Individual incentives for public transportation
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Offering incentives to encourage individuals' use of existing public transit options decreases consumer’s cost for such transport. There are several types of individual incentives, including free or discounted bus, rail, or transit passes offered through deep discounting or transit pass incentive programs, and reimbursements, partial payments, or pre-tax payroll deductions offered through transportation subsidy programs.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes
Increased use of public transit
Increased physical activity
Increased active transportation
Reduced obesity rates
Reduced vehicle miles traveled
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is some evidence that offering individual incentives for public transit increases public transit use (VTPI-Litman 2014, Graham-Rowe 2011). Such incentives can also increase physical activity for individuals using non-motorized travel to and from transit stops (MacDonald 2010, Martin 2012, Webb 2012). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.
Combining incentives such as discounted passes with improved transit service, better marketing, and higher private vehicle user fees can increase public transit use and reduce automobile use (VTPI-Litman 2014). Transit pass incentive programs have been particularly successful in increasing use among college students (Myers 2006, Nuworsoo 2004). Other factors that increase the likelihood of using a transit pass include high gas prices, not having children, and having a flexible schedule or one that matches transit availability (Zhou 2011).
Model-based research suggests that reducing fares may generate small ridership increases, while increasing fares may significantly reduce ridership (Chen 2011). Overall, price sensitivity to fares depends on whether or not a traveler is transit dependent, the type of trip, time of day, and geographic conditions such as population density and the character of the built environment (VTPI-Litman 2014).
Recent studies suggest that public transportation users walk more and have approximately 5 to 10 minutes more daily moderate physical activity than non-users (Lachappelle 2009, Wener 2007). Incentives for public transit use have been shown to increase public transit use, as well as active travel options such as walking and cycling (Martin 2012, Coronini-Cronberg 2012), which may reduce the likelihood of becoming obese (MacDonald 2010, Webb 2012).
Individual incentives may reduce disparities in transportation access; the greatest improvements in mobility accrue to transit dependents--those who are too old, too young, physically unable, or cannot afford to drive (Garrett 1999). Such incentives are also a suggested strategy to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and emissions (CDC-HWI Alternative transportation, RAND-Sorenson 2008, Herzog 2007, Su 2012, Graham-Rowe 2011), and may be a cost effective strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Gallivan 2011). Public transportation systems produce significantly fewer emissions per passenger mile than private vehicles, especially when operating with full passenger loads (US DOT-FTA Transportation and climate change).
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).
Incentive programs may also raise transportation revenue (RAND-Sorenson 2008, Nuworsoo 2004), reduce transportation costs for employers and individuals (RAND-Sorenson 2008, Myers 2006, Nuworsoo 2004), and cost less than providing parking spaces for commuters (Shoup-Eco passes).
The federal government has a transportation subsidy program in place for any federal employee in the National Capital Region that uses public transportation to commute to work (US DOT-TRANServe). Some states (e.g., Oregon) award energy tax credits to businesses or organizations that offer financial incentives to encourage employees to use public transportation or alternatives to single occupancy vehicles for their commutes (ODOE-Transportation). Municipalities can adopt transportation management plans that include incentives to encourage public transportation use, walking, or bicycling, and reduce single occupancy vehicle use, as in the City of Alexandria, Virginia (Alexandria-TMPs) or use a Transportation Management Association (TMA) for the same purpose, as in Sacramento, California (Yolo-TMA).
Other individual incentives, such as transit pass incentive programs for employers, students, and state or city employees are available in many municipalities, including Austin, Texas; Seattle and Olympia, Washington; Monroe County, Pennsylvania; Nashville, Tennessee; and Portland, Oregon (TRB-Boyle 2010).
Madison Metro has a service agreement with UW Madison to provide bus passes to students, faculty, and staff; this opportunity is also available to other organizations and companies. Milwaukee Transit also offers discount Commuter Value Passes for employers with more than 20 employees.
- 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
SC DHEC-Air quality
- South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Your air. Accessed on January 25, 2016
- Litman, T. Evaluating public transit benefits and costs: Best practices guidebook. Victoria, BC: Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI); 2013. Accessed on December 12, 2015
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). Travel by public transit. Accessed on March 17, 2016
Citations - Evidence
- Chen, C., Varley, D., & Chen, J. What affects transit ridership? A dynamic analysis involving multiple factors, lags and asymmetric behaviour. Urban Studies. 2011;48(9):1893-1908. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Coronini-Cronberg S, Millett C, Laverty AA, Webb E. The impact of a free older persons’ bus pass on active travel and regular walking in England. American Journal of Public Health. 2012;102(11):2141–8. Accessed on December 8, 2015
- Gallivan F, Ang-Olson J, Liban CB, Kusumoto A. Cost-effective approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through public transportation in Los Angeles, California. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2011;2(2217):19–29. Accessed on November 23, 2015
- Garrett M, Taylor B. Reconsidering social equity in public transit. Berkeley Planning Journal. 1999;13:6-27. Accessed on March 3, 2016
- Graham-Rowe E, Skippon S, Gardner B, Abraham C. Can we reduce car use and, if so, how? A review of available evidence. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 2011;45(5):401–18. Accessed on November 23, 2015
- Herzog E, Bricka S, Audette L, Rockwell J. Do employee commuter benefits reduce vehicle emissions and fuel consumption? Results of Fall 2004 survey of best workplaces for commuters. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2006;1956:34–41. Accessed on November 24, 2015
- Lachapelle U, Frank LD. Transit and health: mode of transport, employer-sponsored public transit pass programs, and physical activity. Journal of Public Health Policy. 2009;30(Suppl 1):S73–94. Accessed on November 23, 2015
- 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 March 14, 2016
- Martin A, Suhrcke M, Ogilvie D. Financial incentives to promote active travel: an evidence review and economic framework. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012;43(6):e45-57. Accessed on March 3, 2016
- Myers G, Hagen DA, Russo T, et al. Benefits of campus transit pass: Study of student’s willingness to pay for proposed mandatory transit pass program. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2006;1971:133-9. Accessed on March 3, 2016
- Nuworsoo CK. Deep discount group pass programs as instruments for increasing transit revenue and ridership. Berkeley: Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California Berkeley (UCB); 2004: UCB-ITS-DS-2004-2. Accessed on December 22, 2015
- Sorenson P, Wachs M, Min EY, et al. Moving Los Angeles: Short-term policy options for improving transportation. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2008: Monograph Report 748. Accessed on May 24, 2016
- Shoup DC. Eco passes: An evaluation of employer-based transit programs. Los Angeles: University of California Transportation Center (UCTC); 2004. Accessed on December 12, 2015
- Su Q, Zhou L. Parking management, financial subsidies to alternatives to drive alone and commute mode choices in Seattle. Regional Science and Urban Economics. 2012;42(1-2):88–97. Accessed on November 23, 2015
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
- Litman, T. Transit price elasticities and cross-elasticities. Victoria, BC: Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI); 2014. Accessed on January 28, 2016
- Webb E, Netuveli G, Millett C. Free bus passes, use of public transport and obesity among older people in England. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2012;66(2):176–80. Accessed on November 24, 2015
- 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
- Zhou J, Schweitzer L. Getting drivers to switch: Transit price and service quality among commuters. Journal of Urban Planning and Development. 2011;137(4):477-83. Accessed on November 23, 2015
Citations - Implementation
- City of Alexandria. Transportation & Environmental Services (T&ES): Transportation management plans (TMPs) - Special use permit. Accessed on November 30, 2015
- City of Madison Metro Transit. Metro pass programs. Accessed on March 14, 2016
- Milwaukee County Transit System. Commuter value. Accessed on March 3, 2016
- Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE). Transportation. Accessed on November 24, 2015
- Boyle DK. TCRP Synthesis 82 - Transit fare arrangements for public employees: A synthesis of transit practice. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board (TRB); 2010. Accessed on November 23, 2015
- US Department of Transportation (US DOT). TRANServe Accessed on March 16, 2017
- Yolo Transportation Management Association (TMA). Current programs. Accessed on November 23, 2015
Page Last Updated
September 16, 2014
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