Monday, February 1, 2010

Theories of Mobility

From the comment section of this post on the excellent Human Transit blog:

...I was fascinated to learn that the last train is always under-filled, no matter when it runs. I've always suspected we should run some empty services to help keep the full ones full...

This fact is fuel to the fire of my favourite PT theory, which is that the system has to be run holistically, as an integrated transport alternative. Anecdotally, people will buy a car to support one rare but high value kind of trip, eg. going surfing on the weekend, or getting across town to their girlfriend's house at odd hours. If you run loss-making night-time or rural PT you can actually prevent people from makign [sic] the one decision that is most likely to inhibit their PT use, buying a car.

i.e. empty night-time buses are the PT company's promise to the consumer that PT will always be there for you, so the customer never invests in an option that would eat away at the bread and butter revenue source for the PT company. From an eocnomic [sic] perspective, it has to do with the relative own-price elasticity of various kind of trips, which has to do not only with the value they deliver. Getting to work is valuable, but elastic, as i am informed about the trip and can make other investments to avoid the cost. getting to a point i didn't know far advance i needed to visit may be less valuable but more inelastic...)

I am really keen to do some research on the claim above, which I currently have only anecdotally. If anyone knows of any research into why young people buy their first cars, i'd love to hear of it!

Posted by: Jason | 06/03/2009 at 21:23

This is an excellent and very important point. My own car ownership is for exactly the sort of trip that Jason is talking about. I came very close to finally selling my car this summer, but my wife decided she wanted to attend CSU San Bernardino's teaching credential program. It's all done in night classes, and there is simply no service from CSUSB at 10pm, when her courses get out, so she's joined the hordes crowding the I-215 daily. (Between rush-hour and construction traffic, it's often an hour-each-way trip to go 17 miles.)

This is why I am such an advocate for 24-hour public transport. It doesn't have to be excellent, it doesn't have to run every 5 minutes, not every route needs to run- but you have to have *something* available for every trip if you want transit to be a viable alternative for people. (I covered what I think would be a viable skeleton network for RTA in this post.) Now, there are a lot of other factors that contribute to somebody's ability to go car-free, or simply to consistently choose transit, but reliable, all-day transit service is extremely important, and even low-ridership nighttime service does wonders for a city's transit-riding culture.

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