Evidence that car drivers will tend to switch to trams but not buses – USA, UK Germany

See also evidence that car drivers hate buses

USA – home of the car love affair

A US Transportation Research Board analysis {US Transportation Research Board TRB Report No. 1221 of 40 years of data of buses replacing rail, and latterly rail replacing buses (as in Houston), showed that light rail (trams) carried 40% more trips than a like for like bus service, and that the majority of this difference was car commuters switching to rail. Passenger behaviour is a stronger signal of travel preference than attitude surveys.

This analysis has 38 references.

The Conclusion says this:


In most cities served by buses exclusively, transit riding has declined 75 percent over the past 40 years. Exclusive busways have not made much difference absolutely, but they have helped relatively. In 11 areas with updated rail transit facilities, ridership has increased markedly, often by more than 100 percent. In two of these areas, the transit systems are attracting more ridership than they did when gasoline and tires were rationed. It appears that rail transit makes a great difference in ridership attraction, with attendant benefits (38).

Because transit use is a function of travel time, fare, frequency of service, population, and density, increased transit use can not be attributed to rail transit when these other factors are improved. When these service conditions are equal, it is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 percent to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors.

Those engaged in alternatives analyses and similar studies would be well advised to consider these differential factors before making service recommendations or traffic relief assumptions. Future problems with air pollution, congestion, and funding may all be seriously affected by these considerations.”


Croydon and other UK re-trammed cities

With a good tram system, a significant proportion of hitherto car drivers leave their cars at home, reducing congestion and permitting increases traffic (and tram) speed. The Tramlink[1] in Croydon has 25% of its passengers leaving a car at home, and has reduced Borough traffic by 19% and requires a second town centre line to accommodate the growth in patronage, due to the resurgence of central area shopping and work.

[1]                https://insidecroydon.com/2013/07/11/dirty-croydon-i-boris-failing-londoners-on-air-quality/


2.15    Bus passes will not solve the problem. People would rather use cars than buses  – extract from Bath Trams report

There is a large body of market research and other behavioural evidence, which shows that fares are usually the fourth or fifth reason for not using public transport. Most pensioners from outside London buy an Oyster card and use the tube when in London, rather than travel free, on buses. Outside London many pensioners with cars never use their (free) bus passes. A recent survey of car users (see 4.2 British survey on negative attitudes to buses ) showed 97% would not use buses, even with free travel. A study in 1974 determined that to get car commuters to switch to bus would require an average payment of 50p per journey (£5 in 2016 prices), to compensate for the differences in real and perceived differences in the in the quality of service. 
Trams work because people want to use them. Over a quarter of tram passengers in Croydon have left a car at home, and traffic levels in Croydon have reduced by a fifth since the start of trams in 2000. Only about 11% of tram passengers use a free (pensioners) pass, compared to 35% of bus passengers. This either means that pensioners do not like trams or actually four times as many people will buy a tram ticket as compared to bus travel[1]. In Bath are 68% of trips are by car and 6% by bus.

[1]  Extract of letter from Prof Lewis Lesley, Emeritus Professor of Transport, Liverpool University, pers com.



Light Rail Developers’ Handbook (LLLRDH).  ISBN 978-1-60427-048-8, Lewis Lesley, J. Ross Publishing Inc, 2011, p 8.

‘The enhancement of property values near light rail lines compared to those further away has been noticed in other cities. This urban restructuring can reinforce the role of the light rail system and capture a larger share of the urban trip making, from typically 2% to more than 5% of all trips per line, or up to 40% of the movements in that corridor.’ – Light Rail Developers’ Handbook (LLLRDH).  ISBN 978-1-60427-048-8, Lewis Lesley, J. Ross Publishing Inc, 2011, p 8.

Modal Tram Switch from Cars to Trams in Freiburg

The chart below shows how over time as the tram network has extended, people have shifted from cars to trams in Freiburg – similarly in many other European tram cities.




The Houston Example:

In Houston (Texas), construction  began  in June  2008  on five more light rail lines,  a  30-mile-  (48-km-)  long  system,  to supplement the successful  first line  opened  in  2004.  Ten years of building HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes failed to attract car trips to buses. These HOV lanes are now being tolled for single-occupant car use, showing the failure of bus lines using them.


The Runcorn Example

¨The pioneering Runcorn Busway, opened in 1969 to serve Runcorn New Town was expected to attract 50% of internal trips to bus. The New Town was built as a series of development at each Busway Stop. Buses run on the Busway at 40mph and trips by bus are faster than car to the town centre, Shopping City. By the early 1980s the Busway was only carrying 15% of trips, and today only 5%.