Here’s two ways to increase the use of local transport – but keep an eye on the price tag

20th July, 2016

We’ve launched a couple of new toolkit pieces today to add to our existing guidance on employment training and business advice.

The new pieces take a look at two aspects of transport policy, summarising the available evaluation evidence on the impact of integrated ticketing and real time information systems on ridership numbers.

Interestingly, the available evaluations provide somewhat stronger evidence of positive impacts for integrated ticketing than for real time information. All four studies that consider the impact of integrated ticketing on overall ridership find positive effects. These effects vary from a low of around 2-3%, to a high of 20%. In contrast, only two out of four studies report a positive effect for real time information. The effects also appear to be smaller, at around 1.7 to 2.0%.

What to make of these findings? To my thinking, the evaluations should be viewed as providing guidance on possible impacts on ridership. But given that results in transport investment are especially scheme specific, additional sources of evidence (e.g. bespoke surveys, ex-ante modelling, etc.) will clearly have to play an important role in making local decisions. The toolkit provides some further detail on how these contextual factors play out in the available evaluations.

It’s important to remember that any impacts need to be offset against costs (which are likely to be very different between the two types of scheme).

When thinking about costs, we should also acknowledge that we’re not attempting a full assessment of the user benefits of different schemes. Instead, we’re trying to inform discussions about potential wider economic benefits that may be used to justify investment. As none of the available studies examine local economic growth effects directly, we focus on ridership effects. Increased ridership may reduce congestion, which acts as a barrier to growth. Some of the additional journeys (e.g. if they are work-related) may also directly generate economic benefits. Furthermore, while user benefits are not the focus of our toolkit, increased ridership may be a sign of improved service experience for public transport passengers.

For some localities considering new schemes, making benefit-cost ratios add up will rely on wider economic benefits (because benefits to existing users aren’t enough to justify the investment). These evaluations give us additional evidence on whether the assumptions underpinning these decisions are reasonable.

It’s important to recognise that ex-post evaluation of the impacts of these different interventions can be challenging. Some benefits accrue only indirectly to passengers, for example where operators and transport authorities use real time information to improve network planning and remove infrastructure bottlenecks. Wholesale changes in ticketing tend to be accompanied by other large changes in the public transport system, including new infrastructure, new customer service systems, new branding, improved quality,and so on. These complexities explain why modelling and other sources will remain important inputs into decision-making.

But evaluation has a role to play too, especially if we can increase the robustness and volume of evaluation evidence available. We’re working with a number of local partners on how to do this. Do get in touch if you’re interested in contributing to that work.

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