Feasibility of accessing peripheral centres by regional public transport.


  • jake wiersma university of amsterdam


public transport, spatial structure, urban region, car dependency




Following post war suburbanisation, in many European regions new regional centres have been developed on peripheral locations near highway exits. They host a range of regional functions like retail, educational campuses, leisure and health care, attracting many visitors. However, in many ways they are the opposite of city centres:  Monofunctional, dominated by parking lots and not accessible by public transport.  This has caused a growing mismatch between the economic system and the rail system, traditionally the backbone of regional transport. In the selected case of South-Limburg, Netherlands, currently 25% of jobs are to be found near rail stations.  About the same number is located in centres near highway exits.  This has caused car dependency, from cities and suburbs alike, being problematic for non-car-owners. A possible ‘game changer’ is the e-bike. However, only about 50 % of employees in South Limburg hold jobs within 10 km. In terms of travel time and comfort, accessing these peripheral centres by public transport is not compatible with the car. The structure of the South-Limburg regional transport system can be characterised as the ‘fishbone’ model: A core of rail transit fed by local public transport (buses) from origin and to destination. This causes door-to door travel times being 3-4 times compared to the car, not counting the lack of  comfort caused by transfers. Following the T.O.D concept, an answer could be: Relocate peripheral centres to station areas. However, most of these developments seem irreversible, moreover, they are still growing and pulling services and jobs away from urban locations.

The research question is: Can we avoid car dependency in the daily commute for work and education by replacing the current ‘fishbone’ system by offering direct public transport services to peripheral centres, using existing motorways? This leads tot the following sub- questions.

  1. How many people do the peripheral centres attract and from where?
  2. Are these streams substantial enough to provide direct and cost-effective p.t. services?
  3. What would be the resulting gains in travel time and comfort?

Nine peripheral centres were selected. Data of traffic flows were derived from the Traffic Model of the Province of Limburg. Subsequently , the relations were mapped via GIS . A bicycle-BRT system was tested, using existing car infrastructure on main roads and highways.

The results show that some relations are promising for the creation of a new BRT service via existing motorways. In other cases existing bus-lines could be stretched. Resulting travel times  are between 1,5 and 2,5 times door-to door, compared to the car. For non- car-owners these are considerable gains in travel time, and avoiding transfers makes the trip more enjoyable. However, without push measures these gains probably will not persuade current car drivers to use public transit.

Three questions for further discussion and research arise:

  • Could this BRT system partly replace existing local bus-services, thus avoiding additional costs? This leads to the discussion how the potential use of the e-bicycle could in its turn replace local bus services up to 10 km.
  • Which of the current peripheral centres could on the long-term be relocated to existing or new station areas?
  • In what measure could improved access by regional public transport shape the conditions for the transition of monofunctional peripheral centres into multifunctional and lively  environments, profiting from nearby green areas, thus offering alternatives for central urban locations?