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What is driving demand change for public transport?

29 January 2016/Categories: PTRC News


What is driving demand change for public transport?

When first writing a textbook on public transport planning many years ago, it was difficult to avoid the generally-accepted notion that these modes (bus, rail, metro, etc.) were in an inevitable decline, prompted by the continued growth in car ownership, and in some cases by population decline in older cities. Today, however, while decline continues in some cases, the overall picture is much more positive. In London in particular not only have absolute trip numbers on all public transport modes grown faster than population, but the share of public transport within the travel by London residents has grown from 30 to 45% of daily stages since 1994 as indicated in the latest TfL ‘Travel in London’ report. National Railways have difficulty in coping with demand growth, and in some parts of the bus industry outside London (notably higher-quality interurban routes) growth can also be seen.

To some extent this may be explained by changes in the underlying external factors driving demand for public transport, notably population. Changes in the price and service quality offered are also explanatory factors, notably the vast increases in service frequency and coverage by time period on the London bus network, and greatly improved off-peak rail services in many areas. To a considerable extent, these reflect the operation of well-established elasticity values, such as those applying to bus-kilometres run, described in the TRL ‘Demand for Public Transport’ report in 2004. Subsequently, service quality aspects such as improved passenger information were analysed in the DfT’s ‘Soft Factors’ report in 2009.  There remains a question of how far some broader changes in attitude and perceptions toward public transport (and car use) as a whole may also be factor, in addition to discrete variables which may be analysed separately. For example in London there seems to be a greater willingness to manage without owning a car, using car clubs as a complementary mode for those journeys not served by the generally comprehensive public transport network. There is also evidence from a number of countries regarding lower car ownership and use among younger adults (especially males), reversing what previously seemed to be a well-established growth trend.

These issues will be considered in some sessions of the two-day Planning Public Transport course  which PTRC is offering in London on 24 and 25 February. Click here for further course details and book your place.

Hope to see you there!

Peter White

Professor Emeritus

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