Monday, 25 May 2015

Quote of the day - why public transport doesn't reduce car use


We're constantly told by transport planners that active interventions in transport systems are all about model shift - a posh term for getting people to use something other than their own car. But the problem is that there's precious little evidence showing these interventions (other than pricing interventions such as the London congestion charge) make any difference to behaviour. We prioritise the wrong set of folk.

The line of reasoning in the opening quote* suggests the primary purpose of transit is reducing auto travel, rather than serving people who want to or must use transit. In other words, building transit is good because it reduces traffic congestion (and almost no one argues building roads is good because it reduces transit crowding).

That is at best a secondary benefit, a benefit which could be achieved must more simply and less expensively through the use of prices as we do with almost all other scarce goods in society, even necessities like water.

We should therefore be investing in transit systems so as to benefit the people who for reasons of economics or circumstance have no choice other than to use those systems. The trendy urbanist vision of a car-free city filled with sleek trams, funky buses and kids cycling to schools is - as I know you all suspected - something of an utopian pipe dream. The truth is that we need public transport for the old, the young, the less well of and those unable, for whatever reason, to use a car.

(*the opening quote in the article is: “Every person who is riding transit is one less person in the car in front of us.”)



Anonymous said...

And just imagine what will happen when 'driverless cars' start to become practical.
All those people who are not currently 'qualified' to use a private car - too young, too old, too unhealthy, too blind, too thick etc. - will suddenly be able to use those personal transport devices.
And you think it's congested now ? Do the maths - it could double the volume of vehicles within 10 years. But I'm sure our forward-thinking planners have got it all under control .....

Curmudgeon said...

Agreed. I've long thought that promoting public transport at the expense of private cars may advantage one set of users against another, but doesn't actually lead to any significant model shift.

When the People's Republic of South Yorkshire had dirt-cheap bus fares in the early 80s, it was good news for existing bus passengers, but it didn't actually lead to many people leaving their cars at home. The key benefits of cars are flexibility, convenience and personal space, not cost.

Jackart said...

The more you invest in public transport, rail and cycle infrastructure, the better a city becomes. The more you remove the car from the city, the better the city becomes. Without limit. Car-free urban centres are not only desirable, but inevitable.