Monday, April 22, 2013

Do Europeans Use Transit a Lot? Perhaps, but Only in the Central City.

Recently I stumbled on an analysis of commutes in the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg.  It's an old and interesting city that I had the chance to visit it in the late 1980s when there were two Germanys, West with capital Bonn, and East with capital (half of) Berlin.

Germany is a country with substantial use of rail both in and between cities.  Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany. The county where Hamburg is situated has a population of about 1.8 million and the six surrounding suburban counties have a population of 1.5 million.

Unlike US cities which are characterized by very high (employment) density in the downtown and medium-to-low (population) density in areas surrounding the downtown, Hamburg and most old European cities have high (population and employment) densities over many acres. This makes the development of multiple rail lines meaningful and productive.  Their rail lines are compact in length and are supplemented by bus or tram. As a result, transit use is moderate.

Their suburbs have a low use of transit. Let's look at the shares in the image below.

In the city of Hamburg, 33% use car modes, 19% use transit and 38% walk or bike.  What's the largest difference between Europe and US. Is it transit use? No! It's Walk and Bike.

Walking and biking to/from work is more than 35% in Europe and less than 5% in the US.

In the suburbs of Hamburg transit drops to 7%. TheBus in Honolulu has a 6% share. Again the main difference is that even in the suburbs Europeans do a lot by walking and biking: 28% compared to less than 2% in US suburbs.

Some dense American cities like Honolulu look a lot like old European city suburbs. Like in Europe, the share of transit in the suburbs is rarely if ever over 10%. Investing on rail transit in suburban Europe or US cities is a poor decision both financially and for transportation productivity.