Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Three Ms of high modal share

A previous post covered capability, choice and capacity, the three Cs of successful public transport.

Since that was written public transport patronage and mode share has grown. However data from the last year indicates that the pace of growth has slowed.

There are three passenger demographic groups, all beginning with M, that must be won over to increase transit’s modal share. These are as follows:

Middle Suburban

These are the suburbs, approximately 8 to 30 km from the Melbourne CBD, that house the majority of the population. They are typically beyond the tram network but are usually within 5 kilometres of a railway station and may be served by a SmartBus or orbital route.

Planned (and often established) by the 1920s, they often have a grid network of roads intersecting railway lines, particularly in the south and east. Detached housing dominates, though the closer in areas also have flats, townhouses and villas. Retail areas comprise strip centres around stations, factory outlets in light industrial areas and Melbourne’s largest drive-in shopping centres. These middle suburbs are also home to a more diverse range of universities, hospitals and business parks than is found in outer areas.

In Melbourne public transport’s mode share is highest in the inner suburbs and falls away with distance from the CBD. Those residents of middle ring suburbs who work in the CBD often commute by train but driving is dominant for non-CBD work and other trips, which are generally less well served by transit. However the success of SmartBus has shown that patronage growth is possible in these areas, even for non-city trips. The density of activty around the large universities and shopping centres along with grid streets, which are efficient for tangential rail feeder buses, also indicate potential for patronage growth.

That is not to say that patronage cannot also be grown on the fringes, but these areas are handicapped by bad street layouts, less walkable neighbourhoods and a lower base from which to expand service levels compared to middle suburbs that also tend to have more trip generators.

Middle Age

Public transport in cities with low modal share disproportionately carry non-drivers; typically the young and the old. They are often referred to as ‘captive passengers’ since they have few other choices. These groups will be described in turn.

The closure or amalgamation of government schools and the shift to private schooling has increased the average distance school students travel. Parental concerns about ‘stranger danger’ and mounting road traffic has also contributed to the sharp decline in walking and cycling. Hence ‘Mum’s Taxi’ and public transport (where available) are dominant modes for primary and secondary student travel. And the growth of universities (due to both local and international students) has increased the number of older students travelling. Unlike the USA, Australia has less of a tradition of suburban students moving away to study so local students will often remain at and commute from home.

Senior passengers include those who never learned to drive (often housewives in then-dominant single-car households after WWII) and those too blind or frail to drive. In addition, local shopping strips, cheap seniors fares and frequent service (especially during weekday interpeak times when many seniors travel) make car ownership unnecessary for many seniors.

There is however change within the senior passenger population. Population ageing is increasing the number of those who have had to give up driving but is reducing the number of seniors who have never driven. The majority of seniors remain mobile, especially with the spread of low-floor buses. However a growing proportion (often over 80) have difficulty accessing conventional route services and use community buses operated by a local seniors group or council.

Public transport usage is weakest amongst middle aged working people (especially for the majority who work outside the CBD). Due to their number public transport will need to attract a growing proportion of them for it to increase modal share. To some extent this has happened in recent years, largely due to the employment strength of the CBD. However because market share is now high amongst CBD workers, continued increases in modal share will need to come from those who work elsewhere.

Middle Class

Public transport has strong usage by those on low incomes, particularly if it is their only motorised transport option. Those on moderate to high incomes who work in the CBD dominate peak-period public transport. Inner-suburban gentrification has made the average incomes and house values of suburbs served by tram higher than many outer areas served by bus or train only. Nevertheless the middle class appear to be under-represented on much non-CBD off-peak and weekend public transport services.

Nevertheless when designing services and facilities to attract modal share, one must have middle class tastes (including their fears and prejudices) in mind when designing and marketing services. This might include developing frequent networks serving places where the middle class go (for instance large shopping centres on the weekends), addressing concerns about travelling at night and spreading the message it is used by ‘people like us’.

Legibility is another concern; the suburban middle class are unlikely to give up driving, but could be attracted to public transport for some trips if routes are more direct and understandable. Even not being able to see through windows due to all-over advertising on trams and buses would discourage some passengers due to safety and navigability concerns.


Middle Suburban, Middle Aged and Middle Class. These are the groups that abandoned public transport for the car during the 1950-1980 period of falling patronage. Conversely it is these people who need to be attracted back to deliver further modal share increases. Public transport service design and marketing could do worse than target these potential passengers in its work, particularly in areas where services can be cheaply improved, made legible and promoted.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

As usual, a good analysis. I refer to them as suits, professional men between the age of 30 and 50 who deserted trams in their droves in eighties. The numbers have been replaced by others, but not by these influential people.