Replacing regional bus services with rail: Changes in rural public transport patronage in and around villages

Joel Hansson, Fredrik Pettersson-Löfstedt, Helena Svensson and Anders Wretstrand, Transport Policy February 2021

Removing bus stops is often a prerequisite for introducing faster, more reliable, and more frequent rail or coach services in rural areas. Despite the potentially higher quality of service through trains or coaches, however, the bus-stop removals often become stumbling blocks. It is sometimes feared that the alterations to the public transport network will pose a threat to the possibilities of living in rural areas outside villages. In this study, we investigate how travel by public transport is affected in areas where bus services are substantially reduced in connection with the introduction of rail services with fewer stops. Through an analysis of access trips from rural areas surrounding the train stations, we are able to study the development of public transport patronage in these areas in comparison with a control group with retained rural bus services. A total of 28 villages with surrounding rural areas in southern Sweden are included in the study. Our results reveal a significantly larger patronage increase around new train stations compared to areas where regional bus services are kept, and importantly, the patronage increase does not only occur in the immediate surroundings of the stations. Outside the villages, in the rural areas where public transport services have been cut, the increase is of equal magnitude. Hence, our results oppose the idea of distortion between the villages and their surrounding rural areas, at least in terms of net effect on public transport usage.

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