Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bus review workshops held

Meetings for the first metropolitan area bus review were held last week. The review covered local bus services in the Hobsons Bay, Moonee Valley and Maribyrnong municipalities.

Most attendees were from local government, community, and industry groups, though others who had put in submissions were also there.

After a presentation on why route and service reviews were necessary and the process being taken, the meeting broke into groups to consider a map of the proposed alterations. The usual workshop props of table facilitator, butchers paper, coloured pens and Post-it notes were used. At the end groups reported their findings to the whole meeting.

Below is a summary of the proposed changes:

* Minimum hours/frequencies for most local routes (currently being
implemented)
* Better co-ordination with other buses and trains
* Changes to route 223 to operate via VUT Footscray.
* Extension of Route 407 to cover new residential areas near Highpoint and parts of Yarraville.
* Removal of a deviation from Route 411/412.
* Renumbering of the Churchill Ave deviation of 410 to a new route
* Abolition of Route 409 and its replacement by altered 407 and 414 routes.
* Extension of 415 in Williamstown and consideration of a deviation in
Altona to serve a retirement home.
* An overhaul of services in the Newport/Yarraville area with local services running between Yarraville, Altona Gate and Newport and an end to different route numbers on Saturday in some areas.
* Co-ordination between 467 and 468 to provide better access to Highpoint.
* A slower timetable for 200-series routes in the Footscray area to improve timetable adherance (lateness being due to traffic congestion)

The next review will cover Hume/Moreland for which public submissions are currently being sought (deadline Friday 22 June 2007).

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'Caught by suprise' or just sloppy sums?

A recent Age article contains a claim attributed to the Minister for transport that 'a rise in train patronage had caught the Government by surprise'.

'It has been over 18 per cent in the past two years, which is massive," she said. "We usually operate on the basis of 3 to 4 per cent increase since we have come to office.'

The government has also claimed a policy of achieving 20% modal share for public transport by 2020. Since modal share is currently around 10% it follows that a dramatic increase in patronage is needed to achieve the modal share aim. Assuming no population increase and no increase in motor vehicle trips per capita, a doubling would be necessary. With population growth and car usage per capita still increasing, the actual increase would need to be more - perhaps around 150%.

Let us assume that we have, in 2007, a city of 100 people. It makes 1000 motorised trips per annum per capita of which 100 by public transport (ie a 10% modal share). Doubling modal share would require a shift of 100 trips to public transport from some other motorised mode. So that makes 200 trips, assuming that there is no change in the volume of travel per capita.

Then there's population growth. Assuming 1.4% pa growth rate this would take us to 120 people by 2020. Perhaps 1.4% pa is a bit higher than the historical record, but note that the population is ageing and the number of people of driving age is increasing faster than the general growth rate.

Thus the total number of public transport trips would need to increase from 100 people x 100 trips (10 000) to 120 people x 200 trips (24 000) per annum to meet the target. That earlier 150% estimate is pretty close.

Compound percentages are tedious to calculate, but financial people do it every day and have developed handy calculators such as this. Luckily they are just as good for other uses such as passenger growth calculations.

For our purposes, we have an ending value of 24 000 and a starting value of 10 000. It's 13 years until 2020, so the number of periods is 13. This produces a required compound annual percentage growth of 6.97%. As it doesn't allow for driving growth, it understates the growth required, which in practice would be in the 7-8% pa region.

Of course this is an average across all modes. But given likely continued suburban development, one would expect that growth of trains and buses would need to be well above 7% while trams could grow slower (these generally only serving established inner suburbs and no major tram extensions planned).

To achieve 20%/2020 an average annual patronage growth of at least 7% is required. If the government banks on 3-4% growth then it can kiss the 20% by 2020 aim goodbye as the numbers don't stack up. Furthermore the annual growth requirements get more onerous and eventually almost impossible the later it's left.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The battle of the crossings

What is the best way of providing for pedestrian access across railway lines? Car drivers generally despise boomgates and want some sort of grade seperation. Train-car or train-pedestrian accidents at level crossings are usually serious and disrupt services for an hour or two. If reducing the number of level crossings reduces the number of accidents, a grade-seperation program should also help train reliability.

However other factors (as well as the cost involved) can come into play as the following from local newspapers demonstrate:

'Split Road and Rail'

Caulfield-Glen Eira Leader article

From the above it sounds that an underpass might be the go. If not for cars, at least for pedestrians. But the following article, along with some reported incidents, suggests that tunnels have safety issues of their own.

'Tunnel of Fear'

Dandenong Leader article

I have visited the Noble Park underpass. The residents are right; it's narrow, visibility is poor and it's cut off from areas of human activity. The wall and right-angled bend when heading south don't help either. Streets are usually safer than claimed, but the underpass as stands doesn't present a good impression or encourage people to use public transport.

Is the suggestion of an overpass any better? Apart from the long ramps required for an accessible overpass (which unduly delay pedestrians) these are not cure-alls, as the poor reputation of Kananook station attests. And whether they are over roads or railways, it is not unknown for people to throw objects or even themselves from them, so safety issues different to underpasses arise.

Every access method has benefits and risks. Pedestrian overpasses are merely ugly, while those involving roads can ruin half a station precinct, such as can be seen at Sunshine, Moorabbin, Oakleigh or Huntingdale. A rough table comparing the attributes of at-grade crossings with underpasses and overpasses is below.

No one option is clearly superior, but it's notable that the strengths and weaknesses of at-grade pedestrian crossings versus underpasses are complementary. Overpasses are a half-solution, normally inferior to other types.

My conclusion is that having both underpasses and at-surface crossings in the one area combine the benefits of both. For example, if poor safety is perceived, pedestrians can choose to use the surface crossing with good visibility. On the other hand, if a train is coming or there are large crowds, then the underpass offers convenient access.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Disruption communications

Many things must happen before a train can run. The service which forms it must arrive on time. Its driver needs to be in position. The line ahead must be clear. Points must be set. Boomgates must come down. Signals must work. The doors must be unobstructed so they can close. Pantographs need to make contact to supply power. Motors must work. There can't be any errant drivers or suicidal people across the tracks. Finally the brakes must work when the train reaches the next station. This process repeats itself twenty or thirty times on a single trip.

In reality there are many more steps than the sequence above. Even if the certainty of each step being successful was 99.999%, it does not take much for one not to happen and for delays to ensue. For all the heavy machinery involved, train systems are very fragile. That makeshift plank and string in the last post is robust in comparison. Trains differ from buses, which are self-powered, can overtake disabled vehicles and, subject to traffic, can be brought in easily.

Train disruption management has been in the news lately. An article in yesterday's Herald Sun has the Minister pledging improvements for passengers. These include better communication between train control and stations, platform staff and upgraded information systems.

The diagram below shows a typical disruption. Though an incident may have occurred at a particular location, trains are restricted how close they may operate to it. An accident at a single location may see trains replaced by buses for 5 kilometres or more either side.

With the lines marked with X out of operation, use needs to be made of buses. Depending on location, this can either be regular bus routes or special rail replacements called in at short notice. The time of day the disruption occurred can also be critical - buses are least available during the morning peak as many are used for school service. Buses are easier to get at other times, though at peak times traffic limits their speed and thus capacity. Regular routes are running anyway and if they are sufficiently direct, frequent and run to a station where rail services are operating then these can ease some of the load.

Staff coverage at as many stations as possible is important. This is easiest during the morning weekday peak where staffing is at its highest (including at some usually unstaffed stations).

The Herald Sun article suggested hand-held radios as a possibility. These may indeed have some use, but it depends on who staff will be able to talk to. Train drivers and Metrol use an analogue-FM communications system in the 400 MHz UHF band. Bus companies use similar systems on other UHF frequencies.

The cheapest UHF-CB radios operate on other frequencies again, so are incompatible with either Metrol or bus radios. These radios have a range of around a kilometre. Hence their primary function could be to allow communication within a station precinct (eg between a train platform and the rail substitute bus stop 200 metres away on the other side of the track). However where stations are sufficiently close and are unobstructed from one another they could also provide limited contact between them.

Before a decision is made on this, we need to consider communications needs in detail and other technologies that could be useful (eg better use of existing station PA systems or mobile phones). This will be the subject of a later post.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Excellence and ingenuity at Southern Cross

From today's Sunday Herald Sun.

THE controversial redevelopment of Melbourne's Spencer Street Station has been declared Australia's most outstanding example of construction excellence.

Platforms

The awards were for construction excellence, not ingenuity. However if ingenuity was a judging criteria, Southern Cross would still have a chance, as this display of occy strap and wood resourcefulness demonstrates (Platforms 11/12)!

Wiring

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Transit improvement top ten

Following is a list of what I consider are Australia's most important public transport improvements over the past 25 years.

1. Perth: Suburban rail electrification/northern suburbs line/service increases. Revitalised a dying rail system and tripled patronage. Made further extensions possible, most spectacularly the southern line currently under construction.

2. Victoria: Regional rail projects. A package of measures, including large service improvements on the five main corridors, restored trains on some lines, fare integration and new trains. Criticised for its expense at the time but the service improvements (particularly) have delivered patronage and benefits beyond the official 'fast rail' name.

3. Adelaide: 'Go Zones'. A service planning innovation where several overlapping bus routes are timed to provide a frequent even-headway combined service along a busy corridor and marketed as such. The Adelaide equivalent of Melbourne's trams. Recent improvements have increased the number of 'Go Zones' and extended service to Adelaide Airport. More recently the concept has been adopted by Brisbane in their 'BUZ' services.

4. Brisbane/SEQ: Translink fare reform and bus improvements. Brisbane is a late convert to fare integration (Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne had achieved it by 1983), but when it happened it covered a large region rather than a single city and greatly simplified fares and ticketing.

5. Perth: Bus route and service reviews. Main outcomes have included harmonised headways and better connections with trains, and service frequencies more aligned with need (especially around major trip generators where frequencies and spans were increased). Many service idiosyncracies and route duplications were ironed out, with resources transferred to service improvements elsewhere. The system was made less CBD-centric, with the highly-successful Circle Route being introduced. Other cities such as Adelaide and Brisbane now have their own Circle Routes and Melbourne is planning several similar.

6. Brisbane/SEQ: Gold Coast Railway. Included as it has brought rail services closer to the main population growth area in Australia without rail access.

7. Perth/Adelaide/Melbourne: Multimodal fare integration. Eliminated transfer penalties, so encouraged thinking of and use of public transport as a network (subject to adequate service integration).

8. Melbourne: Sunday service improvements. Network-wide improvements to Sunday trains and trams are an example of service reflecting changing living, working and travel patterns. As an example, train services during the day increased from every thirty or forty minutes to every twenty, which is similar to Saturdays. The success of this is demonstrated by rising patronage, further assisted by a discount Sunday ticket introduced several years later. Despite only very limited Sunday trading, Perth later followed suit, with almost all stations now receiving a fifteen minute service.

9. Various: Inter-peak service improvements. If good enough, these improvements change the concept of public transport from something that one must make an appointment to board to a more casual 'turn up and go' service. This is much like how one expects water as a tap is turned on. Though they may not result in full buses and trains, they are cheaper than peak service improvements since infrastructure and vehicles already exist. Fuel, labour and wear and tear are the main marginal costs, though cost-recovery can still increase since the fixed costs are spread across a larger passenger base who find the service more attractive.

10. Various: Public transport websites and online journey planners. Especially where the whole state is covered, this allows passengers to more easily plan trips.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Public Transport and the Victorian State Budget

Details here and here.

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