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Project Type
UTRC Research Initiative
Project Dates
01/01/2009 - 08/31/2010
Principal Investigators
Project Status

The past five years have witnessed a new era of transportation planning and policy-making in the United States, characterized by historically high gas prices, continuously worsening road congestion in urban cores and major corridors, and increasing concern with greenhouse gas emissions and energy independence. In response to these trends, federal, state, and local governments have become increasingly interested in changing when, where, and how we use private automobiles. At the same time, more and more people are finding that alternative modes, such as transit, car sharing, non-motorized travel, etc., are acceptable travel solutions. These alternatives indicate emerging market segments that could offer opportunities to build sustainable transportation systems in the decades to come, and therefore may warrant more investment. However, there is little understanding of what drives individuals to one of these alternatives rather than continue to use their personal automobiles. Moreover, there is little understanding of which alternatives work most effectively, and under which situations.

Given that New York City already has one of the most far-reaching transit systems in the country and that New York City Transit already has a high penetration rate, the greatest opportunities for moving even more people away from cars and onto transit will likely come from “transit under-served areas.” The term “transit under-served areas” (TUSAs) refers to areas in a metropolitan region with a development density not as high as downtown, but also not as low as most suburban communities. These medium-dense areas are normally well served by local transit but still far away from rapid transit systems. TUSA residents often rely on local services or private modes to access rapid transit. Accordingly, TUSA residents drive more frequently than those in well-served areas such as downtown, but less frequently than those in not-served areas such as suburban neighborhoods. In contrast to TUSAs, the phrase “not-served market” refers to areas that have few or no transit services, while the phrase “well-served market” refers to people who have a convenient access to rapid transit including urban rail, regional rail, and bus rapid transit. They normally live within a half mile of a rapid transit station.

The central point that this research will make is that the under-served market has a great potential to contribute to mode shift and ridership increase in public transit if the cost of driving continues increasing and the service of public transit continues improving. The penetration rate in the first-order market is already high, and the room for increase is limited (TCRP Report 37, 1998). Attracting new riders in the suburbs is costly and slow (TCRP Report 55, 1999). In contrast, TUSA residents have plausible public transit options, and their needs could be met cost-effectively without significant expansion of the existing network. This research aims to elaborate this point by exploring several TUSAs in New York City. The purpose is threefold: (1) to understand the multiple travel options that TUSA residents face; (2) to analyze current modal choice decisions and possible responses to policy interventions; and, (3) to draw policy implications that could help transit agencies recruit new customers from TUSAs, while retaining existing customers and building strong constituencies in this new era.