Crowding out with public transport

This is an idea that’s been in my head for a while. About whether it is possible to nudge people who normally travel in cars to use public transport by simply flooding the roads with buses. The motivation for this comes from the hassles associated with marking and enforcing bus lanes, a form of public transport that is generally considered superior to subway trains in terms of cost of implementation and effectiveness.

So the idea is that as the number of buses on the road increases, the average speed of cars comes down. And after a point, the number of buses on the road means there’s enough supply that one can travel comfortably in them. And there will come a point when people will give up their cars in favour of buses since they can now spend the time more usefully rather than waste it by concentrating on the road.

Of course, this point is still far away for a city like Bangalore, though the BMTC has been making efforts, with initiatives such as the Bus Day. Still, now I’ve begun to have my doubts about it. About whether just increasing bus connectivity and frequency and quality will be enough to take cars off the road. I’ve begun to think if the comfort of not having to drive but travel at the same speed is enough to compensate for the cost of walking to and from bus stops and waiting for buses. The other cost of traveling by bus is that once you get into a bus you travel by a fixed route rather than adapting to daily traffic flows.

The important thing here is the distribution of waiting time for catching a bus. If a passenger is convinced that he is very likely to get a bus within a certain span of time with a very high probability (using vague words to avoid putting random numbers) he is likely to wait for a bus. However, if there are no such bounds, then the passenger might choose to travel by an alternate means of transport.

Still it needs to be seen. From what I know, all cities that currently boast of great public transport actually built a lot of the basic public transport infrastructure before the boom of cars in the place. I can’t recall off the top of my head any city that has actually nudged passengers from personal cars to public transport after cars had become default mode of transport (if you know of such cases, please let me know). In that sense, this nudging towards public transport is still a hard problem to solve. Nevertheless, I still think it might still be a good idea to try crowd out private transport by public transport.

8 thoughts on “Crowding out with public transport”

  1. another thing is the public perception. for most people bus travel is meant for people of little means, never mind that it is way more convenient and less stressful.
    and bus travel should be perceived as reliable and deterministic. there should be fixd timings which buses adhere to, and route books that’ll help even a newcomer get by easily. only then will folks who are used to only private transport will switch over.

    1. that’s true. But I think with Volvos (and they’re quite frequent) public perception should get partly taken care of. Also the new JNNURM buses look quite nice.

  2. What about cities with congestion pricing? I am sure London has drastically reduced car traffic.

    I do not think its a hard problem to solve though. Quite a few big US cities are moving that way (New York!). Congestion pricing plus expensive parking and you’re good to go. Maybe the exact question you have is if any city has done it without de-incentivizing travel by car (although your suggestion would do that as well)

    1. Problem with paid parking is that it just shifts to crossroads and nearby residential areas. Bangalore doesn’t have clearly demarcated commercial and residential zones. so if you charge for parking in a commercial zone it just shifts.

      I used to live close to what is now a major shopping destination. used to have trouble getting my car out of my house on weekends!

  3. “that has actually nudged passengers from personal cars to public transport after cars had become default mode..”

    well, I don’t know about cities that have done this, but personally, after experiencing the comfort of public transport during an extended stay in Europe, I have become a convert to public transport in Bangalore after being a personal car user for decades. To my surprise, I found that we really don’t have to wait for very long for buses these days. I suppose there would be others who might think like me?

    1. yeah. That’s one very good thing. With buses, you can’t do much about the actual travel time (apart from making bus lanes which is messy). So the next best thing is to shorten waiting time.

      But then we need to get a good system of interchanges going. For example, I think changing a bus at Majestic is a nightmare .

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