Every day, some four million motorists use the Moscow city streets originally designed for 700,000 vehicles – a staggering statistic which underlines the urgency of the congestion problem in the Russian capital.
New roads, fee-paying parking, and better public transport facilities – including dedicated bus lanes and new metro lines – as well as the idea to charge motorists for driving in the city centre, may provide a solution to the congestion problem. Another suggestion put forward is to to redistribute the traffic flow in order to avoid the 'hot spots' of the massive commute to the city centre in the morning and back again to the suburbs in the evening.
"We have tried to assess people's views on the various proposals and some of the factors influencing the choice of private versus public transport. As far as we know, it is the first systematic study of this issue," said Alexei Belyanin, Head of the HSE Centre for Experimental and Behavioural Economics, when he presented the findings of his joint research with Lada Savina and Dmitry Korzun at a seminar in the Sociology of Markets series hosted by the HSE Centre for Studies in Economic Sociology (LSES). The researchers of this study examined whether private motorists in Moscow could be persuaded to use public transport and, if so, what incentives would work.
Until now, most studies of urban traffic have focused on the needs of infrastructure , trends of transport network usage, and transport origin and destination areas. "Examples such as these and those relating to Moscow in particular, have been around for a while but they cannot be used to predict how individual motorists would respond to changes in different circumstances, such as more frequent traffic jams or the implementation of a congestion charge," Belyanin noted.
In order to deal with these omissions, the researchers constructed micro-models so as to examine the demand for transport infrastructure. They looked at the users of transport infrastructure to examine any existing associations between user behaviour and their personal circumstances and individual charactersitics, as well as the destinations, and how different modes of transport were used.
The survey's questionnaire was specially designed to link the respondent's stated preferences to his or her individual characteristics and personal circumstances such as residence, income, age, marital status, etc.
The questionnaire was completed by 239 people (121 men and 118 women) all living in different parts of Moscow and the Moscow metropolitan area. The majority of the respondents were HSE faculty and students, in particular from ICEF. These included both motorists and pedestrians, so it was possible to identify various factors influencing the choice of transport used around Moscow. “Our sample cannot be said to be representative of the entire metropolitan population," Belyanin admitted. "However, the sample's overall characteristics are consistent with our intuitive understanding of the Moscow motorist population."
The study found that 63% (99) of respondents have at least one car in the family, and 65 people (41%) use their cars regularly. Of those respondents who do not own a car, 40% plan on buying one. About half of the reported reasons for using a car were associated with leisure activities.
The study also found that people spend the longest hours behind the wheel on weekdays in winter – three hours on average as opposed to two hours at other times. At weekends, people tend to use private transport slightly less than on weekdays. Trips made at the request of relatives and friends make up only 10%.
When asked what a car meant for them, motorists emphasised the aspect of comfort and self-expression and the need for a car in town. "Many young people see cars as a relatively affordable and valued acquisition," Belyanin explained. "They say, if we cannot afford to buy a flat then at least we can afford a car."
Interestingly, motorists spend an average of 10 minutes to get to the nearest metro station as opposed to the 5 minutes it takes for users of public transport. Belyanin concludes that comfort rather than time is an important consideration in the choice of private versus public transport in Moscow.
The study confirmed that the metro is the most popular means of transportin Moscow – on its own or combined with road transport or private cars – it is used by some 75% of respondents. Public transport above ground is less popular and used by only 7% of respondents. Around 72% of car owners use their car for part of their journey to work: most of these also use some form of public transport, while 33%, or 17% of the total sample, commute to and from work by car without using any public transport.
Public minibuses (marshrutka) are almost as popular as regular buses and other means of road transport with the exception of taxis.
Other modes of transport, such as motorcycles and bicycles, are not widely used in the Russian capital.
15% of the respondents – mostly students living in hostels in the suburbs – commute in by train.
People tend to drive to and from work even in rush-hour traffic partly to avoid the hassle of changing between different means of transport (or metro lines); fatigue and personal space also play a part in their choices. Getting from home to work quickly is important but many people do not mind spending some time in traffic in the comfort of their car when driving back home.
The cost of transport appears to make little difference to the respondents' choices.
"Both public and private transport have their drawbacks but private transport is generally viewed as being a more prestigious and the preferred method of travelling," Belyanin concludes. He also explained that the main reason the metro was so popular was because it made arrival times more predictable .
People choose their means of transport depending on the purpose of their travel; someone transporting a sick child will almost certainly go by car while someone concerned about being on time to an important meeting will opt for the metro.
About two thirds of motorists surveyed would consider using public transport as an alternative to a private car but the cost has far less influence on their choice than other factors, such as the purpose of the trip, time flexibility, having to change between metro or bus lines, etc. Bad transport connections, the hassle of changing lines and the car's comfort and convenience make the car the most preferred means of transport for Moscow motorists; but, if public transport were to improve and traffic congestion were to increase there would be more incentives for motorists to leave the car at home, the study reveals.
If the average time spent in traffic while commuting to and from work were to increase by 1-3 hours, the majority of respondents would consider switching to public transport, with only 10% of motorists not switching under any circumstances. By contrast, the higher cost of travel by car would not influence their choice; in fact, 75% of respondents would be prepared to pay for parking in the city centre while only 25% would be against parking fees.
Belyanin says that most respondents value private transport for the choice, flexibility, and personal space it offers, even though they hate traffic jams and would be 30% more likely to opt for public transport if the travel time in a private car were to increase by an hour. The metro is a good alternative in terms of travel time and predictability but less comfortable and perceived by many as a 'necessary evil'. Public road transport, particularly in the city centre, is far less popular.
"Most people, regardless of their social and demographic profile, would consider switching to other means of transport depending on the specifics of their trip," the authors say. Since the cost of owning a car in Russia is relatively low, traffic jams would be the greatest factor in persuading motorists to leave the car at home.
However, about one third of the sample are dedicated motorists who enjoy driving and would not switch to other means of transport merely to save time.
The researchers have put forward a number of solutions which might encourage more Moscovites to choose public transport over the car, among them: Improving transport connections, especially in the suburbs; Making public road transport more attractive by offering better services, including shorter travel times; and redistributing traffic flows and encouraging flexible work schedules, workplace arrangements i.e. working from home etc., to relieve the pressure on the transport system.
Based on the study findings, Belyanin concludes that with appropriate incentives many motorists would use public transport rather than private cars.