I love my bicycle: the freedom, the chance to combine fresh air, exercise and transport, the interaction with fellow cyclists and the affordability. Cycling makes me happy… and I’m not the only one. Daily cycling (i.e. consistent exercise) is good for mental health and the bicycle’s consistent and perpetual motion can improve memory, reasoning, and planning, while leaving stress, anxiety or even depression, at bay. Still, some cities are too sprawling or too hilly to depend on the bicycle alone. Interesting, living near public transport (PT) can provide a similar sense of happiness. According to a recent study people are happier when they live near public transport. Below is a summarized (and adapted) version of Eric Jaffe’s original article “Living Near Good Transit May Make You Happier” published by The Atlantic’s CITYLAB.
University of Minnesota transport policy scholar Jason Cao investigated the connection between public transport and personal life quality. He focused on Minneapolis’s Hiawatha light rail (the Blue Line) which runs between the city centre and the Mall of America, carrying commuters to sports stadiums, entertainment and the airport. It’s a quick success story: weekday ridership already exceeded 2020 predictions by 30 percent. Great news for public transport!
For Cao, it was also important to see how this influenced residents’ well-being. He sent questionnaires to households in the Hiawatha corridor asking respondents to rate the rail’s quality (e.g. service quality, accessibility) and their overall life quality. Cao sent the same survey to four other districts: two in urban areas (with public transport, without light rail) and two in suburbs (with similar demographics, without public transport). Residents near Hiawatha reflected higher ratings on life quality compared to the other four corridors. Travel contentment led to life contentment.
I haven’t conducted such a study, but would reflect similar results. I haven’t had a car in 10 years. I don’t miss it. I love exploring a city using its public transport. In my current Amsterdam apartment, I love walking from my house, to a bus/ tram stop (across the street) or cycling 10 minutes to the train. My neighbourhood train station is complete with trains, subways, trams, buses and bike lanes…Mobility management bliss! I don’t plan, I just go. I don’t know the bus, tram or subway lines or schedules (I usually take my bike) but I know they will arrive shortly. At night when public transport is less frequent, I check the handy website/ app called 9292.nl to avoid waiting in the dark or cold.
In Cao’s study: perhaps residents enjoy the train, or the access to social and cultural destinations. (I love that you don’t have to worry if you’ve had a beer or two, and you never waste time looking for parking or being stuck in traffic.) In any case, it appears that satisfaction derives from living in close proximity to public mobility, highlighting PT’s role in everyday well-being. In a similar study, transport scholar Eric Morris wrote his doctoral dissertation [PDF] on the link between rail transit and well-being. Whether or not a person lived within a mile of a rail station had a greater impact on life quality than whether or not that person owned a car. People who lived near rail are not naturally happier; rail made them happier. (Personal commentary: agreed!)
These are two of very few studies investigating the link between commuting and life quality. Most research focuses on the negative psychological impact of commuting and more positive studies are needed. In the meantime, we can assume that well-planned public transport offers more than a ride; it’s a positive emotional force.
This study doesn’t address public transport’s environmental benefits… the defacto “do gooder” effect certainly adds to my personal happiness. Or public transport’s contribution to holiday cheer, surprising passengers or passersby. With such positive findings, I’m already looking forward to my train ride home: let’s get happy!