Transit and Health: Mode of Transport, Employer-Sponsored Public Transit Pass Programs, and Physical Activity

The more people who use mass transit, the more likely they are to meet the Surgeon General's recommendation to get physical activity by walking for transportation, according to this study included in a supplement to the Journal of Public Health Policy about the 2008 Active Living Research Conference. Those surveyed also were more likely to meet the recommendation if they had and used an employer-sponsored transit pass. 

Since buses and trains are not "door-to-door," people who use mass transit are generally walkers by definition, but it is not known whether they walk enough to meet the physical activity recommendation and whether factors such as sociodemographics affect how much they walk. This study analyzed data from a sample of 4,156 people extracted from a larger 2001–2002 survey of metropolitan Atlanta residents who were interviewed by telephone and kept two-day travel diaries. 

Key Findings:

  • Rates of walking and mass transit usage among the entire sample were low. Only 10.9 percent did any walking for transportation; 2.6 percent did enough walking to meet the recommended 30 minutes per day; and 5.4 percent used mass transit. These statistics are in line with what is known of Atlanta's walking patterns, suburban development and limited transit system.
  • While those who took more trips by any mode were more likely to do some walking, only additional trips by transit were significantly associated with greater odds of walking enough (>2.4 km/day) to meet the recommendation.
  • On average, transit users walked 1.72 km per day, but those who did not use transit walked only 0.16 km per day.
  • Almost 9 percent used an employer-sponsored transit pass; but 11.1 percent were eligible for a pass and did not use one.
  • As their income increases, transit users walk a greater distance per day, even though higher income transit users take slightly fewer trips by transit and more by car than other transit users. 

The study was based on a small sample, because few in Atlanta use mass transit, have access to employer-sponsored transit passes, or meet the recommended level of walking for transportation. The authors suggest further analysis of the cause for the association between transit trips and doing the recommended amount of walking.