Mar 25, 2015

Almada applies SmartMove methods in urban context

Almada, Portugal, has much to gain by persuading car users to shift to public transport

A densely populated municipality within the Lisbon metropolitan area, Almada is an urban outlier in the rural-focused SmartMove project.

But with significant congestion problems from both weekday commuters and weekend beachgoers, Almada has much to gain by persuading car users to shift to its well-developed but underused public transport system.

Almada has a population of 174,000 and lies just south of Lisbon across the Tagus River. As Lisbon’s main southern gateway, it sees nearly 160,000 vehicles each weekday course through town and over the “25 de Abril” bridge to the capital city. On weekends, droves of pleasure seekers come across the bridge from Lisbon to enjoy Almada’s attractive Atlantic beachfront. About 28 percent of the city’s annual carbon emissions come from transport, compared to the EU average of 25 percent.

Almada has invested heavily in public transport over the last decade and now has a full complement of train, tram, bus and boat services. Other services have emerged in recent years to make sustainable transport more convenient and attractive: bike sharing, an on-demand bus service and real-time passenger information for smartphones, for example. At present, however, capacity far exceeds demand.

Almada’s current modal split is 19 percent for walking, 30 percent for public transport, 2 percent for “other” and almost half (49 percent) for private cars. Unlike the ageing populations of the rural areas targeted by other SmartMove campaigns, Almada’s residents are largely young, working-age people who are nonetheless very car oriented. Surveys show that 73.2 percent of households own cars, with 45 percent owning two or more.

According to surveys, some residents don’t use public transport for practical reasons (not flexible enough, the timetables don’t suit them, the prices are too high) and some for cultural reasons (public transport doesn’t have the prestige of cars). But it’s also clear that residents know very little about feeder systems that would make public transport a convenient option.

For the SmartMove AMC campaign, Almada will focus on a catchment area in  Sobreda, located near its main rail station in Pragal, where commuters can catch a train over the “25 de Abril” bridge. The area covers all households within about 750 metres of the initial bus stop of line 1P (which runs between Sobreda and Pragal rail stations), encompassing a population of 3,000 to 4,000 people.

The rail station can be accessed by this fixed-route bus line, which serves as a feeder system for the main train service. The bus line’s operator, SulFertagus, is owned by Fertagus, the main private operator that runs the train line. The company reports that 1P is the most underutilised line in its bus system.

According to Pedro Gomes of AGENAL, SmartMove’s partner in Almada, public transport makes sense for commuters in this area. A typical driver who switches to public transport can save EUR 130 per month and about 20 minutes for each journey to or from Lisbon.

“In our experience, not many people know the basic facts”, Gomes said. “They don’t know the cost comparisons or anything about these feeder systems. So you don’t have to show them much information to start with.”

Almada’s AMC campaign is due to begin with a letter to households, possibly delivered as an insert in the city newspaper. It will invite them to take part in a survey about the SulFertagus feeder system. Those who participate will be able to do so either online or via a home visit, and they will receive gifts afterwards.

Participants who ask for further information will receive a “welcome kit” containing the requested materials, as well as free public transport tickets, timetables etc.

The campaign will also include some “active” measure where organisers will meet commuters face to face. This will be an opportunity for SulFertagus to learn more about existing and potential users and for citizens to learn more about local transport.

Along with its participation in active measures, SulFertagus has said it is ready to make adjustments in bus service frequency and timetables according to respondents' feedback. It will also refurbish bus stops and update information materials over the course of the project.