The Atlantic’s CityLab:
The talk of the public transit world yesterday centered on a report by Laura J. Nelson and Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times spotlighting a troublesome decline in local bus and rail ridership. The news shouldn’t have been a shock: dips in U.S. bus travel, very likely the result of service cuts, have been out there for all to see. But the story revived the impassioned debate about whether transit riders are really just would-be drivers who can’t afford a car.
The question of which view is more accurate isn’t so easy to answer. You could simply ask people what mode they prefer, as transportation researchers often do, but their responses might not be all that trustworthy. Public transit tends to be a strongly (if oddly) ideological issue that can lead people to mask their true thoughts. Explicitly saying you hate the bus, after all, might suggest undesirable feelings toward the social classes often associated with it.
Psychologists have an established tool for dealing with touchy matters that people have trouble discussing in the open: the Implicit Association Test. Conducted via computer, the IAT measures how quickly people associate various pictures with various words. The idea is that reaction times will be faster for pairs a person naturally believes go together (say, a picture of peanut butter with the word “jelly”) and slower for things they don’t (say, peanut butter and “Mount Rushmore”).
Read the whole story: The Atlantic’s CityLabMore of our Members in the Media >