Public Transit and User Health

Americans love their cars, and many people across the country rely on automobiles as their main mode of transportation. However, public and light-rail transit use are increasing in popularity, and are especially common here in New York City. As a large portion of users walk to the stations, public transit can improve riders’ daily activity levels and provide health advantages over driving, which is a very sedentary process. To test the health benefits of light-rail use, researchers developed the “Moving Across Places” study in 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For the study, researchers recruited participants living within 1.3 miles of a new light-rail line in the city. The participants were given accelerometers and GPS trackers to record their physical activity and commute methods for one week before and after the rail construction. The results were then broken down between continuing rail riders, new riders, and former riders, and analyzed to see if the rail use (or lack thereof) impacted participants’ weight and activity levels.

The results showed that new rail riders saw a decrease in weight and an increase in physical activity, while riders who switched away from the light-rail travel gained weight and had much less active time. This data bolsters the idea that rail use has positive impacts on individuals’ physical activity and weight, by adding more walking to their daily commutes. According to results from the National Household Transportation survey, transit walking is much more common among rail riders than bus riders or car drivers.

For New Yorkers, these findings may likely come as good news. New York City has an expansive public transit system, with an average 5 million daily passengers on its’ 26 different subway routes. Also in line with the study results, a 2015 Gallup poll showed that New Yorkers have lower average BMIs than other large cities with less public transport, including Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

These findings should inspire other researchers to conduct studies on the subject to bolster their validity and apply them to other communities. Additionally, city planners should consider adding more public transportation infrastructure to promote increased physical activity among their residents.