Characteristics of Effective Metropolitan Areawide Public Transit: A Comparison of European, Canadian, and Australian Case Studies

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Characteristics of Effective Metropolitan Areawide Public Transit: A Comparison of European, Canadian, and Australian Case Studies


This research project investigates the replicable characteristics, policies, and practices of successful metropolitan areawide public transportation networks that contribute to high usage and make transit an effective competitor to the private motor vehicle. The research method involves the qualitative and quantitative analysis of ten international (non-U.S.) case studies. The principal methods employed were web-based research and data collection, as well as telephone interviews with transit agency staff or regional planners as needed. The case studies were limited to developed western countries with similar metropolitan conditions to those in the United States.

This research focuses on key characteristics of highly effective regional transit systems from the perspective of the metropolitan area, not the individual transit operators. These characteristics fall within three broad categories: the setting of the metropolitan area; the customer-apparent transit service features; and the behind-the-scenes or institutional characteristics.

Key findings are: (1) all ten case studies have a metropolitan areawide regional transit coordinator (RTC); (2) RTCs yield benefits in terms of ridership and operating efficiencies that are discernable from the effects of high transit funding and subsidies; (3) all case studies had some degree of fare integration, and most had complete regionwide fare integration; and (4) transit service was frequent, abundant, and affordable in all cases.

The features of excellent regionwide transit systems that have been identified in this research can be applied to U.S. metropolitan areas with multiple players, yielding effective, efficient, and high mode share public transit at the regional level. The research can help U.S. policy makers and planners begin to improve the appropriate aspects of their own regional transit systems, including by improving coordination and organizational structures.



Dr. DeRobertis has a PhD from the University of Brescia, Italy, and a BS and MS in Civil Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. She was a consulting transportation engineer for 20 years and then spent ten years in the public sector focusing on sustainable transportation design and policy. She is currently a Principal at Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities, a non-profit research and educational institute, as well as a Research Associate with Mineta Transportation Institute. Her current research interests are assessing the benefits of traffic- reducing strategies on livability and improving public transit in the U.S. In 2014 she founded and chaired the ITE Committee on Transit and Traffic Impact Studies, a multi- year effort to document whether and how public transit is considered in Traffic Impact Studies in the U.S. and Canada; the ITE State of the Practice Informational Report was published February 2019. She subsequently served on the ITE committee that rewrote the ITE Recommended Practice for conducting multimodal and traffic impact studies. In 2009, she was the recipient of a fellowship from the German Marshall Fund in the Comparative Domestic Policy Program, where she researched Land Development and Transportation Policies for Transit-Oriented Development in Germany and Italy. She is a registered Professional Engineer in California in both Civil Engineering and Traffic Engineering.


Dr. Ferrell began his career in 1995 as a planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). He completed his doctoral studies in City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley in 2005 and worked as a consultant with Dowling Associates, Inc. for 10 years before leaving to help form CFA Consultants in 2010. He is currently the Executive Director for Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities. He has been the principal investigator for six research projects for the Mineta Transportation Institute, where he has been a Research Associate since 2005. His research focuses on the relationships between transportation and land use, livability, travel behavior, transportation policy, and planning-related institutional structures. His research experience includes the study of multimodal transit and freeway corridors, the best practices for building successful transit-oriented development, the effects of transit-oriented development on surrounding property values, the effects of neighborhood crime on transportation mode choice, and a set of methods, metrics, and strategies for evaluating transit corridor livability. As a practitioner, he has planned mixed-use, infill and transit-oriented development projects, analyzed the impacts of specific and general plans, planned and implemented intelligent transportation systems, and developed bicycle and pedestrian plans. He has taught several quantitative methods classes in the San José State University Urban Planning Department as well as a course in transportation and land use in the City and Regional Planning Department at the University of California at Berkeley.


Richard Lee is an adjunct lecturer in the Urban and Regional Planning Department at San José State University and a course instructor for UC Berkeley’s Transportation Tech Transfer program. He has been a research associate with the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) for over 20 years. For MTI, Richard has led major research studies of general plans and sustainability, airport planning, and sustainability indicators for transportation. From 1995 through 2002, he was a full-time academic, teaching transportation planning and leading research projects at Massey University, New Zealand, UCLA, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Richard is also Director of Innovation and Sustainability at VRPA Technologies, Inc., a California-based consulting firm, as well as a Principal at Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities, a non-profit research and educational institute. Dr. Lee’s 35 years of academic and consulting experience include management of regional transportation plans, general plan studies, and high-speed rail. He has planned transit improvements for systems ranging from BART to single-route systems in the San Joaquin Valley and covering all transit modes. He recently led both a long-range transit plan for the Fresno region and a short-term route restructuring study for the City of Fresno’s transit system to incorporate bus rapid transit. Dr. Lee holds master’s degrees in Civil Engineering (1984) and City and Regional Planning (1985) as well as a PhD in City and Regional Planning (1995), all from the University of California at Berkeley.


John M. Eells is a transportation planner with 42 years of experience pre- paring comprehensive transportation plans and developing sustainable transportation projects at the local and regional level. John’s experience includes two years in the Legislative Analyst Office in the California State Legislature, five years with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), seven years as the Transportation Planning Coordinator for Marin County, and 28 years as a consultant. John is currently a Principal at Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities and a researcher with the Mineta Transportation Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a master’s degree in City Planning from the University of California at Berkeley. John has assisted in the preparation of Regional Transportation Plans for Sacramento and Lake Tahoe and has reviewed Regional Transportation Plans throughout California for conformance with State greenhouse gas reduction requirements for the California Attorney General’s Office. He participated in a joint effort by Caltrans and the California Council on Science and Technology to develop a proposal for a new California Center for Transportation Innovation to coordinate transportation research activities in California. John has also managed major multi-modal transportation studies, evaluated the feasibility of proposal ferry services, and worked on the implementation of several rail transit projects including the Sacramento Light Rail project, the ACE Commuter Rail Service from Stockton to San José, the SMART Commuter Rail Service from Cloverdale to Larkspur, the proposed AMTRAK line from Oakland to Reno, and the proposed high-speed Maglev Service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

September 2020
Transit integration
Public transit
Public transport association
Regional coordination



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