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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Public Transit - moving the masses in a sustainable fashion. Transportation and Health Part 4

New Yorkers have turned the tide on obesity.  And while the aggressive approaches to trying to limit trans fats, lower consumption of sugar filled fluids may seem obvious solutions, one of the major reasons is that New Yorkers are walking more.  Just as European cities have increased density, so to have some US cities.  Encouraging commutes by efficient public transit or even just walking a few blocks.  The advantage of the transit, is most commuters walk to the local transit stop to start their commute, and subsequently finish the commute with a walk to their final destination. 

A well written and detailed paper out of New Zealand has documented this impact with the average increase in daily walking by about 1.2 km for public transit users.  Public Transit trips offsetting an average of two car trips daily and 45 km of vehicle travel.   New Zealand analysis of public transit

While some cities have made transit the easy solution, many still cater to the car.  The greater the density, the less the dependence on vehicles.  And, as transit riders know, the shorter the distance to commute the more comparable various forms of transit become relative to time spent on the commute. 

Youth today are decreasingly obtaining the time honoured measure of adulthood – the driver’s license.  Seniors may have their licenses revoked or limited.  A variety of medical conditions also push commuters to public transit including such things as seizure disorders, recent cardiac events, not to mention the plethora of reasons why driver’s licenses may be suspended for driving infractions.  Hence at any given time, a significant fraction of the population is being actively steered towards the public transit system.

Canadian data on transit ridership are dated, based predominately on the Households and the Environment survey of 2007.  The highest proportional use of public transit being in Manitoba, BC, Ont and Quebec, all of whom saw ridership in the 40-45% range where transit was readily available.  Ridership being highest in youth and young adults, and in lower to low middle income brackets.  Over 2/3rds of Canadian households indicated that they lived within five minutes of public transit, with 40% using regularly.  Public Transit in Canada 2007

Perhaps the unstated question is given that public transit is comparable in use to the car by volume of commuters, why hasn’t transit received the same level of public infrastructure investment that arterial roadways and bridges have.  The answer is found in the demographic profile of the transit user. Younger, lower economic likely more ethnically diverse and a higher proportion of new Canadians.   The very antithesis of the profile of the typical voting public.  Hence roads to service the car may become central to political aspirations as a method of vote purchase.

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