Starting in the 1970s, Paris connected its suburban rail lines to form the RER network. Instead of ending in stubs in the central city, the RER runs as an express subway through the city proper. Using time-of-day trip data*, we can compare the RER to its American counterparts.
While the largest share of boardings in the Paris suburbs is in the morning peak, there is also substantial ridership in the afternoon and evening. In contrast, commuter rail in the U.S. is tilted much more heavily to peak hour ridership.”
U.S. commuter railroads are often full to seated capacity during peak hours but only carry a few people per car at other times. An entire off-peak MBTA train might have, at its fullest, 60 passengers. This is not the case in Paris, where midday RER trains routinely leave the city with every seat full.
There are two main reasons for this: service frequency and land use.American commuter rail stations are typically surrounded by parking. The intent is for suburban commuters to drive to the park-and-ride and take the train to the central business district. Few middle-class workers would be willing to live car-free near such stations and take the train to the city: They’d need a car to run errands, and the stations themselves are too hostile to walking…
In contrast, there is ample development next to suburban train stations in Paris. In Bourg-la-Reine is high-rise housing projects — behind the buildings there’s a supermarket. Many Parisian suburbs are poor, but Bourg-la-Reine is solidly middle-class, and even in rich suburbs, such as those on Transilien lines L, N, and U, there is high off-peak ridership. In those areas, people can live car-free near a train station, do most errands on foot, and take the train downtown for work.In California we are slowly making progress building new higher density housing near regional and transit rail stations. This is a recent photo at the Claremont Metrolink Station in Los Angeles County near the San Bernardino County border. Photo by Noel T. Braymer