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Strategic Accessibility Toolkit for public transport

With increasing urbanisation and emphasis on promoting the use of public transport, analytical tools that allow appraisal of the accessibility impacts of transportation schemes are required.  Such tools provide a way to evaluate the social equity benefits of schemes under consideration and help inform investment decisions.

This project aimed to develop a Strategic Accessibility Toolkit comprising two parts:
– a transit network builder to allow the user to create transit networks based on existing and proposed future services. The network builder is used to automate the manual tasks required to build a transit network based on GTSF-format files (General Transit Feed Specification is the file format used by Google Maps to generate public transit routes). This step includes importing data, extracting specific information (frequencies, speeds, etc) and checking its quality to ensure that there are no abnormal speeds, excessively long or short routes, etc.
– a transit accessibility calculator to enable the user to measure changes in accessibility to public transport and, via these transit facilities, to access essential services and key locations. It calculates, for any given geographical point, two scores: (i) a score representing the transit service density; and (ii) a score relating to accessibility, via transit, to user-defined key destinations.

The toolkit was successfully developed as an add-in to the TransCAD transportation planning software package and is now being applied on live projects.

The development of the toolkit benefitted greatly from the opportunity to collaborate with a client, not only with regards to relationship-building and commercial benefits, but also through the depth of knowledge and information gained and the client-oriented perspective on specific issues and details.

The toolkit we developed can be applied on transportation planning projects in any jurisdiction, with particular efficiency where GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) data is available.

The toolkit is currently being applied with much success in Ontario and further interest has been expressed by local municipalities. Additionally, the toolkit has been recently being applied on a project in New York City.

The main users of the toolkit are transportation planners interested in understanding the impacts of changes to the transit system and/or land use on transit accessibility and access to key destinations. The toolkit helps users generate powerful analyses very efficiently, since it includes components that automate importing of GTFS files and allow the user to run batches of scenarios.

The application of the toolkit has had an important impact on the City of Toronto’s City Planning team, which is now using accessibility metrics and analyses as a key component of their project evaluation and consultation process.

The development of the software tool itself has a positive impact on the efficiency with which we can do our work as well as allowing us to add value on projects that, initially, didn’t include consideration for transit accessibility.

A paper was written jointly between the Arup and Metrolinx staff that worked on the project and was submitted to the Transportation Research Board (TRB).