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Walkability Is Key for Transit Use, Says New Study

If people can’t get to transit on foot, they’re not likely to use it

A new study by nonprofit transit advocacy group TransitCenter confirms a piece of conventional wisdom city dwellers have long known: If a transit stop is not within walking distance, it’s not likely to be used very often. The report is called Who’s On Board, and, by forming focus groups and surveying transit riders in 17 metropolitan areas across the U.S., the organization was able to collect information about how commuters and tourists use transit from sea to shining sea, with the goal of helping shape transit policy.

One of the report’s key finding is, of course, that the way to get folks to use transit in their respective cities, is to make service fast and frequent. According to TransitCenter, these were "the two most important determinants of rider satisfaction." No surprises there. "This finding underscores the importance of putting transit stations in busy, walkable neighborhoods, building offices and housing within walking distance of transit; and providing more and safer pedestrian routes to transit," says the study.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the report also reveals that the idea of transit users as system loyalists—often called "captive"—isn’t quite true:

Transit riders are sensitive to transit quality, not "captive" to transit. For decades, transportation professionals have talked about two kinds of transit riders: car-owning "choice riders" who use transit when it meets their needs, and carless "captive riders" who will use transit regardless of its quality. Who’s On Board finds that the "captivity" of car-less riders is severely overstated. People who live and work near better transit ride transit more often, whether or not they own cars. When transit becomes functionally useless, there are very few people who will continue to use it; agencies can take no one for granted.

You can read the full report here.