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Public transportation systems

Health Factors: Housing & Transit
Decision Makers: Community Development Professionals Local Government State Government Federal Government Grantmakers
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 50-99% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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Description

Public transportation systems include buses, trains, trams, trolleybuses, ferries, or rapid transit (e.g., light rail transit (LRT), bus rapid transit (BRT), or metro services) that are available for use by the general public and run on a scheduled timetable. Community-wide transportation systems are most common in urban areas and are often supported by federal and municipal funds (US DOT-FTA). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased access to public transit
Increased use of public transit
Increased physical activity
Reduced vehicle miles traveled
Reduced emissions

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 (Brakewood 2015, Baum-Snow 2005, Boarnet 2013, Cao 2014, TRB-Callaghan 2007, TRB-Polzin 2003). Introducing or expanding public transportation systems can also increase physical activity (Sener 2016, Brown 2015a, MacDonald 2010), particularly when implemented as part of a multi-component land use approach (CG-Physical activity), and increase access to safe, healthy, convenient, and affordable transportation (CDC-Transportation, Wener 2007).

Introducing new rail lines in urban areas can increase transit use in cities where many commuters drive to a central business district, and significantly reduce trip time for commuters and other travelers (Boarnet 2013, Baum-Snow 2005). Model-based research suggests that subsidizing and investing in public transportation infrastructure can also limit urban sprawl, reduce car use, and promote active transit (Su 2008). Increases in use of public transit may be associated with increases in housing development near suburban rail stations (Dong 2016).

Transit users appear to have higher levels of physical activity than their peers (Saelens 2014, Wener 2007). Light rail transit (LRT) appears to increase physical activity (Brown 2015a, MacDonald 2010), particularly for new riders (Brown 2015a). LRT may also reduce body mass index (BMI) and decrease the likelihood of obesity (MacDonald 2010).

Reducing fares and increasing the frequency and quality of transit service appear to be the most effective ways to increase use of existing public transit systems (Taylor 2013, Taylor 2009). Frequent, reliable service with few transfers may also make public transit more appealing to drivers (Chakrabarti 2017) and may increase rider satisfaction (Wan 2016). Real-time bus tracking may modestly increase ridership and revenue (Brakewood 2015), and improve rider satisfaction (Brakewood 2015, Brakewood 2014). Distance-based fare reductions may increase ridership among low income households and elderly and minority individuals, who often use public transit to travel shorter distances than wealthier, younger, or white riders (Farber 2014).

Public transportation systems produce significantly lower emissions per passenger mile than private vehicles, especially when operating with full passenger loads (US DOT-FTA Transit and climate). Introducing or expanding a 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). Emissions reductions for LRT and bus rail transit (BRT) systems can be affected by local regulations and component technologies (TRB-Puchalsky 2005).

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, displacement of long-time residents if policies to preserve affordable housing are not in place (MAPC-Displacement).

Public transportation (bus, rail, and general transit) accounted for 0.4% of US transportation fatalities in 2015 (US DOT-BTS Fatalities). 

Implementation

United States

US transit systems were used for 10.5 billion passenger trips in 2015; buses accounted for roughly half of all passenger trips (ASCE-2017 Report card). In 2013, just over 55% of US households reported having access to public transportation; access was highest in Northern and Western cities and lowest in Southern cities (ASCE-2013 Report card).

Many municipalities have introduced or expanded public transportation systems. 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) are examples of cities with heavily used, multi-faceted systems.

As of 2016, most states receive some federal subsidies for mass transit (AASHTO Transportation Funding 2016).

Wisconsin

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).

Implementation Resources

ALBD - Active Living by Design (ALBD). Increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design. Accessed on June 29, 2017
APHA-Transportation toolkit - American Public Health Association (APHA). APHA online toolkit: Transportation and health toolkit. Accessed on June 29, 2017
APTA-Resources - American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Resource library. Accessed on July 26, 2017
APTA-Transit facts - American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Where Public Transportation Goes Community Grows. Transit facts at a glance. Accessed on June 2, 2017
ESPA - Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA). Accessible community transportation in our nation. Accessed on June 1, 2017
TDM-Public transit - TDM Encyclopedia. Public transit improvements. Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Accessed on June 1, 2017
ULI Building healthy places - Urban Land Institute (ULI) Building Healthy Places Initiative. Building healthy places toolkit: Strategies for enhancing health in the built environment. Accessed on June 2, 2017

Citations - Description

US DOT-FTA - US Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Transit Administration (FTA). About FTA: Improving public transportation for America’s communities. Accessed on June 23, 2017

Citations - Evidence

Baum-Snow 2005 - 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 June 1, 2017
Boarnet 2013 - 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 June 1, 2017
Brakewood 2014* - Brakewood C, Barbeau S, Watkins K. An experiment evaluating the impacts of real-time transit information on bus riders in Tampa, Florida. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 2014;69:409-422. Accessed on June 23, 2017
Brakewood 2015* - Brakewood C, Macfarlane GS, Watkins K. The impact of real-time information on bus ridership in New York City. Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies. 2015;53:59-75. Accessed on June 23, 2017
Brown 2015a* - Brown BB, Werner CM, Tribby CP, Miller HJ, Smith KR. Transit use, physical activity, and body mass index changes: Objective measures associated with complete street light-rail construction. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(7):1468-1474. Accessed on June 16, 2017
Cao 2014* - 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 June 1, 2017
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 June 1, 2017
CDC-Transportation - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC transportation recommendations - brief. Accessed on June 1, 2017
CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity. Accessed on June 16, 2017
Chakrabarti 2017* - Chakrabarti S. How can public transit get people out of their cars? An analysis of transit mode choice for commute trips in Los Angeles. Transport Policy. 2017;54:80-89. Accessed on June 23, 2017
Dong 2016* - Dong H. If you build rail transit in suburbs, will development come? Journal of the American Planning Association. 2016;82(4):316-326. Accessed on June 23, 2017
Farber 2014* - Farber S, Bartholomew K, Li X, Páez A, Nurul Habib KM. Assessing social equity in distance based transit fares using a model of travel behavior. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 2014;67:291-303. Accessed on June 23, 2017
MacDonald 2010 - MacDonald JM, Stokes RJ, Cohen DA, Kofner A, Ridgeway GK. The effect of light rail transit on body mass index and physical activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2010;39(2):105-12. Accessed on June 29, 2017
MAPC-Displacement - Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) Massachusetts. Dimensions of Displacement: Baseline data for managing neighborhood change in Somerville's Green Line Corridor. 2014. Accessed on June 1, 2017
Saelens 2014* - Saelens BE, Vernez Moudon A, Kang B, Hurvitz PM, Zhou C. Relation between higher physical activity and public transit use. American Journal of Public Health. 2014;104(5):854-859. Accessed on June 5, 2017
Sener 2016 - Sener IN, Lee RJ, Elgart Z. Potential health implications and health cost reductions of transit-induced physical activity. Journal of Transport & Health. 2016;3(2):133-140. Accessed on June 23, 2017
Su 2008* - Su Q, DeSalvo JS. The effect of transportation subsidies on urban sprawl. Journal of Regional Science. 2008;48(3):567-94. Accessed on June 1, 2017
Taylor 2009* - 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 June 1, 2017
Taylor 2013 - 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 June 1, 2017
TRB-Callaghan 2007* - 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 June 1, 2017
TRB-Polzin 2003 - 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 June 1, 2017
TRB-Puchalsky 2005* - 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 June 1, 2017
US DOT-BTS 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 June 29, 2017
US DOT-FTA Transit and climate - US Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Public transportation's role in responding to climate change. 2010. Accessed on June 29, 2017
Wan 2016* - Wan D, Kamga C, Liu J, Sugiura A, Beaton EB. Rider perception of a “light” Bus Rapid Transit system - The New York City Select Bus Service. Transport Policy. 2016;49:41-55. Accessed on June 23, 2017
Wener 2007* - 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 June 29, 2017

Citations - Implementation

AASHTO Transportation Funding 2016 - American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). Survey of state funding for public transportation, final report 2016, based on FY 2014 data. Accessed on June 23, 2017
ASCE-2013 Report card - American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). 2013 Report card for America’s infrastructure findings. 2013. Accessed on June 1, 2017
ASCE-2017 Report card - American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). 2017 Infrastructure report card: Transit report. Accessed on June 23, 2017
CTA - Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Travel info. Accessed on June 1, 2017
LA Metro - Los Angeles Metro (LA Metro). Transit information. Accessed on June 1, 2017
Maryland MTA - Maryland Department of Transportation Transit Administration (Maryland MTA). Transit information. Accessed on June 1, 2017
MBTA - Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Transit information. Accessed on June 1, 2017
NYC MTA - New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (NYC MTA). Transit information. Accessed on June 1, 2017
Seattle Transit - City of Seattle. Transit. Accessed on June 1, 2017
SEPTA - Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Transit information. Accessed on June 1, 2017
SF MTA - San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SF MTA). Transportation choices. Accessed on June 1, 2017
TriMet - TriMet. TriMet provides bus, light rail, and commuter rail transit services in the Portland, Oregon metro area. Accessed on June 1, 2017
WisDOT-Public Transit - Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Travel by public transit. Accessed on June 29, 2017
WMATA - Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Transit information. Accessed on June 1, 2017

Page Last Updated

June 29, 2017

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