Positive association of walking with the use of public transport in Switzerland
Promoting physical activity and active transport strategies are among the “best buys” for tackling the risk factors of noncommunicable diseases (WHO Global status report on noncommunicable diseases, 2010). Operationalising such insights requires policies favourable to health in the transport sector. In Switzerland and many other countries, the transport sector has its own agenda which includes increasing walking, cycling and public transport patronage, and reducing car use – or at least limiting it to areas or purposes not easily covered by other transport modes. It is clear to most transport sector professionals that reducing car use and favouring other modes not only alleviates traffic congestion, but also contributes to reducing noise, air pollution, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission. However, many transport strategies have trouble integrating health into their argumentation plans. Air pollution is sometimes mentioned, however improvements in motor and fuel quality standards have weakened this argument. What remains under-explored is the potential of a reduction in car use and/or an increase in public transport use to increase daily walking. Given the current global epidemic of sedentariness, overweight and obesity, this deserves to be explored further. We used the Swiss transport micro-survey (MTMT2010) – a complex database where 62’868 people describe their transport behaviour on randomly selected reference days – to investigate associations between walking and the use of other transport modes. Linear regression was carried out using kilometres walked as the dependent variable. We found walking to be positively associated with public transport use and negatively associated with the use of a private motorised vehicle. The proportion of variance in walking distances explained is around 3% (p<0.001). Interestingly, the use of public transport has a stronger (positive) effect on walking distance that the (negative) effect of car or motorbike use. These results supply evidence that policies aiming to transfer mobility from cars towards public transport are likely to bring about increases in walking and therefore public health gains. These results may also be used as inputs for further research, including Health Impact Assessments which may be carried out on future transportation policies.