Will providing better transit be enough to cope with city growth?

Policies on Public Transport and Private Transport - you can't have one without the other

It might seem counter-intuitive, but you can’t increase public transport’s share of travel significantly unless you simultaneously do something about cars. Yet this simple relationship is usually ignored by governments and lobbyists alike.

Back on 23 August I looked at the question of how our cities could grow larger but still be liveable. Public transport has a vital role in meeting this challenge, but the task is daunting. Notwithstanding current overcrowding on the train system, public transport’s share of all motorised travel is only around 11% in Melbourne and a little higher in Sydney.

The standard recipe for increasing transit’s share of travel is to offer a better product. This is popularly thought of as more trains and more light rail (only occasionally more buses).

It usually involves providing some combination of greater route coverage, higher frequencies, longer operating hours, faster speeds, better connections, more information and higher levels of comfort and security.

Improving quality seems a self-evident solution. After all, the area of the city with the best public transport offering – the CBD – is also the area where public transport scores best against the car. For example, 43% of all motorised work trips to the inner city in Melbourne are made by public transport and this study suggests the figure for the CBD is probably upwards of 65%.

This strategy works – but only up to a point. Consider, for example, the Melbourne inner city municipality of Yarra. It has a pretty high standard of train and tram services, yet 86% of all motorised weekday travel by residents of Yarra is still made by car (or 74% when walking and cycling are also included). Read the rest of this entry »