Clear trunk line structure with integration between local and regional networks in a hierarchical system, high priority and accessibility in a physical sense, and an elaborate connection to town planning and land use at both local and regional level are the planning principles which should be followed to secure that the resources allocated to public transport will provide the greatest possible positive impact on the region's development. In order to realize such an outcome, there is need for a clear regional and local integrated transport planning which includes infrastructure, operations and management and how traffic should be used as a tool for local and regional policy objectives.
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This report aims to improve knowledge and decision making for more efficient use of public transport as a development tool. The discussion is based on the state of knowledge in public transport-related economic research with a focus on local and regional development and accessibility and mobility. The report is mostly a research review of published research, primarily from research on public transport economics and planning dimensions.
The research results discussed have been selected on the basis of relevance to the aim of the study and the need to increase the knowledge base for integrated regional and local public transport systems. There is a clear demand from the emerging regions for more input in the work of developing clear strategies on how public transport can be used as a tool for regional development and sustainable growth.
The economic research on regions and cities high-lights a number of conditions described as central to economic growth in post-industrial economies. Examples of such conditions are the importance of agglomerations and clusters, differentiation and specialization, the service sectors´ growing importance for employment, regional innovation systems and last but not least, the ability of cities and regions to be attractive and offer residents good living conditions. One important implication of this is that the economic transformation towards growth and development is becoming more and more dependent on the availability of dense physical space. Therefore, cities and regions will be drivers of growth.
All these conditions can be linked to opportunities for travel, transport, mobility and accessibility. This in turn means that public transport can be linked to these driving forces for economic development in terms of mobility and accessibility in general, but also more directly to the characteristics that public transport has in relation to other modes of transport. Public transport has a high capacity with a relatively limited demand for space. Therefore, public transport can be used to achieve the dense clusters which are prerequisites to exploit agglomeration economies, to realize economies of scale and contribute to favourable production conditions for the growing service sector.
In combination with the fact that public transport is often more environmentally sustainable than private car use, it can be assumed that it is public transport’s potential as a development tool that explains the increasing political interest of public transport in many countries in recent decades. The former quite so one-dimensional discussion of the role of public transport for regional expansion and matching in the labour market has today been replaced by a more complex view of the development potential. There is surprisingly little research on the economic consequences of public transport measures on growth and development with a profound empirical base. The economic research in this area is focused on accessibility, more generally, measured in travel time and often related to the impact of infrastructure investments. This means that there is a great need for more empirical research on the effects of the measures that may arise in the planning of local and regional public transport.
Attempts to empirically establish the link between a region's economic growth and public transport supply suggest a weak, or non-existing, link. A contributing factor to explain this in the Swedish context is that there is no region that systematically and consistently uses public transport as a development tool for sustainable growth. The main function of public transport is to serve as a complement to private car that dominates as the transport mode in Swedish regions and cities.
Such integrated transport planning is almost non-existing in Sweden. The trend towards a more explicit regional level, with changes in responsibilities between different tiers of government, leads to the need for a more comprehensive planning and decision support for public transport. The new regional authorities will need to know how public transport should be planned and integrated into a region-wide perspective, both in terms of planning guidelines and the planning tools that can be used. A key issue will be public transport relations to urban development and land use in general. Here, the municipalities have the main responsibility and the current change in roles of responsibility in public transport with regional public transport authorities can cause problems on the basis of that aspect.
Many initiatives are emerging with the objective of developing models and perspectives for planning and governance of regional and local public transport. The national authorities and industry stakeholders are together commissioned to release guidelines for new transport strategy programs to be established by the new regional transport authorities as a result of the public transport legislation soon in power.
Much stronger strategic dimension is needed in the planning of public transport. What matter are transport system development, operation and management, and how public transport should be used as a tool for regional development aimed at sustainable growth. In planning, several changes, measures and quality levels should be evaluated, and applied perspectives must be wider than to focus solely on infrastructure investments.
From the discussion follows that the spatial dimension is becoming increasingly important for economic development. Urban development, regional context, and how land use and transport interact should be lifted into the core of public transport planning. Regardless of the level of resources allocated to public transport, it is important that the resources are used to the best advantage. If sustainable economic development is prioritised, planning and governance of public transport should be changed in the direction discussed in the report.