Spårvagnar i Skåne

An American view on Spårvagnar (in Malmö)

Nyhet   •   Aug 06, 2012 09:23 CEST

How does an urban planning expert from the United States react to transport plans for Malmö?
We had the chance to find out when Dr. Daniel B. Hess, associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York visited us. Dr. Hess was in Malmö in May 2012 to learn about transport planning and the possibility of establishing light rail in Malmö.

This was not his first trip to the Oresund region. In 2006, he lectured at the Centre for Traffic and Transport Research at the Technical University of Denmark. In May he made a short stop in Copenhagen to meet with colleagues, en route to Estonia. Last year, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Estonia, and spent more than six months there and is now returning there to engage with continuing projects.

What is your impression of Malmö?

Retail and commerce in the city center seems strong, and this is important. Malmö University College has shifted activity to the waterfront. University students bring energy, and the Malmö population is more diverse than other parts of Sweden. Connections to nearby towns seem reasonable, and people are using public transport for inter-city trips. I see all urban travel modes (automobiles, public transport, walking, cycling) working together in the streets. Data you shared with me from the Malmö municipal government shows that Malmö is the most densely populated place in all of Sweden, and even suburban places in Malmö have strikingly high densities. Between 2005 and 2010, the population of Malmö increased by 9 percent and average population density increased by 2 percent. These figures suggest that there could be demand for additional transit infrastructure.

In general, what is the interaction between urban planning and transport planning?

Urban planners are concerned about the arrangement of land uses, or the designation of plots of land for residences, commerce, industry, open areas, green space, etc. Each of these land uses brings about different demand for travel, and this demand for travel should ideally be met with an appropriate supply of transport infrastructure—roads, highways, parking, public transport, and pedestrian and bicycle routes. Taken together, individual land uses can be grouped into districts that define the urban form of a place—the centrum, high-, medium-, and low-density neighborhoods, suburbs, rural, and ex-urban areas.

Malmö has been in existence for centuries, and naturally all types of land uses are present as the city has matured and ben rebuilt. Transport-land use connections are also well established. More recent and planned projects enhance cross-border transport connections, which help strengthen Malmö’s economy and at the same trip solidify Malmo’s place in the complex Oresund region.

Both Americans and Swedes love cars. What could get them to use public transport instead?

Research shows that the most significant behavior changes come from financial incentives and disincentives. Charges for vehicle ownership and use—vehicle taxes, import fees, vehicle registration, fuel taxes, tolls, parking changes—can discourage “undesired” travel patterns and encourage “desired” travel patterns (walking, bicycling, and riding public transport). Sweden does a much better job than the U.S. at charging fees for vehicle use.  Driving in the U.S. is comparatively inexpensive. At the same time, the alternatives to public transport must be attractive and desirable—decent walking environments, good bicycle routes, and good public transit (clean vehicles, on-time and frequent service, reasonable prices).

How can we encourage more people to ride public transport?

The chief competition for public transit is automobiles. For public transport to be attractive to commuters and travelers, it should be clean, easy to understand, fast, frequent, and convenient. Today’s traveler also likes amenities such as on-board wifi, electronic fare payment, and smartphone apps.

Do you have other suggestions for encouraging hard-to-reach customers to use public transit?

In the U.S., some transit agencies have mobility training programs which provide individualized or group training for riding public transit. In such programs, a transit rider or potential transit rider meets with outreach staff members to review route planning, schedules, and fare payment. You can imagine that for a person who has not ridden public transit in a long time (or perhaps ever), there may be a great deal of anxiety connected with the first trip, as everyone else seems to know where they are going and people may not stop to answer questions. Mobility training can be especially helpful for people with disabilities.

Some mobility programs include “travel buddy” training, in which volunteers accompany potential transit riders on their first trip on public transit. In this way, a “beginner” transit rider has a friend for their first journey who can show them where to wait for a train or bus, how to buy a ticket, how to board, etc.  Travel buddy programs work well for people of all ages, especially older adults.

Should light rail transit be established in Malmö?

It is too early to say for certain, but I am happy to hear that Spårvagnar I Skåne is thoroughly studying the potential for high-capacity transit, either upgraded buses or rail transit. Light rail—because of the installation of tracks and stations—signals permanence, which can encourage developers and business owners to invest in locations near transit, which helps to strengthen the transport-land use interaction. My research in the U.S. has shown that properties that are near light rail transit corridors and stations have higher values than comparable properties not located near light rail. However, the cost to build a light rail system is high, and many cities choose to begin with a Bus Rapid Transit system, a less expensive option, with a goal to upgrade to light rail at some point in the future.

Many light rail systems were built in the U.S.A. in the 1980s and 1990s, but the pace of adding new systems has slowed considerably, largely due to the high capital expense. The U.S. federal government now encourages studies of urban corridors with potential of adding “high capacity transit” before deciding the best transit mode—this is similar to the approach now being undertaken in Malmö. Cities in the U.S. are more likely to establish a Bus Rapid Transit system which, if ridership warrants and when budgets permit, can be upgraded to light rail.