Large cities with public transit systems provide residents with options for getting to and from work or school. In deciding to choose traffic jams over metro delays, or to pay for parking over buying a monthly pass, they weigh the pros, cons and costs of their options, and their mental calculations are more complex than they may appear.
Zachary Patterson, an assistant professor in Concordia University’s Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, discovered that decisions about where to live and how to get from home to work happen simultaneously and he’s published his findings in the Journal of Transportation and Land Use.
Commuting choices, he concluded, depend not only on cost and travel time, but also on who you are and where you live.
With the help of colleagues at McGill University and Université Laval, Patterson crunched numbers to determine which Montrealers are most likely to take public transit and which are more likely to drive. Previous studies have shown that people who live in neighbourhoods with a high-population density and a mix of residential and commercial land-use prefer public transit.
It’s also clear that when the cost of parking increases, fewer people drive. But Patterson’s study is the first to analyze how these factors interact with residential self-selection – the fact that individuals choose their neighbourhoods because they prefer one commuting option to another.
Patterson and his co-authors believe that “household location and transit-mode choice are intimately linked,” and the findings of their study support this hypothesis. A commuter living close to downtown — in a part of the city with high-population density, a mix of residential and commercial land use, and good access to public transit — is 13-to-14 per cent more likely to use public transit than someone living farther away who is of the same sex and age and has the same income.
Patterson’s research proves that Montrealers under the age of 35 are more likely to live where public transit is most accessible. The study also reveals that women are more than twice as likely to choose public transit than men.
The conclusions drawn from Patterson’s study are readily applicable: when urban planners know more about who chooses public transit and why, they can make decisions that will encourage more people to leave their cars at home. The results suggest that increasing the cost of parking in downtown Montreal could be one option, but decreasing public transit fares or travel times might work equally well.
On a larger scale, says Patterson, “strategies that promote densiﬁcation, increase land-use mix, and improve transit accessibility would have a positive influence on downtown transit commuting.”
• Zachary Patterson on Research@Concordia
• Concordia University’s Department of Geography, Planning and Environment