How Public Transport Can Make Cities Healthier

How Public Transport Can Make Cities Healthier

A study published in medical journey The Lancet today by the Healthy Cities Commission highlights that careful planning is needed to ensure sustainable city growth, especially when it comes to dealing with poorer residents. In theory, larger city populations should make it easier to deliver health-enhancing options: it’s easier and more cost-effective to construct sewage systems and cycleways, for instance.

As UCL Professor Yvonne Rydin points out, we can’t simply assume that an improving economy will in itself ensure services are delivered equitably: “Economic growth cannot be assumed to lift all urban citizens into a zone of better health. Even in scenarios where health in a city has improved, without active maintenance of investments, gains made can be reversed, leading to increased rates of death and disease.”

One example that really jumped out at me from the study was the revamping of a public bus system in Colombia:

In Bogota, Colombia, Transmilenio, a mass-transit system that uses Bus Rapid Transit technology was introduced in 2000, with dedicated lanes and fixed bus stations. Covering 25% of daily public transport trips in 2010, this system has not only reduced car use and average commuting times of its users, but has also prompted users to walk longer distances to stations than the system previously used whereby buses stopped wherever users asked them to do so.

Improved frequency and fixed locations offer a double benefit here: more reliable services and some exercise at the end of them. And that’s before considering reduced emissions because buses rather than private transport are being used.

It would be interesting to see this adopted more widely in Australia, where buses are often infrequent (especially on weekends) and timetabling unreliable because of extremely frequent stops. (Part of the Bogota solution was a ban on traffic on many roads on weekends, which is a laudable idea but one I can’t ever imagine taking root in Australia).

The Lancet


  • For me, as I spend more time in European cities (this week in Sweden) I’m struck by how easy it is to get around for recreation and for non-work commutes. The services and the infrastructure is designed to allow people to get around with their shopping, their dogs, bicycles whatever without needing a car. Services are so frequent that you don’t need a time-table, because something will always be along in a few minutes (London is great for this).

    Sydney is a glaring example of city that has low access and low availability of transport services.

    Follow Jarrett Walker’s “Human Transit” blog for a lot of insights into how to refine bus services.

    Jarrett has spent time living and working in Australia so is quite familiar with local urban issues in several cities,

  • Try public transport in Melbourne. We have three primary modes which should be good but the trains are a complete disgrace. People blame the operator Metro, before that Connex, before that Hillside/Bayside Trains. Before that trains were officially a government responsibility. Nowadays they still are: taxpayers fork out hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize the operating costs but everyone is sucked into thinking it’s all Metro’s fault and they therefore feel they have limited course of action to protest the situation of an overpopulated, under-performing, inadequate system.

    It might be all well and good to write fluffy articles about the environmental benefits of prioritizing public transport over cars however if you really want to make a difference, start a political campaign using your readership for an audience.

    The web is chock full of fluffy progressive thinking ideas on all sorts of topics. It’s as if all we need do is read articles and take a little action in our own lives to see change. Well … sorry people … some things require huge infrastructure investment, like … erm, public transport! The way to change that is to get political! More people merely opting to take public transport over cars is not enough. Such patronage increases just expose the under-investment of governments. Until a group such as GetUp! starts focusing on something more important than gay divorce marriage and other more social, less economical issues, public transport will remain a dodgy prospect.

Log in to comment on this story!