How far do we walk to the station?

Average distances Melburnians walk to bus and train stops - km (data derived from VISTA)

Planners invariably work on the basis that bus and tram users will walk no more than 400 metres from home to the nearest stop. It’s known travellers will walk further to catch a train, so the maximum walk distance to a station is accordingly usually taken as 800 metres.

So it’s interesting to look at what travellers actually do. Data from the VISTA travel survey shows the median walk distance to the bus in Melbourne is 500 metres, with a quarter walking more than 800 metres. Half of Melbourne’s train travellers walk more than 800 metres and a quarter more than 1.3 kilometres! Hence bus and train users in Melbourne walk much longer distances than the standards assume.

If the VISTA methodology is right, these findings can be interpreted a number of ways. One is that travellers have to walk unreasonably long distances in Melbourne, perhaps because bus and train coverage is too sparse, or stops are poorly located. Alternatively, it could show travellers are prepared to walk much further than planners have historically assumed (I’m sure some would even argue the exercise is good for them!).

Standards like 400/800 metres are often justified on the grounds that if travellers have to walk any further, they will choose to drive instead, thus lowering the demand for public transport. It’s argued that trains can command longer walk distances because experience shows travellers will walk further if they’re taking long trips, or if the mode is fast (train trips tend to be much longer than other modes, both public and private, and also faster because they have their own dedicated right-of-way).

While that’s all fair enough, I don’t think it draws out the policy implications as clearly as it might. I think there’s another way of interpreting the data on trains in particular. Trips by train are indeed longer and faster than those by other modes, but the key reason travellers walk long distances to stations is they have to – they don’t have a choice.

That’s primarily because the key market for trains is workers travelling from the suburbs to the city centre. Driving simply isn’t a realistic option for most of these commuters – parking in or close to the centre is too expensive and the combination of distance and traffic makes driving too slow and too costly. Limited parking means it’s also hard to drive to the station. In addition, there are all those “captive” travellers who don’t have access to a car or can’t drive (e.g. students) but have high value trips to make.

In other words there are many trips where the car is simply not a realistic alternative to the train. In these cases the maximum distance people are prepared to walk (or have to walk!) is much longer than the standard 800 metre maximum. Not having an alternative, train users walk as far as they have to.

In fact the mean distance train travellers walk from home to the station in Melbourne is one kilometre. That’s a lot further than the median (800 metres) and suggests there’s a long tail of travellers who walk a very long distance from home to the station.

Accepting the legitimacy of longer walk distances could possibly have implications in a number of areas, for example in the design of feeder bus services, the spatial extent of development around stations, and in some cases even the spacing of stations. But most stations are already a considerable distance apart, so the practical implications are probably limited.

However where this way of looking at the issue might have particular relevance is in the spacing of tram stops. Unfortunately I don’t have any data to hand on actual tram walk distances in Melbourne, but my understanding is they too are longer than the 400 metre standard suggests. Further, many tram stops in Melbourne are closely spaced – for example, in the inner eastern suburbs they are every 200-300 metres.

Melbourne’s tram system is radial and, while the proportion is not as large as it is for trains, many tram travellers work in the city centre. Trip lengths are shorter than trains partly because the tram network is less extensive, and partly because, like cars, trams get delayed by congestion. Even so, most tram journeys are to the centre where congestion is at its worst and where parking costs are high.

Most tram users don’t  have the option of driving for these sorts of journeys and would be prepared to walk a lot further from home to a stop (or would effectively have no choice) than the 400 metre maximum usually assumed for trams, not to mention the even shorter distances implied by existing stop spacing.

Increasing the distance between tram stops means fewer stops and could potentially offer a number of benefits. One is increased in-vehicle speeds, although there would be longer walk times for some. Given a smaller number of stops, another possible benefit is enhanced services such as ticketing and validation facilities at every stop. A rationalisation also provides scope to re-design the location of stops – which are essentially based on historical circumstance – so they better serve existing and projected concentrations of activity.

The same thinking could be extended, if the political will existed, to rationalising the number of tram lines. Some lines are very close – in the inner eastern suburbs for example, there are nine parallel lines at an average interval of less than one kilometre. Of these, there are three spaced at approx 600 metre intervals.

Of course there are some complications with the idea of adopting longer walk distances. Some travellers actually do have a choice of driving instead of taking public transport. There are also some groups like the disabled for whom longer walk distances are a real constraint. I think there are satisfactory responses to these sorts of issues but I’ll have to leave that for another day.

However as many of our politicians are want to say, this is a conversation worth having.

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16 Comments on “How far do we walk to the station?”

  1. Nathan Alexander says:

    Alan, thannks for providing real data for how far people will walk to public transport stops. When I ran the Victorian Urban Villages project in 1995, I looked hard to find where the magic 400/800 m walking distances came from. It didn’t seem to be based on any real research – the best explanation I could come up with was it was simply the closest conversion from the American 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile.

    Most planners take the easy way out and show the walking catchments as a 400 m or 800 m RADIUS around the stop, rather than the actual walking distance via the streets and other public ways. Turns out from your data that the 800m radius is probably closer in Melbourne to the real walking catchment than a 800 m walking catchment!

  2. I’ve often wondered about the 400m / 800m thing, because the distances seem to me absurdly short. Anything under 1km seems a short walk to me, and in fine weather extremely competitive with the hassle of any other form of transport. When I was living in the burbs I used to do a 2km walk to the station quite happily.

    So when I see that a quarter are walking 1.2km or more, I figure that part of that will be people doing so begrudgingly and out of necessity. But it doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility to me that – even in our sedentary and lazy society – there is a fair proportion of people who quite enjoy the walk and think nothing of it. (Of course, the two groups may overlap: some people presumably get into the habit of walking long distances initially because they have to, but then find they enjoy or at least don’t mind it).

    I wonder if there’s research that digs into attitudes to walking to give some sense of how many of those quarter walking 1.2km+ begrudge having to walk, and how many genuinely enjoy it.

  3. bp says:

    How far do people bike to a station I wonder

    • BP asks. How far do people to a station I wonder ?

      No one knows that not none even the People who have been running the railways for the last 50 years. Parking is about cars only.

      The real question is about what is the long term potential for bicycle access to public transport well before the oil runs out. The following is my answer

      SUCCESS AND FAILURE IN BICYCLE PARKING  . B y Alan A .Parker

      There is an important  role for  both the new cages  and bicycle  lockers if better managed to maximize secure bicycle parking at rail stations.  Regarding  lockers my findings after  traveling the Brisbane  rail system (many years ago) I concluded they were  well managed. Indeed I talked to the station masters, the former system manager and  then on his advice,  photographed most of the big locker installations. I subsequently wrote a transport conference paper advocating more lockers installations on all Australian urban rail systems . See references below.

      .         Parker, A.A. (2002 A)  “A case study of bicycle parking at selected Brisbane rail stations”  25th Australasian Transport Research Forum,              incorporating the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics’  Transport Colloquium, Canberra 2002.

      Connex  never had the Queensland rail locker system in Melbourne. Connex’s idea  was is to get rid of the 600 or so lockers from stations. Hopefully the new Metro managers  will reverse that decision.

      The most secure  cages are the new ones if they are on the platforms of fully staffed stations. Cages and still provide a high level of security on unstaffed stations  car parks.  There plenty of spaces  for cages  in station car parks near the platform entrances if  you get rid of  a few car parking spaces, which is justified. There could be secure  areas outside the station car park provided th they do not  have obstacles , like the pipelines that need to be crossed at  Newport station.  The issue of course is “the devil  is always  in the detail ”  i.e. using  well designed and managed lockers or cages and finding the best place to  put them  in Melbourne  and on the new country stations.  There plenty of spaces  for cages  at station car parks near the entrances if  you get rid of  a few car parking spaces out of the 23,000 car parking spaces which are justified .The problem at Frankston is that a connex bike cage on the platform with 40 parked bikes was replaced by the new cage outside the station with only 26 bikes.   See references above and below.

      ..        Loder & Bayly and Parker, A A (1987)“Bicycle facilities at railway stations” Report to the  Metropolitan Transit Authority by Loder & Bayly and Alan Parker Design, includes sketch plans of 106 rail stations ,

      An inventory of the available space is needed on rail platforms,  redundant station rooms,  station car parks,  adjacent Council or suitable other government agency land.  What is needed is a planning  study with complete with sketch sites of bike planning  opportunities on all station by Metro  Metro and  as thorough as the analysis and results as  “Loder and Bayly, and my study in ,1987 report for referenced  above  .

      How do I know this for certain. I have the reports above and did my own investigation at Frankston station where there had been  no problem with my locker  over three years , as luck has it, bad management of the lockers benefitted me. According to the rules (which I agree with)  I should have  been told  in a standard letter  to vacate my locker  following a monthly inspection by station staff.  However  as I was riding  my bike in Melbourne, I had a heart  attack  and spent  5 months in  Hospital  and Rehabilatationwent,so I knew the locker was still empty.

      I knew the rule was  to open and check the locker every month with stations duplicate key, was in the   office because   I was  responsible for the design of al the lockers at Frankston.

      The last time I removed my bike I could not open the lock and  had to borrow the station duplicate key but it would not open either . Then I had to use a sharp tool to scratch the paint off my own personal lock and managed to open it . A salt coating from the nearby sea rusts lockers.   The management of the repainting of the lockers every few years is also sloppy. The  painters did not open the door to paint the rusted door edges inside where   some salty air flows through the cracks . The rest of the interior does not  need repainting every time, except the open bottom edges at the back.

      In Melbourne All the 12 lockers have been removed from Footscray station during its partial renovation and it is not known what will  replace them .

      The new Victorian cages installation started under the old regime (Connex) and are now the responsibility of Metro the under the CEO Andrew Lezala. Its nice to know  12 Connex executives  have been dumped by “Metro-Trains Melbourne ” ( METRO) and hope fully one or more of  them may have been responsible for their  bike parking mistakes.
      An inventory of the available space is needed on rail platforms,  redundant station rooms,  station car parks,  adjacent Council or suitable other government agency land.  What is needed is a planning  study with complete with sketch sites of bike planning  opportunities on all station by Metro  Metro and  as thorough as the analysis and results as  “Loder and Bayly, and my study in ,1987 report for referenced  above  .

      How do I know this for certain. I have the reports above and did my own investigation at Frankston station where there had been  no problem with my locker  over three years , as luck has it, bad management of the lockers benefitted me. According to the rules (which I agree with)  I should have  been told  in a standard letter  to vacate my locker  following a monthly inspection by station staff.  However  as I was riding  my bike in Melbourne, I had a heart  attack  and spent  5 months in  Hospital  and Rehabilatationwent,so I knew the locker was still empty.

      I knew the rule was  to open and check the locker every month with stations duplicate key, was in the   office because   I was  responsible for the design of al the lockers at Frankston.

      The last time I removed my bike I could not open the lock and  had to borrow the station duplicate key but it would not open either . Then I had to use a sharp tool to scratch the paint off my own personal lock and managed to open it . A salt coating from the nearby sea rusts lockers.   The management of the repainting of the lockers every few years is also sloppy. The  painters did not open the door to paint the rusted door edges inside where   some salty air flows through the cracks . The rest of the interior does not  need repainting every time, except the open bottom edges at the back.

      In Melbourne All the 12 lockers have been removed from Footscray station during its partial renovation and it is not known what will  replace them .

      The new Victorian cages installation started under the old regime (Connex) and are now the responsibility of Metro the under the CEO Andrew Lezala. Its nice to know  12 Connex executives  have been dumped by “Metro-Trains Melbourne ” ( METRO) and hope fully one or more of  them may have been responsible for their  bike parking mistakes.

      A new paper “Parkiteer- at public transport nodes in Melbourne” co-authored by Scott Martin  is to be given  at this year’s ATRF conference   is  available by email from :

      :  Stephen.Roddis@transport.vic.gov.au. See what they are up  to ?

      The other  1987 resource available in Victoria is from Alan Parker  and at Loder  and Bayly.

      Alan’s website contains lists  many of his articles of his articles and papers on bike rail dual mode travel in date order from 1983  to  2009,  Website  http://alanparker-pest.org/

      A  copy of a three volume  collection  of the colour photographs of each and every station in Melbourne in 1987 and suitable bike parking spaces the original of which which is in my library in Footscray. BV never got  a copy. The vision and reason for a large expansion of bicycle access to stations  is contained in my letter in the Melbourne Age below regarding an article by Paul Mees.

      Paul Mees (Age  23.11.09) tells us that low density urban sprawl is adelusion because the old Melbourne Statistical Division data included both national parks and farmland.The ABS urban area of  Melbourne today is nearly  16 people per hectare,  not less than five as quoted by Premier Steve Bracks in 2005 .

      The  actual urban  density was first estimated  in 1974, by this writer,  by the simple method of subtracting  map grid squares  for national parks and farmland as shown  in the Melways Directory  after marking the ABS  statistical boundary areas.  A tedious task that
      Melbourne’s planners have not done.  Paul Mees has now provided use with accurate  ABS data and tells us that Melbourne is a medium density city

      In medium density cities access to stations  can be greatly increasedby encouraging cycling.  Riding a bicycle uses the ‘mechanical advantage’ of pedalling over walking to go at least 3.5 times as far for  the same physical effort.  Cycling rather than walking increases the number of homes with access to stations by  around a factor of 10.

      This  already exists In Dutch, Danish  and Swedish  cities where far more bicycles are stored at  at local stations  and bicycle  theft is not the serious problem It is here. Cycling  also makes  cross suburban travel much easier in outer urban areas .

  4. Dave says:

    The real walking catchment vs an arbitrary radius doesn’t seem to be considered by Melbourne planners. For instance, the pedestrian activated lights across from my nearest station take 2.5 minutes to cycle. That’s the time equivalent of about 300m of walking – and substantially increases the time taken to get to/from the station. In built-up areas, add a couple of sets of lights and you can have lost 5 minutes just to get to the right corner of an intersection.
    I’d argue that it’s not just distance but also time taken to reach the stop that forms an important function of accessibility – most people can walk reasonable distances, so walking time simply forms part of the ‘door-to-door’ travel time equation.

  5. Russ says:

    The distance for a catchment area is relatively easy to calculate, as an optimum amount, given a certain travel distance. If you take a spreadsheet, enter reasonable numbers for frequency, stopping time and travel speed (walking and transit), given different stopping distances, 300-400m is the optimum stopping distance (shortest travel time) for travel distances of 2-5km. For longer distances (10-20km) it extends out further to 600-800m. To the extent people won’t walk further than the optimum amount, is it actually that it can be very slow to either walk a lot further, or walk less and be on a slower vehicle. By and large, we are rational minimisers of travel time.

    An addendum to that logic is that it can be considerably faster for trips 10-20km to have a two-tier system: a service stopping 300-400m over 2-5km connecting to a service stopping 3-5km for the long haul. Provided the long service comes moderately frequently.

  6. rohan says:

    Agree re spacing of tram stops – many are absurdly close together in the inner suburbs, walking an extra half block not an inconvenience, though in the other hand having one at every intersection in the CBD itself was mightly handy – now you turn a corner to see your tram coming, but the stop now just that little bit further away, being not even on the corner anymore.

    The ‘think tram’ or whatever it is program should be and is rationalising them, but its awful slow.

    But I dont think that trams on close parallel routes are problem – they provide choice for travellers in those sections, and amalgamating them would mean more perhaps twice the no. of trams would be required, possibly congesting a route, and adding possibly a significant distance to those who are to one side of the pair of routes. And the routes go off into the middle suburbs where they are more widely spaced anyway.

  7. Dudley Horscroft says:

    There is a problem with the data as given: Are the distances those that people are prepared to walk, or the distances that they actually do walk? If the latter, a reasonable explanation for the difference in bus (tram) and train walking distances are that the railway lines are further apart than the bus (tram) routes and the stations ditto. So people have to walk further. If the former, this is a reflection on the quality of service provided.

    I think that the origin of these distances goes back a lot further, perhaps to post-war planning in the UK. ISTR that these distances of 1/4 and 1/2 mile were quoted back then. But also I recall comments that the walking distance depended on the quality of the intervening ground – and the example was made that a lady would not walk more than 20 yards from a car parking space to the door of a supermarket unless she was forced to (and would spend time driviing around in the CP until a nearby space was found, whereas she would happily spend hours walking up and down the interior of a shopping mall, covering several miles in the process – see Victor Gruen for this, I think.

    Walking through a pedestrian area, bordered by lawn, trees, and with the occasional seat and shelter is far nicer than walking along a crowded pavement in the city, with all the noise and smells of cars and buses. This should give some nudge to planners re how to design footpaths – even revitalize decaying neighbourhoods.

    • Russ says:

      There is an interesting graph (from a 1951 study) in the book “Lots of Parking” p43, which shows that distance to walk to a park is logarithmic with respect to time spent shopping. Roughly 70m for the first 15min, 140m for an hour, 280m for 3 hours… we tend to think of travel time spent as being 30min, but occasionally longer, but it is probably also logarithmic with respect to time spent: 5min for a 30min shop, 10-15min for a longer shopping expedition, 30min-1hr for work, (and several hours for an extended holiday). The distance people are prepared, or prefer to walk likely depends on the efficiency of walking/transit for the trip, given the travel budget (that is, a 2km – 20min walk to a station for a 30min train trip is quite reasonable, if you are working more than an 8 hour day).

      There is amusing corollary to walking miles inside a mall given by Joel Garreau:

      First corollary to the six hundred foot law: In a mall, thou shalt never let a shopper see how far it is to the next anchor store. Thou shalt break her line of sight. If you make here aware of how much walking she is really doing inside a mall, she will leave the building and take her car to the far end, rather than walk. And once you’ve let her out of the building and into her car, there is a significant chance that she will say forget the whole thing and go home.

  8. HEcon says:

    Slightly related, slightly tangential. I walk into the city from Richmond, and have noticed that once the city circle trains were rerouted to go to Flinders st as opposed to Parliament a lot more people get off at Jolimont. Around half these people seem to happily walk into the city (through the lovely Treasury gardens) while the other half head to the tram stop. Surprise surprise, the trams are typically akin to a can of sardines by the time they reach Jolimont. I can’t help but feel the folks heading to the tram stop – often risking being hit by a car in their hurry to make it to the stop – would be better off walking, but their nature is to be lazy. Would be good if there was a bit of encouragement, aka, ‘why not walk?’, but persevere they do, much to the chagrin of those already on the trams.

    • Totally agree with this, but I can’t help but think that the transport operators putting up “why not walk?” signs might be seen as something of an admission of a service failure!

    • Alan Davies says:

      I know two commuters who get off at Jolimont and walk the rest of the way. They both do it for exercise but I suspect if the Hurstbridge-Epping line went via Parliament again they might find it too tempting to stay on the train.

  9. Simon says:

    The amount of distance that current public transport users are willing to walk is going to be longer than the distance those currently not using public transport are willing to walk.

    If those not using public transport had stops closer to them they might be walking, but we don’t know how close those stops need to be until everybody has a stop outside their front door. Which is absurd.

  10. Johnyboy says:

    I have said it before. The roads and rail are designed to keep the property prices high. Thats why they all lead to the cbd.

    Anyone with any common sense would see this and build a ring rail network to relieve congestion. Though I know I am right I have not thought much about it because it will not be doen in australia. Most things will be done overseas first and then here.

  11. Oz says:

    VATS and VISTA, 1994 to 2009, surveyed 67,500 responding households in the MSD. All responding household members quantified their walking times. No guesswork is required.
    Judgement is required when walking speeds are estimated; as household locations are not geo-referenced because of privacy concerns.
    One estimate based on walking times and rates of 3.5 km/hour is that 95% of all walking trips to stations are less than 1.2 km. Another estimate results in the conclusion that 85% of all walking trips to railway stations are less than 800 metres.
    Obviously there are many more time based estimates available to tram and bus stops which the DoT also has at their fingertips. My time-based estimates are that 85% of trips to bus and tram stops are less than 400 metres,

  12. […] reason I’m reasonably relaxed is because the 400 metre standard is too stringent. Extending the buffer to 800 metres around an activity centre picks up 20% of infill projects and […]


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