Contactability Measures for Assessing the Competitiveness of European Cities and Networks of Cities: the Potential for High-speed Rail and Air to Support a Polycentric Development

Contactability Measures for Assessing the Competitiveness of European Cities and Networks of Cities: the Potential for High-speed Rail and Air to Support a Polycentric Development


S Bozzani-Franc, Alain L'Hostis, Universite Paris/ LVMT, FR


Contactability refers to the possibility to contact people in a distant city. This indicator is applied to measure the competitiveness of individual cities, and the way the fast transport system can support a polycentric development.


Transport, being an indispensable support for economic and social interaction, has a major role to play in the structuring of urban regions all over Europe.

Accessibility is one of the major factors of city competitiveness. Accessibility constitutes a necessary condition for the economic and spatial development, and accessibility is one of the key sectors where public action plays a major role in infrastructure as well as in service provision in interaction with the transport operators.

In addition accessibility represents a necessary condition for the development of exchanges between cities and between cities and their hinterlands. Measuring accessibility constitutes a step in the study and the identification the potential for development of cities; it also allows for identifying those links that already permit the development of cooperation between cities and those links that lack the minimum service provision to support the polycentric development promoted at the European level.

The analysis of transport services across Europe give much importance to the air mode as the privileged long distance mean to link cities. On the shorter distance, of major importance to city development, and to polycentric organisation, high-speed rail, and to a lesser extent conventional rail, can play a prominent role.

An indicator of contactability
The accessibility levels of cities is assessed through the application of a contactability index. This family of indicator was first developped in the frame of the time geography (Hagerstrand 1970). Contactability is defined (Haggett 2001) as the possibility to contact people in a distant city. Contactability can then be used to assess the possibility of business trips between metropolises, a typical movement made by business, research and high level service workers, marking the metropolis functioning. The quality of the link between two poles can be assessed through the possibility to go from the pole A to the pole B, to have enough time for an activity related to work, and to come back to pole A in a single day. Reciprocally, one can assess the possibility for a city to foster an event gathering people from remote metropolises.

This indicator is applied on a database of timetables of planes and trains in Europe. Mono-modal and intermodal transport chains are considered. Between any pair of cities one computes the minimum timetable path that allow for a 6 hours meeting in the distant city while remaining inside de 5 to 23 hours (11 PM) corresponding to an extended working day.
Discussion: spatial planning and articulation of transport modes
Investigations focus on two directions, a discussion on the cohesion of the territorial city network, and a discussion on the role of types and modes of transport.

The main messages given by the indicator is that of an extremely strong integration of the urban network in the centre part of Europe and to a lesser extent to some privileged peripheral spaces like the Iberic peninsula or the Nordic space. On the other hand some eastern countries and the Balkans appear not so well connected. This is due to a lower density of metropolises and to poorer connections by fast transport modes.
Regarding modes and types of transport the analysis let two points emerging. Firstly we confirm a fact already documented in the literature, that low cost airlines model, which is gaining influence all over Europe tend to be less present in the inter-metropolises segments than in the overall transport supply. Inter-metropolises contactability by air is mainly provided by heritage airlines. Secondly, and more surprisingly, we observe the very high importance of railways in the structuring of the European metropolises network. Rail, and particularly high-speed rail, competes successfully with air on a very significant number of origin-destination pairs. Rail is also very important in intermodal chains, combining the two modes. This third message expresses the possibility given by intermodality to provide high levels of accessibility to cities like Lille, Malmoe, Den Haag, German Ruhr and Rhein that do not possess strong international airport but get access to it through rail. We measure here the fact that airport equipment is not the only way to support metropolis accessibility.

The great care given in the building of the indicator to allow for equitable comparison between air, rail and intermodal chains permits to show that the potential for inter-metropolitan contactability with rail in Europe is very high and likely to grow with the foreseen development of the European high-speed rail network.


Association for European Transport