Wednesday, May 31, 2006

State budget: Good for country, little for metro

I spent some of yesterday going through the Victorian State Budget as it applied to public transport.

In summary, the document is good for country Victoria but generally disappointing for Melbourne. Though there is a 7% increase in public transport expenditure, except for some socially-useful additional bus services and improvements to accessible transport, it's hard to see what extra value or patronage this above-CPI increase will deliver.

The Government has lowered some of its performance targets after it failed in meeting many of last year's. Key examples include passenger satisfaction and on-time running. The fine print states that previous targets were 'stretch targets' and that the revised targets are more achieveable.

This year's patronage targets were similarly modest and barely meet population growth. With car trips growing faster than population, even if the targets were achieved, modal share for public transport would still fall. This is a far cry from the government's much-repeated '20% by 2020' mode share target it set as part of Melbourne 2030.

Here is a quick rundown, in point form.

Melbourne

- 1.1% increase in metro train services (ie barely population growth)
- 0% increase in metro tram services
- 4.2% increase in metro bus services (20 routes boosted soon)
- A lower target for train service delivery (from 99.5 to 99.2%). Thus the increase in actual train services is not the 1.1% quoted above but nearer to 0.9%)
- Forecast patronage growth approx 1.5% (more for trains, less for trams)
- Performance targets for passenger satisfaction and train on-time running lowered to last year's actual figures.
- Payments to operators up roughly 10% for buses and trains and a whopping 20% for trams (despite there being no extra services added for trams)
- Reduced taxpayer value for money and likely lower cost-recovery ratios. This is due to above-CPI cost increases for negligible additional service and patronage increases (especially for trams).

Country Victoria

- Nearly 20% increase in V/line train/coach services & 5% more country buses
- 9% increase in country patronage
- Introduction of more performance measures for service delivery
- Slightly lower target for train timeliness

Accessible transport

- 30 tram stops
- 3000 tactile indicators at bus stops

To repeat the previous comments, it's pretty good for country Victoria but represents a 'standing still' budget for Melbourne. 'Boring' and 'minding the shop' are adjectives that come to mind. This budget is not the sort of thing that substantial efficiency improvements, mode shifts and patronage increases are made of.

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Mainstream or specialist services?

An article on page 7 of the May 30 Glen Eira-Caulfield Leader confirms that the free Monash University intercampus shuttle bus between the Caulfield and Clayton campuses will be replaced by a new Smartbus service between Caulfield and Rowville.

Some time earlier we heard that a new route 400 service will operate between Laverton and Sunshine via the correctional facilities at Laverton North. The only transport in the area is currently a free hourly prison shuttle from Laverton Station. I understand that this prison service will cease to operate once Route 400 begins.

Both examples share a common element. That is of free specialist shuttle buses with limited frequencies and operating hours being replaced by mainstream bus services attracting standard fares.

Unless the passengers involved are physically unable to use a regular bus service (in which case a subsidised taxi or paratransit service is most suitable), such 'mainstreaming' is generally sensible policy.

For a start existing users of the specialist service get better service frequency, operating hours and more readily available information. Overall patronage is increased due to the service being opened to general passengers. For its part, the government gets higher efficiencies (through combining duplicating, often state-funded services) and increased fare revenue.

The only shortcoming is that users of the existing shuttle services may not like having to pay a fare for somewhat slower travel (given that there would be intermediate stops). However even these passengers would gain from the frequency, hours and route improvements. Also the fare argument loses its potency when it is realised that those who used public transport to reach the (previous) shuttle service will find that their existing tickets are valid on the new service and no extra fare may be needed.

The State Government is right to explore avenues for mainstreaming services. It should consider further steps, especially in low-density rural and semi-rural areas with limited regular service.

Although specialist services ('community buses') run in some suburbs, the most important of these are school buses, particularly in rural areas.

With an ageing population in rural areas, there is much scope for much smarter use of these services. Local innovations might include devoting the front row or two of seats to adult passengers and extending school bus runs to a town centre stop.

If there are spare buses during the middle of the day, it might be possible to operate some regular midday town services between the peaks. In the larger centres late-afternoon post-school services for commuters (using buses returning from the afternoon school run) might also be practical.

Though such services are unlikely to be very frequent, they could still provides a social benefit for little cost. Travel could either be free or attract a gold coin fare (eg $2 adult, $1 concession) to go towards improvements such as passenger information and seats at stops.

For another creative example of cleverly using existing services for public transport, but this time courtesy of the local postman, read about the UK's Post Office Buses.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Do transport bureaucrats and activists use the same language?

To answer this question I decided to do a crude text analysis of documents from the State Government and the Public Transport Users Association. Both are freely available and can be downloaded from the respective organisations' websites.

The first document is the State Government's Meeting our Transport Challenges that came out last week (pdf 4.4M). The second is It's Time to Move by the PTUA (pdf 1.5M). In both cases I use the word search function in Adobe Acrobat to count the number of times important transport terms are mentioned.

Counts are presented as follows: Meeting our Transport Challenges - It's Time to Move

mode share: 0 - 3
mode shift: 0 - 2
tram priority: 1 - 5
bus priority: 4 - 3
frequency: 3 - 18 & frequencies: 2 - 16
integration: 5 - 1 & integrated: 9 - 7
transfer: 5 - 17
patronage: 7 - 28
coordination: 4 - 18
passenger information: 1 - 1 & information: 11 - 7
timetable: 8 - 19 & timetables: 2 - 13
2020: 0 - n/a
Melbourne 2030: 9 - n/a
sustainable: 18 - 4
interchange: 23 - 16
passenger: 25 - 95
smartbus: 25 - 1
planning: 32 - 48
roads: 39 - 70
connections: 44 - 3 & connect 103 - 13
equity: 0 - 1
disabled: 0 - 1
accessible: 18 - 3
access: 97 - 27
infrastructure: 51 - 30
network: 143 - 63
pedestrian: 11 - 3 & walk 20 - 23
cycle: 12 - 10 & bicycle 9 - 4
car: 66 - 236 & cars 15 - 62
train: 97 - 160 & trains 29 - 57
tram: 63 - 163 & trams 20 - 63
bus: 132 - 193 & buses 20 - 46
public transport: 116 - 266

Terms searched for but used in neither paper include scheduling, marketing, service planning, route review, modal share. Melbourne 2030 and 2020 (in reference to the 20% modal share target) were not counted in the PTUA paper, which came out before these became policy.

Patterns evident

The PTUA paper (ITTM) mentions transport vehicles such as cars, buses, trains and trams more than the State Government's paper (MOTC) with the only exception being bicycle.

MOTC gives somewhat more weight to infrastructure and much more weight to accessible (as in disabled access).

Key transport planning issues such as frequency, transfer, timetable, co-ordination (and indeed planning itself) rate higher in ITTM. These are all essential if good connections are required. However MOTC has many more mentions of 'connect', 'connections' and 'network'. 'Interchange' also gets more emphasis in MOTC.

Patronage is a higher priority for ITTM than MOTC. The PTUA also mentions roads and cars more. However this greater emphasis is mostly in the context of the need for a significant mode shift away from the private car and for resources to be diverted away from road building to provide conditions and services conducive to higher patronage. Government policy (Melbourne 2030) also supports such a mode shift (20% by 2030) but the failure of the MOTC paper to even mention mode shift or the 20% target seems to indicate that it may have since gone cold on the idea.

Overall the PTUA paper covers the specifics of planning, timetables, and co-ordination more comprehensively than MOTC, which seldom goes deeper than numerous references to connections, network, and, to a lesser degree, infrastructure. It also would have been helpful if the MOTC paper showed more evidence of starting with a desired modal share target, prescribing specific service levels and only then documenting what operating resources and capital expenditure items are required to bring these about.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Transport & Liveability Statement out soon

Could be worth checking DOI Media Releases at frequent intervals in the next day or three. Also see releases from the minister (again via link above).

UPDATE 17 May 2006: It came out this morning. See the press releases under 'Meeting our Transport Challenges'.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Government makes call on PT marketing

An article in today's 'Age' says that the State Government is planning to launch a telemarketing campaign to encourage more people to use public transport. The general idea is that cold-calling telemarketers will phone residents of selected inner suburbs. People that express interest will receive written information about public transport near them.

Most Australians value their home life and despise telemarketers. However I can see why marketing experts decide to use them. It's all to do with 'targeted marketing', 'qualifying the customer' and even 'bang for buck'.

Consider an area with 1000 homes to market to.

* Option A:
No phone calls, no telemarketing.
Send 1000 brochures/maps to 1000 houses (junk mail).
Total cost: $1000

800 thrown in bin, 100 already existing PT users, make no use of info, 100 potential PT users and make use of info.

* Option B:
Make 1000 random calls at a total cost of $300.
800 hang up/refuse. 200 request brochures, etc.
200 info packs sent out - cost $200.
100 of those 200 make use of this info.

** Costs (for 100 used info packs in both cases)

A: $1000
B: $500 (so you could double the reach for the cost of A)

** Effectiveness

A: 10% of recipients use it ($10 cost per user)
B: 50% of recipients use it ($5 cost per user)>p> So B the telemarketing option is cheaper per user, wastes less paper and has much higher effectiveness through targeting and qualifying customers.

In short, B is 'smart marketing' and the powers that be are convinced that this is the case so they give the go-ahead.

The big problem is that the call interrupts the lives of 800 people and provides no benefit in return. Ardent drivers, non-English speakers and people for whom public transport is impractical are examples. Most critically, it includes those would be receptive to hearing about public transport if delivered via a less intrusive medium (eg direct mail), but hate being telemarketed to. So our 100 could well shrink to 50, most of whom could fall in the 'don't mind telemarketers' group rather than 'want info on public transport', which is the prime audience. Marshall Macluan's maxim that 'the medium is the message' could be applicable, and in the case of telemarketing it is not particularly positive and risks bringing the product down with it.

For people less knowledgeable about public transport, written information gives greater confidence and is more enduring than a phone call. If it's useful (like the folding Metlink PT map, but with service running times & frequency info added) then people will keep it. It will be regarded more a community notice and less as an advertising flyer, so should be accepted even by those with a 'No Junk Mail' sticker. Due to its longer-term usefulness and greater reach (including the 'hang up on telemarketers' brigade) the 'random junk mail' approach still has attractions when promoting public transport, despite the inefficiencies mentioned above.

Any direct marketing campaign can expect to do is to encourage people to take the next step. This could be getting further information and/or buying a ticket, but not necessarily catching a bus just yet.

Before the direct marketing starts, the 'next steps' must be sound, otherwise the prospective user will fall into a hole. In this context, this means things like:

a. confining the marketing effort to areas within 1km of 'good' or 'recently upgraded' public transport
b. a workable online trip planner (substantially complete)
c. and on-system information like bus timetables/maps at stops & stations (substantially incomplete)

Paying attention to these before starting the campaign is likely to greatly increase its effectiveness, whether it's done by telemarketing or junk mail.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In today's mail

The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry by Robert Cervero.

And it was only ordered last Friday!

More later.

UPDATE 16/5/06: About half way through. Lots of good stuff. Basic theme is getting a match between urban form and transport (some cities adapt form to transport, others transport to form).

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Monday, May 01, 2006

End of the line for transit stop phones

A big thing is made of our CBD tram super stops and the facilities offered, eg level access, passenger information, change machines, and even public phones.

Grouping shops and services around public transport stops is desirable as it makes it time-effective for multi-purpose trips to be made by walking and public transport.

Often taken for granted facilities like permeable street patterns, pedestrian islands, shade, seating, corner stores, letter boxes and public phones are essential to a fine-grained transit-friendly walkable neighbourhood.

When these are removed walking and transit becomes less attractive and driving more so. This reduces urban amenity and increases the economic resources needed for roads and parking.

Though it would strike many as being trivial, and this post may well contain an element of luddism, public phones are one of the many ingredients that contribute to urban walkability. And amenity, walkability and public transport are three key reasons why Melbourne's pre WWII suburbs are amongst its most desirable, as reflected in current land values.

It is thus unfortunate that Telstra wants to remove what it calls 'low use' public phones. In a small suburban area I have counted no less than three payphones with the infamous 'proposed for removal' label. All were near bus or tram stops, so would have been used by passengers at some time. If facilities like these disappear, it might be all too hard for the average person and they might as well get in their car and drive everywhere.

Our disappearing public phones is just one example of where despite the pro-walkability and pro-public transport messages in plans such as Melbourne 2030, changes like these encourage the opposite, with our neighbourhoods are becoming harder rather than easier to efficiently serve by more sustainable transport modes.

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