When we invest in good quality public transport, walking or cycling it is normally not about providing some sort of social service to those who can’t drive – either for age/medical reasons or that they simply can’t afford to. It’s really about giving people a choice in how they get around the city as in cities like Auckland far too often the only viable option is to drive.
Over the last decade we’ve already strong uplift in patronage, especially on the rail network and Northern Busway as people have responded to the investment. While that is really good it is often quite hard to tell just what specific impact an investment might have on peoples transport decisions. Knowing about changes in travelling behaviour is really important – not just to ensure existing projects have delivered what was expected of them but the information should also be being used to help better inform future projects.
Most people consider Los Angeles one of the prime examples of a car dominated city but they are working to change that through some substantial investments in PT. A team of researchers decided to find out just what impact the construction of the Expo Line has had on how people travel and some of the changes have quite dramatic. Just a quick background, the Expo line is a light rail line that opened in April 2012 and is roughly the same length as our Onehunga Line. It runs from Downtown to Culver City and an extension to Santa Monica is already under construction. The line is shown in the image below.
The Atlantic Cities reports on the outcome of the research.
The success of L.A.’s rail program will take years to determine, but an early analysis released this week suggests it’s on the right track (so to speak). A research team led by Marlon Boarnet of the University of Southern California reports that the Expo Line led to significant changes in travel behavior — mostly in the desired direction. Boarnet and company found major reductions in driving and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as increases in rail ridership and physical activity.
The researchers followed about a hundred people who lived within a half mile of a new Expo Line station, and about a hundred more who lived in a comparable neighborhood nearby. In the fall of 2011, before the line began service, these test participants tracked their travel behavior for a week (logging trips, recording car odometer readings, and carrying a GPS device capable of measuring both location and physical activity). In the fall 2012, when Expo service began, the families did the same thing for another week.
The changes in driving behavior were most striking. Before Expo service began, the household travel patterns between the two types of groups looked similar. Afterward, the non-Expo group showed no statistical change in their daily vehicle-miles traveled (in fact, it increased slightly), while the Expo group reduced their daily miles driven significantly.
Overall, people near the Expo stations reduced vehicle-miles by 10 to 12 miles a day relative to those in other neighborhoods — a 40 percent drop in driving. This impact was greatest near rail stations surrounded by more bus lines and near stations on streets with fewer traffic lanes. In other words, a strong bus network and a limited road network likely enhanced transit behavior.
The researchers spotted other significant changes, too. Train trips increased among those living near the stations (as one would expect), and these households produced 30 percent fewer emissions, compared to the other households. The least active people living along the Expo line also engaged in about 8 to 10 minutes more of physical activity each day — presumably as a result of increased transit use.
That is a pretty striking change in behaviour and it’s occurred within about six months of the line opening. It’s likely the change in behaviour is even stronger now as patronage has increased from 2012 when this research was undertaken. I would also guess the change will be even stronger still once the extension to Santa Monica opens in a few years-time.
Apart from being quite interesting in seeing what impact improved investment in PT can make, it also highlights to me that perhaps AT should be looking do similar research. Over the next few years public transport in Auckland is about to undergo some massive changes with the roll out of electric trains, the new bus network and integrated fares (something the LA report noted would likely have improved uptake of the Expo line further). Being able to really show with detail the positive impact that these projects will have could end up being extremely useful in helping to justify future investment in PT.