Vaud residents embrace clean commuting and public transport

EPFL has established a comprehensive overview of commuting practices by Vaud residents and their views on available means of transport.

Over the past decade, there has been a remarkable change in transportation options for residents of the Canton of Vaud. Whereas the population has grown by more than 15%, the supply of public transport has grown by over 30%. In parallel, information and communication methods have increased dramatically, and the role of cars and clean transportation methods in large conurbations has been rethought. What impact do these transformations have on people's commuting habits? An EPFL survey reveals that the quality of time spent in transit has also become a factor in selecting a means of transport. Moreover, although cars still hold pride of place when it comes to transportation options, public transport and walking are now very much a part of people’s mindsets – Vaud residents are now truly multimodal.

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EPFL's Urban Sociology Laboratory (LASUR), headed by Vincent Kaufmann, surveyed a representative sample of the workforce in Vaud’s various regions. These included Lausanne and its suburbs, the mid-sized municipalities of Morges, Nyon and Yverdon, the peri-urban zones around Yverdon and Nyon, smaller communities (Aigle and Rolle) and small peri-urban areas outside urban areas. Originally conducted in 2018–2019, the survey was updated in 2020 to include a pandemic-related supplement. All together, the survey has yielded a detailed picture of how workers’ commuting habits vary depending on such factors as place of residence, age and level of education.

Private cars: still useful, but less loved

Similar surveys conducted in 1994 and 2011 for the Lausanne area serve as benchmarks. The main finding is that cars continue to play a central role in Vaud residents’ commuting choices. In regions where public transport is sparser and in city centers, nine out of ten working households use a car. In Lausanne, three out of four working adults have a car in their household. The city’s extremely convenient parking conditions keep car ownership appealing: more than half of all working people who drive to work have parking spaces, a figure that increases to three out of four in other parts of Vaud. It’s also worth noting that fewer than 35% of those who take public transport receive a contribution towards their travel passes from their employer.

While the car's reputation remains mostly positive, it is nevertheless in decline. In 1994, criticism of automobiles centered mainly around their cost. Now, however, they are taken to task for their negative impact on the environment. A quarter of a century ago, only one person in ten held a negative view of cars; today it is one out of four. Public transport’s image, however, is very much a work in progress. In 1994, more than one out of two Vaud residents (53%) had a negative view of it and only 30% a positive perception – a trend that resurfaced during the current pandemic. In 2011, the opposite was true: 61% of working adults had a positive image of public transport against 26% with a negative view. By 2018, this perception had changed – only one out of every two Vaud residents had a positive image. In 1994, public transport was criticized for being slow and limited; now it’s ticket prices that are seen as problematic, especially among occasional users and those travelling with families.

Clean transportation methods, conversely, reap accolades among users, who see them as sporty, ecological, practical, inexpensive and comfortable. Cycling continues to be perceived as dangerous, however, especially in Lausanne and its suburbs, while walking is deemed too slow, particularly for longer trips outside urban centers.

A multimodal world

What can we conclude from all this? Commuting habits are shifting. Automobile use is decreasing, while walking and the use of public transport are on the rise, except in suburban areas. These trends are even more marked among the under-35s, who are less likely to always have a car at their disposal. Overall, Vaud has become a multimodal world: 40% of its residents regularly use several means of transport and a third do so occasionally. Bicycles and e-bikes continue to enjoy considerable potential, according to the researchers. Based on this, they recommend introducing continuous cycle paths in urban areas and pedestrian travel routes that are linked to public transport. In 2020, this trend continued throughout the pandemic.

Another finding is that how people can use their commuting time also plays an important role in their transportation choices. With regard to public transport, the research team recommends improving user comfort, augmenting the frequency of trains and increasing average speeds to be more competitive. They also recommend more efficient feeder services in the Canton’s peri-urban and rural areas, as well as more appealing fares for occasional travelers.


This study by EPFL’s Urban Sociology Laboratory was funded by the following partner organizations: the government of the Canton of Vaud (DGMR), the Yverdon-les-Bains conurbation, the city of Lausanne (Mobility Division), the city of Morges (Department of Urban Planning, Constructions and Mobility), Transports Publics Lausannois, the city of Nyon (Mobility Department), and the Nyon Regional, Environmental and Mobility Unit.