Fact sheet Improving public transport links

Making public transport more attractive may cause more motorists to choose to use public transport. Making it more attractive can be done by:

  • reducing travel time, by means of faster or more frequent connections
  • making the journey more enjoyable, by providing sufficient seating, Wi-Fi and power outlets
  • reducing fares

Increasing rush-hour traffic volume and overcrowding in public transport in many parts of the country may mean that such measures are of great importance. As are behavioural measures, aimed at better spreading demand outside peak hours. You can find more information about this in the fact sheet Rush-hour avoidance on public transport.

Accessibility effects

The effectiveness of public transport improvements is generally expressed in terms of elasticities. These elasticities indicate, in percentage terms, the expected effect on public transport use in the event of a certain change in public transport travel time or fares. A distinction should be made between an increase in public transport use (its own elasticity; see points 1 to 3 below) and reduction of car use on the same corridor, and the origin-destination relationship (the cross-elasticity; see point 4 below).

1. Effect of reduced travel time on public transport use

A 10% improvement in travel time for urban public transport connections leads to an average of 4-6% more travel by public transport. A 10% improvement in travel time for train journeys leads to a 5-7% increase in train journeys. A 5% travel time improvement will have half as much effect; a 20% travel time improvement will have twice as much effect.

The table below shows these elasticities of a shorter travel time (by public transport, not door-to-door), according to reason and type of public transport. The table also shows that travel time improvements lead to a larger increase among business travellers than among commuters.

Effect of reduced travel time on public transport use
Purpose Urban (Bus/Tram/Metro) Inter-city (Train)
General -0.4 to -0.6 -0.5 to -0.7
Business -0.5 to -0.7 -0.6 to -0.8
Rush-hour commuting -0.2 to -0.4 -0.3 to -0.5

2. Effect of a more pleasant journey on public transport use

In general, making the entire public transport journey more pleasant has a greater effect on public transport use than reducing travel time. In particular, late arrivals, having to stand due to crowding, and waiting time on the platform are aspects that have a relatively greater impact on public transport use than travel time. This concerns the door-to-door travel time, and not just the time actually spent in the vehicle (as in section 1 above).

In order to compare the effects of improvements in these various aspects, the perception of time by travellers was examined. Research has shown that waiting ten minutes on a platform seems to take about twice as long as an extra ten minutes of travelling time on the train. If you can improve the waiting time on the platform, this will have twice as much effect as improving the travelling time on the train. The same applies to having to stand in a bus or train due to a lack of seats. Then too, the travel time seems twice as long. Punctuality is also very important for public transport passengers as, too, is the hustle and bustle of waiting or walking from one platform to another. Improvements in these aspects of the public transport journey all have a greater effect than reducing the travel time itself.

To calculate the impact of various improvements, all parts of the door-to-door journey are put together and multiplied by the factor indicating how time is experienced. When waiting on the platform and standing in public transport, this is a factor of 2. The sum of these experienced travel times is called the 'generalised door-to-door travel time'. An improvement of this travel time by 10% leads to 6% to 9% more travel by public transport (see source [1], p. 69 for more details).

3. Effect of the price on public transport use

The effect of the price on public transport use is greatest on the bus and train. A reduction in the price of a train ticket of 10% leads to an increase in train journeys of 6-11%. The same reduction for bus tickets leads to an increase in bus journeys of 6-10%. The use of metro or tram is the least sensitive to changes in price: where the reduction in costs is 10%, public transport use increases by 3-10%.

Effect of the price on public transport use
Mode of transport Price elasticities
Bus -0.6 to -1.0
Train -0.6 to -1.1
Metro/tram -0.3 to -0.7

4. Effect on the road

The impact of the improved quality of one means of transport on the use of another means of transport is expressed as 'cross-elasticity'. Not all 'new' passengers who use public transport thanks to a certain measure will have undertaken the same journey previously by car.

The cross-elasticity for travel time between public transport and car is very low: between 0.03 and 0.06. This means that a 10% reduction in the generalised door-to-door travel time by public transport leads to a 0.3-0.6% reduction in car journeys on the route in question.
This reduction in car use may be (slightly) higher on corridors where public transport and cars are already highly competitive. Conversely, it can be lower for shorter distances, where the bicycle is an important alternative.

The sensitivity of motorists to reduced public transport ticket prices is still slightly lower than that of shorter public transport travel times. The cross-elasticities for train fares related to car use are between 0.01 and 0.04. For bus fares, these elasticities are between 0 and 0.02.

Sustainability effects

To replace a car trip in rush hour with public transport, we have assumed that the average length of a public transport trip for commuting in the rush hour is 24 kilometres. Using this distance as a starting point, the following emissions are saved on average per instance of rush-hour avoidance:

Reduction in emissions
(savings in kg per instance of rush-hour avoidance)
CO2 NOx PM10
3.7 0.0026 0.00016

Variables with an impact on effects

The effectiveness of improving public transport connections and their impact on car use depends in the first place on the current (door-to-door) travel time by public transport, compared to travel time by car, and the extent to which this public transport travel time improves. In addition, many other variables play a role, which also determine public transport use in general, such as:

  • distance to public transport stop or station
  • commuting distance
  • fuel price
  • employers' mobility policies. Are employees encouraged to use public transport?
  • parking situation at the destination, such as availability and cost
  • amount of traffic on the route taken by car
  • other characteristics of the public transport journey (cost, number of transfers, chance of being seated, parking, getting to the transport hub/onward journey, comfort during the journey, etc.)

Behaviour change takes time, so does the structural adjustment from car use to the use of public transport. It is therefore advisable to always use physical improvements in combination with a behaviour campaign, to make people aware of the improvements and to encourage them to travel differently. You can find more information about this in the fact sheet Public Transport Trial Passes. The effects mentioned in this fact sheet apply for the long term (longer than 1 year). The rule of thumb is that in the short term the effects are about half.


The cost of an average public transport improvement measure depends so much on the specific measure that it is impossible to put a clear price tag on it.

More information

See https://wegwijs-beterbenutten.nl/ov-stimuleren

Sources consulted

  1. Literatuurstudie tijd- en convenience gevoeligheden openbaar vervoer, Eindrapport (Literature study, time and convenience sensitivities for public transport., Final report)(MuConsult, 2015)
  2. Valuing Convenience in Public Transport, ITF Round Tables, No. 156, OECD Publishing (OECD/ITF, 2014)
  3. Uitwisseling gebruikersgroepen ‘auto-ov’ (‘Car-public transport’ user groups exchange) (Kennisinstituut voor Mobiliteitsbeleid, 2015)
  4. Effecten van prijsbeleid in verkeer en vervoer - Kennisoverzicht (Effects of pricing policy in traffic and transport - Knowledge map) (PBL en CE Delft, 2010)

Rules of thumb

  • effect on accessibility: 0.3-0.6% rush-hour avoidance on a corridor for every 10% improvement in door-to-door public transport travel time on that corridor.
  • effect on sustainability: reduction of 3.7 kg of CO2 per instance of rush-hour avoidance
  • cost: highly dependent on practical application