A recent summary report from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program provides an overview of research into the potential of a hypothetical driverless vehicle to improve access to and use of an available rapid-transit rail service. Investigators for the EAR-Program–sponsored project examined whether the use of rapid transit might be increased by implementing an automated high-frequency community shuttle service to the transit station and improving urban design near the stations to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.
The distance between a traveler’s origin or destination and the nearest public transit station is often time-consuming, inconvenient, or unsafe to travel and may discourage potential transit riders from using the system. This distance, known as the last-mile problem, impedes full usage of existing transit systems, particularly in outlying suburban and exurban areas. To further examine this issue, researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Chicago surveyed residents of four metropolitan Chicago neighborhoods, all served by rapid transit but differing in levels of population density and affluence (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Locations and household density of the four metropolitan Chicago neighborhoods on which the study was based.
By drawing on the survey data and using agent- and activity-based modeling developed by the research team, the investigators found that a significant shift of commuters from automobiles to rapid transit might be achieved with implementation of the potential shuttle service and design improvements. The summary report also includes an overview of the investigator’s research into how perceptions of cost, safety, and time affect travelers’ choice of mode; the differences among communities’ responses to the improvements; and what those differences mean for the relative effectiveness of each potential improvement.
The full summary report, The Impact of Automated Transit, Pedestrian, and Bicycling Facilities on Urban Travel Patterns, is available here.