Public transportation systems
Housing & Transit
Community Development Professionals Local Government State Government Federal Government Grantmakers
||50-99% of WI's population
|Impact on Disparities:
Is this program or policy in use in your community? Tell us about it.
Public transportation systems are available for use by the general public, run on a scheduled timetable, and can include buses, trains, trams, trolleybuses, ferries, or rapid transit (e.g., subways, undergrounds, light rail transit (LRT), bus rapid transit (BRT), or metro services). Community-wide transportation systems are most common in urban areas, and are often supported by federal and municipal funds.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes
Increased access to public transit
Increased use of public transit
Increased physical activity
Reduced vehicle miles traveled
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is strong evidence that introducing or expanding public transportation systems in urban areas increases access to and use of public transit, especially in dense, centralized cities (Baum-Snow 2005, Boarnet 2013, Cao 2014, TRB-Callaghan 2007, TRB-Polzin 2003, TRB-Cooper 2003). Introducing or expanding public transportation systems is also a suggested strategy to increase physical activity and access to safe, healthy, convenient, and affordable transportation (CDC-Transportation, Wener 2007).
Introducing new rail lines in urban areas can increase ridership in cities where many people commute to the central business district by car, and can significantly reduce trip time for commuters and other travelers (Baum-Snow 2005, Boarnet 2013). Model-based research suggests that subsidizing and investing in public transportation infrastructure overall can curb urban sprawl, reduce automobile use, and promote more active transport options (Su 2008).
Lowering fares and increasing the frequency and quality of transit service are the most effective ways to increase ridership for existing public transit systems (Taylor 2013, Taylor 2009). Differences in fare prices and service quality explain much of the variation in ridership between metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) (Taylor 2013, Taylor 2009), especially for MSAs with 1 to 5 million people (TRB-Thompson 2006).
Public transportation systems produce significantly lower emissions per passenger mile than private vehicles, especially when operating with full passenger loads (US DOT-FTA Transportation and climate change). Introducing or expanding a light rail transit (LRT) system can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions among households living within half a mile of a LRT station (Boarnet 2013). LRT systems produce fewer emissions than bus rail transit (BRT) systems; however, technology developments continue to improve emissions for both systems (TRB-Puchalsky 2005). Emissions reductions for LRT and BRT systems are strongly influenced by both regulations in a given area and the systems’ component technologies (TRB-Puchalsky 2005).
Public transportation systems have a good safety record. Private vehicle transportation (passenger cars, light trucks, and motorcycles) accounted for over 75% of transportation fatalities in 2011. Public transportation (school, intercity, transit bus, light rail transit, and subway) accounted for just 0.5% of transportation fatalities in the same year (US DOT-BTS Transportation fatalities).
Expanding public transportation infrastructure may decrease disparities in access to services, employment, and recreation opportunities for individuals with low incomes, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly (CDC-Active living strategies 2013). However, new public transportation stops can make a neighborhood more attractive, leading to increased rents and, potentially, the displacement of long-time residents if policies to preserve affordable housing are not in place (MAPC-Displacement).
In 2013, just over 55% of US households reported having access to public transportation. Overall, access is highest in Northern and Western cities and lowest in Southern cities (ASCE-2013 Report card).
Many municipalities have introduced or expanded public transportation systems to increase transit access and use; some very successful, multi-faceted transit systems include New York, NY (NYC MTA); San Francisco, CA (SF MTA); Boston, MA (MBTA); Washington, DC (WMATA); Philadelphia, PA (SEPTA); Chicago, IL (CTA); Seattle, WA (Seattle Transit); Baltimore, MD (Maryland MTA); Los Angeles, CA (LA Metro); and Portland, OR (TriMet).
Most states receive some federal subsidies for mass transit (AASHTO Transportation Funding 2010).
Wisconsin has numerous public transit systems throughout the state and the WI Department of Transportation has public transportation maps and get around guides available on their website (WisDOT-Public Transit).
- Active Living by Design (ALBD). Increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design. Accessed on December 1, 2015
- American Public Health Association (APHA). APHA online toolkit: Transportation and health toolkit. Accessed on March 29, 2016
- American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Resource library. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Where Public Transportation Goes Community Grows. Transit facts at a glance. American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Accessed on March 16, 2016
- Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA). Accessible community transportation in our nation. Accessed on January 27, 2016
- TDM Encyclopedia. Public transit improvements. Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Accessed on November 23, 2015
ULI-Building healthy places
- Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Building Healthly Places Initiative. Building Healthy Places Toolkit: Strategies for Enhancing Health in the Built Environment. Accessed on October 5, 2016
Citations - Evidence
- Baum-Snow N, Kahn ME. Effects of urban rail transit expansions: Evidence from sixteen cities, 1970–2000. Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs. 2005;(6):147. Accessed on February 10, 2016
- Boarnet MG, Hong A, Lee J, et al. The exposition light rail line study: A before-and-after study of the impact of new light rail transit service. University of Southern California. 2013. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Cao X, Schoner J. The influence of light rail transit on transit use: An exploration of station area residents along the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 2014;59:134-143. Accessed on January 28, 2016
CDC-Active living strategies 2013
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A practitioner's guide for advancing health equity, community strategies for preventing chronic disease: Active living strategies. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2013. Accessed on March 3, 2017
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC transportation recommendations - brief. Accessed on November 30, 2015
- Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) Massachusetts. Dimensions of Displacement: Baseline data for managing neighborhood change in Somerville's Green Line Corridor. 2014. Accessed on March 16, 2016
- Su Q, DeSalvo JS. The effect of transportation subsidies on urban sprawl. Journal of Regional Science. 2008;48(3):567-94. Accessed on November 9, 2015
- Taylor BD, Miller D, Iseki H, Fink C. Nature and/or nurture? Analyzing the determinants of transit ridership across US urbanized areas. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 2009;43(1):60-77. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Taylor JC, Johnson RK. Farm to school as a strategy to increase children's fruit and vegetable consumption in the United States: Research and recommendations. Nutrition Bulletin. 2013;38(1):70-9. Accessed on November 9, 2015
- Callaghan L, Vincent W. Preliminary evaluation of metro orange line bus rapid transit project. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2007;2034(1):37-44. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Cooper G, Furmaniak T. Portland streetcar: A two-year report card. Transportation Research Circular E-C058: 9th National Light Rail Transit Conference. Transportation Research Board (TRB); 2003. Accessed on February 1, 2016
- Polzin SE, Page OA. Ridership trends of new start rail projects. Transportation Research Circular E-C058: 9th National Light Rail Transit Conference. Transportation Research Board (TRB); 2003. Accessed on February 1, 2016
- Puchalsky CM. Comparison of emissions from light rail transit and bus rapid transit. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2005;1927(1):31-37. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Thompson GL, Brown JR. Explaining variation in transit ridership in U.S. metropolitan areas between 1990 and 2000: Multivariate analysis. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2006;1986(1):172-181. Accessed on January 27, 2016
US DOT-BTS Transportation fatalities
- US Department of Transportation (US DOT), Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). National Transportation Statistics: Transportation fatalities. Washington, DC. Accessed on March 3, 2017
US DOT-FTA Transportation and climate change
- US Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Public transportation's role in responding to climate change. 2010. Accessed on March 16, 2017
- Wener RE, Evans GW. A morning stroll: Levels of physical activity in car and mass transit commuting. Environment and Behavior. 2007;39(1):62-74. Accessed on February 1, 2016
Citations - Implementation
AASHTO Transportation Funding 2010
- Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), Office of Survey Programs. Survey of state funding for public transportation - Final report 2010. Washington, DC: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); 2010:Code SSFP-4. Accessed on November 20, 2015
ASCE-2013 Report card
- American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). 2013 Report card for America’s infrastructure findings. 2013. Accessed on January 27, 2016
- Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Travel info. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Los Angeles Metro (LA Metro). Transit information. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Maryland Department of Transportation Transit Administration (Maryland MTA). Transit information. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Transit information. Accessed on February 1, 2016
- New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (NYC MTA). Transit information. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Transit information. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SF MTA). Excellent transportation choices. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- TriMet. TriMet provides bus, light rail, and commuter rail transit services in the Portland, Oregon metro area. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Travel by public transit. Accessed on March 17, 2016
- Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Transit information. Accessed on January 28, 2016
Page Last Updated
March 17, 2016
* Journal subscription may be required for access.