than the quicker commute or ability to read while traveling) and our inability to account for emotional adaptation.

It’s worth noting that both studies were conducted in Europe, a place where I assume the gap between “perception of public transportation” and “enjoyment of public transportation” is much smaller than it is in car-loving, dilapidated-subway America. If the same kind of erroneous forecasting problem is happening here it means our transportation policy problem may really be more of a PR problem.


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