Just now, in a LinkedIn Public Transit Professionals thread, someone asked how to describe a “demographic” that has a choice about how to travel, as opposed to “someone whose only mode of transportation other than foot is public transport.” An engineer came back promptly with the common industry terms, choice rider and captive rider. The second of those terms has always sent me through the roof.
Dense cities, as we know, have people who have chosen not to own a car, including me. These people may not have the option of driving for a particular trip, but their mode of travel is nevertheless based on their choice, not their “captivity.”
Even people who are too poor to own cars often have a range of travel choices other than transit, or may simply choose not to travel to certain places if the transit service is unacceptable. In my own consulting work around Los Angeles, for example, I’ve sometimes seen indications that certain immigrant communities seem less dependent on public transport, and have heard speculation that this is because they tend to have large extended families who can help one another with transportation.
To call any of these people “captive riders” is not just insulting, it can breed a false complacency on the part of the transit agency. There are very few riders that you absolutely cannot lose no matter how terrible your service is. I’ve always felt that the best discipline for a transit agency is to treat all of their customers as though they’ve made a free choice.
I’d really welcome the views of other professionals on this point.