Changeable Message Signs in the Bay Area that displayed highway and transit trip times and departure times for the next train influenced 1.6 percent of motorists to switch to transit when the time savings was less than 15 minutes, and 7.9 percent of motorists to switch to transit when the time savings was greater than 20 minutes.

Evaluation of CMS Pilot Test in the San Francisco Bay Area.

September 2009

Summary Information

In 2007, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), in partnership with the California Center for Innovative Transportation (CCDI), conducted a pilot test to determine if the roadside display of real-time trip times for highway and transit modes to the same destination in the Bay Area influenced commuters’ mode choice. The premise underlying the test was that motorists would be more likely to select transit when facing congested conditions and upon receiving the information that they would arrive more quickly using transit. The pilot test consisted of three Changeable Message Signs (CMS) deployed before exits to two major transit stations (Millbrae and Redwood City). The CMS displayed three types of information 1) highway travel time, 2) Caltrain Baby Bullet, the commute-hour express service, travel time, and 3) the next train departure time. The CMS only displayed the travel information during peak hours and only when transit provided a time savings compared to highway travel. An evaluation of the effect of the CMS on commuter behavior and opinion used qualitative findings gathered from traveler surveys and quantitative data based on transit ridership counts and parking counts.


The transit-related CMSs in the Bay Area had a moderate but measurable effect on motorists’ mode choice, with 1.6 percent of motorists choosing transit when travel time savings was 15 minutes or less, and 7.9 percent choosing transit when the time savings was greater than 20 minutes. The results excluded travelers who typically used transit, thus indicating that the CMS influenced commuters who typically choose driving. Not surprisingly, survey results indicated that the percentage of motorists willing to switch modes at some point in the future increased when the time savings from transit increased.

The survey results revealed that travelers in general had favorable opinions of the CMSs and that they supported the idea of Caltrans sharing real-time traveler information with commuters. About 5 percent of survey takers indicated that they had taken the train as a result of reading the CMS travel time information, and 41 percent surveyed indicated that the presence of the CMS have made them more willing to switch to transit in the future. Commuters noted that the barriers to switching modes included the distance from the station to their destination, convenience, and the availability of parking.

Analysis of the ridership count on the Caltrain Baby Bullet and parking counts at the Millbrae and Redwood City stations showed an increase in ridership of 9.3 percent at these stations from 2007 to 2008. These two stations, which were the focus of the CMS pilot test, experienced some of the highest increases in ridership on Caltrain. Because there were no Caltrain service or schedule changes during this time, the evaluators interpreted the data as an indication that the CMS had indeed encouraged commuters to select transit over the highway, at least during peak periods.

In summary, the results suggest that sharing transit and highway travel times and next train departure times , a CMS is an effective means to increase commuter awareness of transit options, support commuters’ trip decision-making and to encourage drivers to take transit.

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Evaluation of Displaying Transit Information on Changeable Message Signs Final Report – September, 2009

Author: Mortazavi, Ali et al

Source Date: September 2009



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