Resolving the accessibility dilemma: Comparing cumulative and gravity-based measures of accessibility in eight Canadian cities

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, policy - equity, ridership - commuting, operations - scheduling, operations - performance, planning - methods


Cumulative accessibility, Gravity-based accessibility, Transportation equity, Public transport


There is a lack of agreement regarding the theoretical framework that practitioners should use for accessibility assessment – a measure of transport and land-use systems performance. Cumulative measures are simple and easy to interpret, while gravity-based measures are more sophisticated, resourceful, and less intuitive approaches. As such, this study aims to investigate whether the estimates of a simple cumulative opportunity measure are significantly different from those made using advanced gravity-based measures to understand if the former can be a substitute for the latter in practice and if a certain threshold of travel time can be recommended for different regions. We estimated cumulative and gravity-based accessibility using decay-probability density functions, decay-cumulative density functions, Gaussian, and a Log-Logistic decay-cumulative density functions using census commuting flows, car congested travel time and public transit schedules from eight metropolitan regions across Canada – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Quebec City, Winnipeg, London, and Halifax. These measures of accessibility were tested for correlation, and we found that a coefficient of approximately 0.90 is reached when the threshold to calculate cumulative opportunities accessibility is set to the average commute time for both low- and non-low-wage jobs accessibility analyses by transit and motor vehicles. The paper provides evidence to support the reliability of cumulative accessibility, facilitates its broader adoption for evaluation of transport and land use interactions in North American cities, as well as opens opportunities to advance the equitable distribution of transport system benefits.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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