Policy Instruments

Encouraging public transport use through land use planning
SummaryFirst principles assesmentEvidence on performancePolicy contributionComplementary instrumentsReferences


Encouraging public transport use through land use planning involves the planning of new land development and the management of existing land in such a way as to:

  • Improve conditions for the efficient operation of public transport;
  • Improve the accessibility of urban areas and enable people to travel more by alternative modes;
  • Increase the demand for public transport, particularly by encouraging mode change from the private car.

This is normally done by organising the location and/or mix of land use types to suit public transport use. Public transport nodes, including rail stations, can serve as a catalyst for more accessible land use by creating pedestrian- and cyclist-orientated centres. Households living in such neighbourhoods will tend to travel less by car compared to households in lower density less mixed areas. Similarly, workers in such areas are more likely to commute to work using alternative modes and carry out lunchtime errands by foot or by bicycle. These factors can lead to higher levels of public transport commuting, increased non-motorised travel for non-commuting trips (such as shopping and trips to school), and a reduction in car travel. In effect a ’multiplier' effect may be in evidence since the addition of one commuter bus mile may lead to a reduction in several car miles (i.e. not using the car at lunchtime).

In practical terms there are two specific, inter-related ways in which land use planning can encourage the use of public transport:

  1. By locating trip origins and destinations near public transport routes, or by ensuring that new developments are served by efficient PT service from their first day of use.
  2. By ensuring trip densities are sufficiently intense to establish an efficient service.

With both, the general principle is thus to ensure that trip origins and destinations are arranged in nodal or linear patterns which are compatible with the demand patterns needed to ensure that public transport services, both bus and rail, are viable and efficient. In addition major activities, employment nodes and higher density residential areas should be encouraged near stations, significant stops and interchanges along public transport routes.

By its very nature land use planning means that several years will pass before developments are in place and so it will take a similar length of time before the impact upon public transport use to occur. In addition the size of the response will also depend upon the scale of the land use changes implemented and the design and type of those changes, in terms of density and mix.

Top of the page

Text edited at the Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT