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Tom West

My professional work often results in me doing peer reviews - and we often get client comments about how their city/town isn't like the ones that are ranked better on the list for some reason....


As a public transport advocate in Auckland, studies like these are really useful. Not just to hammer home the message about how badly we're doing but also to provide useful guidance in relation to how we can do better - often through measures that aren't particularly expensive. It's particularly useful to know which particular policy interventions have helped certain cities come up with really strong patronage statistics, or really low comparative operating costs.

It would however be potentially even more useful for studies like this to go to the next level and start looking at the issue of "what does this actually mean for the city?" Per capita annual trips is a really good measure of a system's quality, but what does that mean for the city?

For example, we know from this study that Ottawa has 168 trips per capita a year, compared to Auckland's 44. What does this mean for Ottawa? Do residents spend far less of their money on transport, enabling a higher quality of living? Is much less of the city given over to providing road-space, allowing for greater development densities? Does the city have a more thriving and vibrant downtown - leading to better economic productivity? Does it have lower greenhouse gas emissions per capita? Has it been able to get away with spending far less on expensive road-based transport infrastructure over the past few decades? And so forth.

Getting back to this study, I think it's useful to point out that Auckland Transport has only existed since November last year, while the problems the study highlights are perhaps more than anything else the result of an extremely car-focused transport policy from 1955 onwards. Which has only recently started to change (yet still only locally, central government in NZ continues to spend vastly more on highways than on public transport).

Alon Levy

Relatively nitpicky question: where did they get their Australian journey-to-work mode share numbers from? The US and Canadian numbers are in line with official numbers, but the ABS numbers I've seen are self-contradictory and in all cases give higher figures for Sydney (e.g. here).

Brent Palmer

@Alon Levy: "The ABS numbers I've seen are self-contradictory and in all cases give higher figures for Sydney"

That may be due to the Sydney Statistical Division including low-density areas further afield, such as the Blue Mountains and Central Coast.


Brent Palmer

Whoops, on second thoughts, that would result in *lower* figures for Sydney. My bad.

Alon Levy

The report mentions in footnote #8 that the journey-to-work numbers are based on the Sydney Statistical Division, same as the ABS.

Alan Howes

An interesting and well-constructed report - thanks, Jarrett. It even tries to make clear whether its mode-share figures realate to all modes, or motorised modes only (which many studies fail to do).
That figure of annual PT trips per capita is indeed a useful bench-mark. Surprisingly, Hong Kong only (seems to) achieve 383 on this measure - exceeded by London (424), Glasgow (452) and Tokyo (467) - New York only manages 287, and Paris 253. Edinburgh manages 230 on buses alone, though Edinburgh doesn't have much else.
(Figures from multiple sources, not guaranteed!)

Tom West

ON transit trips per capita... you can get problems where the users of a transit system come from outside the area served by that system. A lot of people using London's transit network have commuted in from outside of London.

A better measure would be the transit rides by residents per capita (although this is much harder to measure).

Alon Levy

Alan: this is where you're getting into problems involving comparability, especially when transfers are involved. For example, we know the transit trip-to-work mode shares in both Greater New York and Greater Paris, and Paris has the higher share (42% in Ile-de-France vs. 27% in New York's CSA). Greater London, i.e. the city proper excluding some suburbs, has a 40% share if I remember correctly; most likely, the high number of trips per capita comes from counting people who change between different modes multiple times.


It seems to me that an industry group like APTA would need to become involved in peer reviewing for it to be meaningful. While it's possible to produce statistics from peer agencies, what's more useful is a discussion of the factors that differ between agencies, and no single agency is in a position to assess those factors or to understand the different ways that data are interpreted at each agency. Every agency can produce a statistic with a name, but that doesn't mean they all have the same understanding of what that statistic means. If peer reviews are important, then more time is needed for interpretation than any single agency can afford.


@Alon Levy

I think you're almost certainly right that this is a factor in very high shares in British Cities, where free transfers are the exception, not the norm - so most of the time there is no way of knowing if a trip on a vehicle is a discrete trip or part of a transfer trip.

Alan Howes

Oh yes, there will be all sorts of problems with those figures I quoted, transfers being just one. Though in London's case, most transit riders are on Oyster Cards - but I still don't know whether the trip totals are linked or unlinked (and I have not the time to check back!).
I have never come across a transit statistic yet that can't be questioned in some way. And remember that the UK has universal free bus travel for seniors, which increaes ridership markedly (through no positive action by the transit agencies and operators themselves).

Richard Campbell

Too bad they focused on trips per capita instead of passenger km per capita and the km/trip. For short trips, people have many options including walking, cycling, bike sharing, electric scooters. For long trips, there are two realistic options, driving and transit. Not too much point in investing a lot in transit that gets people off their bikes and off their feet as much as it gets people out of their cars.

Replacing long car trips also reduces the demand for road space much more than replacing shorter trips thus the road space can be repurposed for bus lanes, bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

Also, especially for the short term, low speed, limited range electric vehicles are far more practical and affordable than electric cars built for longer, higher speed trips.

In Brisbane

Didn't Auckland used to have decent patronage on par with Toronto pre-1955??


Marseille has a terrible transit system by European standards, most of its bus network shuts down at 9pm and the subway shuts down at 10:30pm (used to be 9pm). Vancouver is much better in this regard. Also Marseille transit goes on strike a lot more often. Also, Marseille has a lot of suburbs/satellite cities (Vitrolles, Aix en Provence, Aubagne etc.) which are not very well served by transit, and are connected to Marseille by a crummy commuter rail system (TER).

Alon Levy

Richard: no, on the contrary. If the average transit trip is long, it means that people are still living in low-density exurbs. All first-world transit competes with cars; if the trips are short, it means that long-term TOD is such that people live closer to where they work.


I dislike when people use peers to warrant lowered standards. Its like a race to the bottom.

"MBTA proposes raising fares"
Justification: MBTA charges $1.70 vs $2.25 in NYC, clearly Boston is too cheap.

I see this a lot. Ever thought that
a) Service is not comparable
b) NYC is....too expensive?

Again, same with 24 hour service
"Why should we offer 24 hour service when almost no one else does? "

Just because everyone else sucks, doesnt mean you should suck too.

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the firm

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