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BITRE | Working paper 74

substitute to car for door-to-door trips. Indeed, as the ECMT has noted, this task

becomes increasingly difficult—even with significant road congestion—as other

aspects of private transport quality improve:

On-board entertainment systems, advances in vehicular comfort, mobile

communications and computing have all contributed to making the drive alone

experience something that many look forward to, rather than dread. If transport

authorities ignore this factor, they may find themselves puzzled at the remarkable

resilience of demand for car-travel even in consistently congested conditions (ECMT

2007, p. 36).

Governments’ strategy for assisting public transport to be an attractive alternative

to the motor car has had limited impact in ridership—and it has come at a very high

price. The significant increase in public transport funding in the US in the latter

part of the twentieth century (as illustrated in Figure 2.6) has not been matched by a

concomitant increase in patronage.

Public transport usage has increased in London following the introduction of the

London Congestion Charge. However, it is debatable how much of the increase is due

to the charge. Three other important factors account for at least some of the increased

patronage: strong economic growth over a sustained period, growth in both domestic

and international tourism and major enhancements to the bus service, albeit financed

by the revenue from the congestion charge. Indeed, the increased expenditure on

public transport associated with the charge has resulted in the total subsidy growing

faster than patronage levels, leading to an increase in the average subsidy.

Impediments to car drivers switching to public transport tend to be similar around

the world. Public transport offers different service characteristics to private motor

vehicles. The convenience and perceived personal safety of car driving is usually

preferred to using public transport. Further, as incomes rise, individuals increase

their private motoring at the expense of public transport usage. However, public

transport can become more attractive with the application of technological advances:

real-time timetable information available at transit stations, payment through

multipurpose stored-value cards and Internet and mobile phone access to locationspecific

timetables. The difficulty facing public transport operators is that, in parallel

with these improvements, private-vehicle travel also becomes more attractive as

communication technology enables travel time to be both a more comfortable and

more productive experience.

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