Transit-Oriented Development: does easy access to the railway station increase train use?

Author: Kees Maat and Christa Hubers
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment
Delft University of Technology

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is the strategy to urbanise around railway stations in order to increase train ridership. However, the success highly depends on the behaviour of ordinary people. Are they willing to move to TOD environments and to travel by public transport rather than private cars? This question was addressed with funding of The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO.

The TOD approach is an increasingly popular way to integrate land use and transport planning, both here in Europe and in North America, where the word ‘TOD’ was coined. In contrast to many American cities, the focus in the Dutch Randstad region is not just on developing individual compact nodes, but on the development of a whole network of well-connected nodes. Timetableless service, that is increasing the frequency of the trains up to the point where the traveller never has to wait for more than 10 minutes for a train to arrive, is expected to make train travel more attractive (Programma Hoogfrequent Spoor).

Yet, such improved rail services ask for sufficient demand. This implies that enough people will have to live, work or visit destinations near train stations. Here TOD comes in, by further increasing the residential and employment densities around train stations, and by improving their accessibility. This is promoted by the so-called Stedenbaan programme, a collaboration of governments, NS and ProRail.


Figure 1. Randstadrail Beatrixkwartier The Hague (source Stedenbaan)

The strategy is to construct 60 to 80% of all new dwellings in the catchment area of the public transport network of the Randstad Southwing. It goes without saying that the economic crisis has hampered the implementation of this strategy, as many plans for residential developments have been put on hold. Nevertheless, the shortage of homes in this part of the Netherlands implies that now the economy is about to start to grow again, so too will the demand for new residential developments.

There is one important issue, that often seems overlooked. The success highly depends on the behaviour of ordinary people: consumers who not only have to be willing to reside in a TOD environment, but also must choose to travel by public transport rather than private cars. The one (living close to a railway station) may not automatically imply the other (traveling by train). Moreover, with the market for residential housing shifting from being a supply-led market to a demand-led market, it is becoming increasingly relevant to know if consumers are willing to move.

So, we investigated to what extent people living in TOD environments are actually making more use of public transport than people living in non-TOD environments. And under which circumstances people are willing to relocate to a TOD environment in order to make (more) use of public transport. For this, we collected survey data amongst train and car commuters living and/or working in the Randstad Southwing.

And yes, we found the built environment to be related to train use for commuting purposes: shorter distances to transit stops, higher transit frequencies and parking costs were all found to increase the likelihood of commuting by train. In line with previous studies, these relations however were mainly found for the employment location rather than the residential location.

And yes, the competitiveness of the train compared to the car in terms of travel time was also positively associated with train use. Hence, as higher train frequencies are likely to shorten the travel times by train, thereby increasing their competitiveness relative to the car, this could be expected to result in increased train use. These outcomes underline the importance of looking at the connectedness of the whole network, rather than the built environment surrounding the residential location.

But now comes the million-dollar question: what is the willingness to move to the railway station for easier access to the train? This willingness was found to be greater amongst existing train commuters (which is logical) than amongst the potentials, the car commuters. In other words: the majority of people do not have a preference for living close to public transport. So, policymakers interested in creating dwellings close to railway stations to increase ridership levels, should therefore be careful not to overestimate its potential. Instead of generating new passengers, it might mainly result in the relocation of already existing passengers. Rather than waiting for this demand to develop, the most effective way is to actively encourage project developers to create dwellings at these locations.

To add to this, the distance to stops was not found to be related to train use. This addresses a question which is at the heart of research on the role of the built environment, namely how do you define ‘close’ or ‘proximity’? These concepts are highly context dependent and personal. In the Netherlands, rail catchment areas of TOD are usually larger than in North America due to the use of the bicycle as an access, and sometimes egress mode. The next question is: how close, then, is close?

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