RACV’s On Track rail survey results

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Man with a bike on a train

A survey can be a strange beast. For all the priceless information a good survey collates, it can raise as many questions as it answers. As RACV public transport and mobility officer Dominique Torpy points out: “With a survey, we don’t always have a ‘why’. We just have a ‘what’.”

Why not walk?

Analysis of RACV’s latest On Track rail user survey has led to a lot of head scratching. Such as: “Why are regional rail users who live less than 500 metres from a station more than six times more likely than metro passengers to drive their car to catch a train?”

Five hundred metres is really not a large distance. Slightly more than one lap of a football oval. At a reasonable walking pace maybe three minutes, four at the most.

Yet regional commuters tend to drive that far, or less, to the station. In the metro area, 94 per cent of rail users living less than 500 metres away will walk to the station, but only 69 per cent of regional commuters do the same.

Questions need to be answered

“It raises questions for us,” Dominique says. “Maybe there is a major highway between the regional commuter’s home and the station that is difficult to cross. Perhaps it has something to do with the quality of the footpaths in their area. Maybe driving is faster because they’re not in the city. Do they feel safe?”

This aspect of the On Track survey results will be reported to government departments that should be taking a closer look at why this is happening and what can be done.

But that won’t be the only red flag. The survey has thrown up more pointed problems for decision-makers and planners, such as that women are less likely to walk to and from a station. Early analysis of the On Track survey (RoyalAuto, March 2016) found almost a third of rail passengers don’t always feel safe arriving at stations, even walking from their car. The latest figures may underline this problem, with women preferring to drive or be dropped off.

Cut-off distance

Living 1.1 kilometres away seems to be the cut-off for commuters to reach for their car keys. While the survey found 87 per cent of people who walk to the station live within three kilometres, it also found that driving became the dominant mode to meet the train beyond that 1.1-kilometre mark. In fact, almost half the people who live between one kilometre and 1.5 kilometres from a station will drive, a finding that translates almost directly into the survey’s most commonly voiced problem; 53 per cent of commuters complained they had difficulty parking at the station.

Better walking/cycling tracks

The survey seems to suggest many stations need to be serviced by better walking and cycling tracks to encourage commuters to choose those options. Public transport and cycling appear to be generally under-utilised as ways of arriving, especially once there is any kind of distance involved. Bus usage declines by more than 50 per cent once commuters live between three kilometres and four kilometres from the station, while cycling drops away dramatically if the ride is more than three kilometres.

Thanuja Gunatillake, RACV’s manager of public transport and mobility, says: “We understand a train journey does not just consist of the time you are on the train.

Giving passengers a choice

Getting to and from the station safely and efficiently is just as important for passengers’ overall experience with the train network. We want commuters to have a choice in how they get to the station and not feel their only option is to drive. We need to make it easier to access stations by walking, cycling and public transport.

“We want to work with PTV to find innovative solutions that make our train stations more accessible for all commuters.”

Report: Nick Place
Published in RoyalAuto Nov 2016