Public transport strategy: Minimal service vs. competitor to the car
With regard to public policy for public transport services, two dominant approaches are found: the provision of minimal services to the car-less population, or the provision of a service that competes directly with the car (in terms of time, cost, convenience, etc.). Increased acknowledgement of the need to mitigate traffic growth and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has led to a growing need to shift from the former to the latter, encouraging the use of public transport.
This paper sets out to explore whether competitiveness with the car is a priority for the public transport planning of medium-sized European cities, as well as whether the change in European regulation (European Commission, 2007) has managed to contribute to the acceptance of this priority. In this study, we take a closer look at a country undergoing significant regulatory and procedural transformations. An exploratory analysis is conducted regarding plans, actions, and development projects in recent years in four Portuguese municipalities. Relevant planners and transport authorities are interviewed on matters such as how local policies and plans favor public transport; how the planning process was implemented; the actors involved; and the support tools used to achieve the established goals.
The findings reveal that relative competitiveness of public transport is considered important by planning practitioners. Nevertheless, other concerns seem to be more timely, such as, providing minimal services, restructuring existing networks, and budget constraints. The results suggest that changes in the planning process have been overwhelming and are seen as restricting the steps required toward making public transport more competitive vis-à-vis the car. So far, local authorities recognize the potential of adding relative competitiveness concerns in the future, as well as the added value of planning support tools capable of revealing such relative competitiveness.
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