For the Dutch version of this article, click here: Voetgangers en fietsers belangrijker voor bestedingen in binnensteden dan gedacht – Ingenieursbureau Movares – adviseurs en ingenieurs

Visitors who come to the city center by bike or on foot visit more frequently and spend less per visit compared to those who come by car. However, over a longer period, cyclists and pedestrians spend much more money in city centers than is often thought. In short, they are a target group not to be underestimated for the economic vitality of city centers. This is an important finding from the national study by the Platform Binnenstadsmanagement, BRO, and Movares on the relationship between spending and mode of transport chosen by visitors in city centers. This study was conducted in collaboration with 18 Dutch city centers in September 2023.

Uniform Approach for Representative and Comparable Results

The information from the study primarily comes from street surveys, supplemented with surveys from panels and social media. At central locations, visitors were asked about their origin, spending, mode of transport, and visit frequency. A uniform questionnaire and approach were used in all centers, and sufficient respondents were found to participate, making the results representative and comparable. Insights were obtained per visitor on the number of visits and the relationship between the chosen mode of transport and spending, creating a more accurate picture of visitor behavior.

Pedestrians Visit City Centers Most Often

Pedestrians visit city centers more than 7 times a month. This is the highest visit frequency among all types of transport. They are followed by cyclists and train travelers (about 25% less often than pedestrians), and visitors by car and bus (about 45% less often than pedestrians).

Visit Frequency Depends on the Nature and Function of a City Center

The average visit frequency is relatively high in centers with a shopping function, such as Middelharnis, Boxtel, or Alphen aan den Rijn. Centers with a strong recreational (shopping) function have a lower average visit frequency, such as Maastricht and Venlo.

Longest Stay Duration by Visitors with Car/Public Transport Combination

Visitors who travel using a combination of car/public transport (e.g., Park & Ride) or by train stay the longest (averaging over 3 hours). Pedestrians and cyclists have the shortest average stay duration in the studied city centers (averaging 1 to 1.5 hours). If a city center has a strong shopping function, the stay duration is relatively short. Conversely, visitors stay longer in large recreational centers such as Maastricht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Groningen, and Arnhem.

Car Users Spend the Most Per Visit

Per visit, the average spending of a car visitor (€130 per visit) is significantly higher than that of a pedestrian or cyclist (approximately €55 – €60 per visit). Visitors who choose a combined car/public transport journey spend on average the same as car visitors, but this group is much smaller than the car users. Train travelers also spend relatively much per visit (approximately €100 per visit). In centers with a wide and varied range of facilities, the most money is spent per visit. In all cases, most spending is on retail, followed by hospitality. Spending on other facilities, such as services, culture, and leisure, is comparatively much lower.

Travel Time Often Determines Mode of Transport, Stay Duration, Spending, and Visit Frequency

Travel time is often the most important factor in choosing a mode of transport. Visitors that live close to the center tend to travel on foot or by bike more often. The longer the travel time, the more likely people are to take the car or use public transport. There is a positive correlation between travel time and stay duration. The longer the travel time, the longer the stay duration. A longer stay is also associated with higher average spending per visit. However, visit frequency is much lower for people coming from further away. These are often occasional day tourists who come for a ‘day of shopping.’

Convenience, Efficiency, Sustainability, and Health Determine Mode of Transport Choice

In addition to travel time, factors such as convenience and efficiency play a role in the choice of transport. If people live nearby, it is ‘easy’ to walk or bike to the center. The car is often used when many items need to be transported, such as weekly groceries. In some situations, there are no reasonable alternatives to the car, for example, if the distance is too great to walk or bike and there is no good public transport available. Think of city centers like Roermond and Venlo, which attract many German visitors, or Middelharnis with many small villages in a rural area. Cyclists often make a conscious choice; sustainability and health are often mentioned as additional motives.

Pedestrians and Cyclists Important for Spending

When looking at visit frequency on a monthly basis, it turns out that pedestrians and cyclists spend significantly more in city centers than car users and public transport travelers. On a monthly basis, cyclists and pedestrians have a higher share of total spending than car users (about 25% higher). Cyclists and pedestrians are especially important for centers that attract mainly visitors from the immediate area (residents).

Reflection and Follow-up

The results of this study are important for the vision and policy of city centers. The pressure on public space is increasing, which requires choices, also in mobility. This study, at the intersection of the economic vitality of city centers and mobility, has provided much interesting and relevant information for city centers. The main report with all results (in Dutch) is public and can be requested via