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Identifying preferences for public transport investments under a constrained budget


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As urban areas face increasing demands for new transport infrastructure to promote a sustainable future with an increasing reality of constrained government budgets, the debate on whether we should focus on rail or bus-based investments continues unabated in many jurisdictions. Associated with the debate is an emotional (or ideological) bias by communities in favour of one mode, especially rail, which carries much sway at the political level as if there is no budget constraint. This paper presents a stated choice experiment to investigate this context as two unlabelled options described by 20 potential drivers of community preferences for improved public transport, where each choice scenario is conditioned on an estimated construction cost and a total annual transport infrastructure budget for the relevant geographical jurisdiction. This is followed by a labelling of each alternative to reveal whether the option is bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail (LRT) and to establish whether this additional information influences preference revision. Data is collected in all eight capital cities of Australia in mid 2014. Mixed logit models with heteroscedastic conditioning in terms of the cost of the project infrastructure and whether the alternative is labelled BRT or LRT, provide new evidence on the nature and extent of community modal bias in a budget-constrained choice setting. The conclusions are twofold. On the one hand, if a fully compensatory choice rule is assumed (as is common in all previous modal comparison studies), LRT is predominantly preferred over BRT despite budgetary constraints, similarities in quality of service attributes and the opportunity to choose a greater network coverage for a given construction cost. However, when we allow for attribute non-attendance (a semi-compensatory choice rule), the modal bias is no longer a significant driver of preferences.

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