Thursday, June 29, 2006

Service frequency theory and a transport system's role

Along with routes and operating hours, service frequency is a major determinant of its attractiveness to passengers and its suitability for various trips. The following is an attempt to assign capability to specific service frequencies that may be found on a network.

5 min: turn up and go providing instant service just like turning on a tap. Go anywhere any time with no timetables needed. It's stress free (not worth running if you see a service arriving) and connections are always fast. Shelters, seats and other facilities become less important. Operationally, maintaining even headways is more important than time adherance. Very high potential to attract people out of their cars.

10 min: Turn up and go, go anywhere any time, timetables less important. Main passenger information item is a network map. Extremely suitable for peak period travel. Car-competitive and good potential for modal shift.

15 min: Sort of turn up & go. Clockface. Requires no prior planning and allows spontaneous changes of plan. Transfers are timed but no big deal if connections are missed. Little need to live life around timetables. Suitable for work trips, leisure trips and short errands. An acceptable minimum standard for complex capital-intensive urban rail systems with many lines and transfer combinations. People cannot plausibly claim a 'lack of service' as a reason for non-use. Semi-car competitive - car travel is no more than twice as fast and can be slower.

30 min: Clockface. Requires some prior planning. Transfers are timed. Missed connections a worry when transferring. Waiting becomes a large component of trip time and car travel is 2-3 times quicker. 'Lack of service time wishes to travel' may be valid. However, provided connections aren't required or are seamless, suitable for leisure trips with flexible finish times. Can also work for medium-long length shopping trips (>30 min). Limited potential for mode shift from car owners.

60 min: Clockface. Transfers must be timed. Inflexible. Does not allow spontaneous changes of plan. Timetables far more important than network maps. Can work with long shopping trips or if impeccably planned. If not planned, waiting forms majority of trip time and car travel is 3-10 times quicker. Use on an electrified suburban system may represent poor utilisation of sunk capital and infrastructure. 'Lack of service at time one wishes to travel' a valid argument. Negligible potential for mode shift from car owners.

120 min: Require extensive planning of forward and return trips before trip is started, and thus reference to paper or online timetables. Transfers must be timed. Extremely inflexible - must plan life around timetables and can do little else during day. Lack of service excuse almost always valid. Not used by car owners except in emergencies.

2-3 services per day: May be adequate for low-density rural areas, but represents a 'charity' service inappropriate for suburban areas. Fulfills a welfare role for people without cars. Transfers are limited and often fortuitous. Extremely inflexible.

I should add that the above times apply for routine trips within an urban area. I'd expect similar principles to apply for other types of travel. However in all cases the proportional travel time advantages of increasing frequency fall once in-vehicle journey time exceeds several times the service frequency.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ministering to the Fabians II

A quick summary - for more see MOTC document.

Held last night. About 70 present. Transport described 'in good shape'. MOTC described as 'Not exhaustive but comprehensive'. 20%/2020 target not mentioned in speech or MOTC but minister verbally confirmed aim. Rail capacity issues urgent: new tracks, signalling, Metrol, communication, etc. Debate in 15 years time (2021) will be about new lines and service frequency. But some extra services sooner (peak, shoulder peak and late night). More local & SmartBuses. Continue 'Think Tram'. Money for accessibility. Fund for better use of transport infrastructure in rural areas (eg school buses). 90% modal share is roads so must support these too. Some new cycleways. Little mention of improved pedestrian access.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Email to a bus company


On Saturday 17/6 I attempted to catch Route 479 from Flinders St/Olivers Lane at 1:15pm. This is an unmarked stop, but I had previously been made aware of its location. I arrived at the stop at 1:00pm, so made ample allowance for any early running.

The bus arrived on time but sped past the stop, picking no one up. This is despite being hailed by myself and others waiting. When the bus turned the corner into Exhibition St and was waiting at lights he was again alerted, but refused to open the doors.

Since both Metlink and your own website confirm that these are revenue services, I am puzzled that this lapse could have happened.

This delayed me by over an hour, but eventually I got there via train and a change at Moonee Ponds. Thus I could only spend 30 minutes at Sunbury instead of the planned 1 1/2 hours.

I count myself lucky compared to others. The City to Airport section of Route 479 features in Metlink's online journey planner and in Monash University's MSA Airport Travel pamphlet. I shudder to think of the number of people who have naively relied on your 'service' and been left stranded in a strange city as a result.

Therefore I seek your assurance that (i) the driver concerned has been appropriately disciplined and (ii) all other drivers have been reminded that they must operate their full route as per the published timetable and pick up passengers accordingly.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards, etc

This letter raises several issues that demonstrate that Melbourne is a first-world city with third-world buses. The main difference is that in third world countries people have no alternative to use the bus so they're packed, whereas in Melbourne most people have alternatives so buses run empty. Especially if drivers don't stop!

Issues with the 479 are as follows:

1. That there are unmarked bus stops with not even a bus stop sign (479 stop in the city on Flinders St between Russell St & Olivers Lane).
2. Where there are stops timetables are missing (479 stop in the city)
3. Where there are timetables route signs are missing (479 bay at Sunbury interchange)
4. Timetables are old and covered in graffiti (479 at Sunbury Interchange)
5. Numerous variations to routes (on some 479 runs passengers must request certain deviations, but only at certain times)
6. Very poor service frequency (479 departs the city just twice a week)
7. Wasteful duplication with other services (there is little justification for 479 to serve the city at all given trains and trams to locations such as Essendon and Moonee Ponds). (But if it does, then stops should be marked and drivers stop.)
8. Picking up passengers requires stopping the bus and delivering timetabled services in full and you can't have that!

Note that even if the driver did stop and the letter above wasn't written, 7 of the 8 points above would still be valid. Admittedly the 479 is an extreme example of a route badly planned, run and signposted, but many of the above points apply to other routes, only to a lesser extent. In such cases waste and intertia combine to deliver an inferior service to the public and poor value to taxpayers.

UPDATE 22/6/06: Nice reply received today. Amongst other things it mentioned that the driver concerned was new and this was his first run (though I'd have though other drivers would have taken him on 'route familiarisation' runs first).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Social mobility and public transport

Noted economist Fred Argy is advocating the need for social investment to foster social mobility. His excellent paper, called Equality of Opportunity in Australia has listed public transport as one of the areas that needs investment for a more mobile society free of entrenched poverty.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ministering to the Fabians

Hear Victorian Transport Minister Peter Batchelor speak about government public transport policies at the Fabian Society. Date is Wednesday 21 June, 2006. 6pm @ Trades Hall (Lygon & Victoria St, City). $8 admission.

Be there!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What do you do when they move your station out of town?

You build a new one, conveniently located in the middle of town! It hardly cost anything either since it was built with volunteer labour. Having visited it, I can vouch that the new station does the job better than the town-edge brick 'toilet block' it replaced.

Network size versus service intensity

Is it better for a city's rail network to have 300km of track and services every 30 minutes, or only 100km of track but trains every few minutes?

Adelaide and Brisbane are examples of the former, whereas Toronto exemplifies the latter. It is desirable to have an extensive rail network. However it is also helpful to have an intensive service so that people can turn up and know that there'll be a train in a few minutes. The latter often gets lost, since timetables and service planning are seen to be less exciting than hardware such as new stations, new trains and new lines.

An interesting discussion that touches on these matters as they relate to Melbourne recently appeared on the Railpage. Particularly relevant are the posts from 'penov' (on the suburban network) and 'DMU Dave' who cites a 'Railway Digest' article by Albert Isaacs on the country network.

Melbourne's population has grown and spread over time but there has been relatively little change to the extent of the suburban rail network since the 1930s, something that was pointed out in a recent 'Age' opinion piece.

As the article states, some lines have closed, eg Healesville, Mornington, East Kew, etc. However while it covers network extent, it neglects mention of service intensity across the network. It is this service level that is the main determinant of whether a rail service should be regarded as rural or urban in character.

Hence it would be interesting to repeat the exercise, but this time defining the urban rail network as the area having an off-peak service headway of 20 minutes or better. If this is followed, it turns out that Mornington and Healesville never had a suburban level service, so should not be included, even when they ran. Ditto for Dandenong, which according to penov's post, only ran every hour. In contrast established inner areas such as Williamstown, Brighton and Essendon had a more intensive service in the 1930s than they do now. The only reason why this wasn't also true for Glenhuntly also was the off-peak service increase on the Caulfield group in the 1990s.

Though I haven't done the calculations, I suspect that if you looked at the track kilometres of line that enjoyed a 20 minute or better service in the 1930s, compared to now, you will find a more extensive network today. Inner areas lost service, while suburbanising outer areas like Dandenong gained service.

What about country lines? The 'Railway Digest' article says that there are more trains now than in the 1930s. However the difference is that many smaller lines that only saw one train a day have closed. But on the major lines services have increased. In other words, a more intensive service over a smaller network is offered. This is comparable to the situation for outer suburbs but opposite to the case for the inner suburbs, whose service intensity decreased.

So in summary:

- Service intensity over the inner parts of the suburban network has declined (now there are less frequent trains on the same tracks)
- Service intensity over the outer parts of the outer part of the suburban network has increased (more trains on fewer lines)
- Service intensity over the rural network has increased (more trains on fewer lines)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Some bus questions

On Sundays do more people go to jail than work/shop at Chadstone?

Are there huge numbers itching to go on an hour-long tour from Elsternwick to Brighton East via Chadstone?

On Saturdays do more people need to get from Brunwick West to Brunswick or Frankston North to Frankston?

Does a greater need for frequent buses exist between Footscray and the back streets of Yarraville, Mentone and Mordialloc or Elsternwick and Brighton (which all have direct trains) on the one hand, versus Cranbourne to Narre Warren/Fountain Gate, Chirnside Park to Ringwood, Knox City to Glen Waverley or Caulfield to Belgrave/Lilydale line, which don't?

Click the above links to get my drift before reading further

These examples demonstrate mismatches between service levels offered and both route importance and likely patronage. Important routes serving major trip generators that could attract thousands of extra passengers are frequently underserved. In contrast, local routes with alternative nearby trains or buses receive a premium service.

This is a very topsy-turvy way of operating (I refuse to use the word 'planning') services. These mismatches, along with timetable co-ordination with trains, should be redressed in area-wide route and timetable reviews. Such reviews are the single most cost-effective thing could be done to improve Melbourne public transport in the next 6 to 12 months.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Measuring a transit system's development

The previous post described the progression from providing transport only for niche markets to highly developed integrated systems that cater for a wide variety of city and cross-regional trips.

One measure of a network's progress is the number of transfers that passengers make. Whether we like it or not, modern cross-suburban travel patterns increasingly require transfers. Since it's impossible to have an efficient network that eliminates transfers while maintaining good service frequency throughout, timetable co-ordination with easy interchange is extremely important.

Particularly in car-owning cities, a good measure of success is the extent to which people transfer, and whether such trips represent an increasing proportion of the total. If this is the case, we know that public transport is meeting emerging as well as traditional travel patterns.

The article 'Renaissance of an Urban Railway' in Transit Australia January 2006 by Alan Mortimer has some Transperth patronage figures (page 10). These cover the 1980-2005 period and show patronage rises following upgrades to the Perth network. The most significant of these are (i) the restoration of Fremantle line trains, (ii) suburban rail electrification and service increases, (iii) the northern suburbs railway, and (iv) bus service improvements elsewhere on the network.

Statistics provided in the article include 'Total system boardings' and 'Total journeys'. System boardings include transfers, whereas total journeys do not. Hence the number of transfers is the difference between these.

The relevant Transperth patronage statistics are as follows: (numbers in '000 pa)

Year - Total Boardings - Transfers - Percent transfers
1980-81 - 63660 - 11628 - 18.2%
1981-82 - 61206 - 11163 - 18.2%
1982-83 - 58482 - 10739 - 18.4%
1983-84 - 60273 - 14924 - 24.7%
1984-85 - 58762 - 14459 - 24.6%
1985-86 - 61666 - 15120 - 24.5%
1986-87 - 63944 - 12865 - 20.1%
1987-88 - 63524 - 12774 - 20.1%
1988-89 - 66275 - 13507 - 20.4%
1989-90 - 64045 - 12767 - 19.9%
1990-91 - 62278 - 12379 - 19.9%
1991-92 - 61466 - 12322 - 20.0%
1992-93 - 64500 - 13030 - 20.2%
1993-94 - 70409 - 17556 - 24.9%
1994-95 - 71878 - 17964 - 25.0%
1995-96 - 74013 - 21526 - 29.0%
1996-97 - 76438 - 22289 - 29.2%
1997-98 - 75566 - 21310 - 28.2%
1998-99 - 74273 - 20744 - 27.9%
1999-00 - 78250 - 22439 - 28.7%
2000-01 - 83696 - 24178 - 28.9%
2001-02 - 86069 - 24449 - 28.4%
2002-03 - 88121 - 24914 - 28.3%
2003-04 - 90578 - 25370 - 28.0%
2004-05 - 94985 - 26165 - 27.5%

Over this period the number of transfers shows an increase that is second only to the trebling of rail patronage since electrification.

The main growth in transfers came about during 1983-4 (when the Fremantle rail service was restored) and during 1993-4 when the northern suburbs line opened. The former may be because a higher service on one leg of the journey (in this case the train) can stimulate use of its feeders. In the second case, the reconfiguration of buses to feed railway stations rather than continue down the freeway forced some transfers. However since rail ridership growth (8 million) far outstripped the bus ridership decline (2 million), this change attracted new custom to public transport above and beyond a simple substitution of bus journeys by rail trips.

The cause of the decline in tranfers in the late 1980s is not known. However the period coincided with difficulties with the (then antiquated) suburban rail network. This is reflected in a 20% decline in rail patronage between 1986-7 and 1990-1. Since trips that involve tranfers are much more affected by service unreliabilty than those that don't, it is likely that this was a prime contributor.

The period since 1999 has seen a slight decrease in the proportion of transfers, though their absolute number continues to grow. This is largely because of accelerated growth in the total number of trips. Thanks to service improvements (eg Circle Route, regional route reviews, clockface scheduling and increased frequencies) the fastest increase has been in bus patronage (from 45 million in 1998-9 to 62 million in 2004-5). Though some extra people are tranferring to other services, an even higher proportion must be using the bus for local trips, which better services also encourage.

Looking at the bigger picture, it can be seen that the absolute number of transfers has doubled in the previous twelve years after a period of stagnation. Discounting the northern suburbs rail line impact the increase lessens to 50 percent. Nevertheless this can still be considered an achievement and a sign that Transperth is catering to a wider variety of destinations than its former CBD-focus.

Network type and city size

As towns and cities increase in size, the type and role of their public transport networks change.

Moving from rural to major urban areas, and from least sophisticated to most sophisticated, the progression is normally as follows:

1. School bus routes only.
2. Seniors door to door shopper or community bus operating a few days a week.
3. Fixed route/fixed timetable town buses operating a few services in the middle of the day, again mainly for shoppers going into town.
4. Fixed route/fixed timetable town buses offering the above plus am and pm peak hour service for shoppers and town centre commuters.
5. Fixed route/fixed timetable town buses offering the above plus weekend and evening services suitable for shoppers, commuters and leisure trips into town.
6. A web-like network of scheduled services with cross-suburban as well as CBD routes and easy transfers between services.
7. A web-like network of services, with trunk services to the CBD using heavy and/or light rail and local cross-suburban feeder routes using buses.
8. A web-like network, with both trunk services to the CBD and the more important cross-suburban circumfrential routes using light and/or heavy rail.

The types of centres served by these services are as follows:

1. Settlements up to several hundred have only school buses and, if they are lucky, the odd coach to a large regional city. 2. Larger towns up to a few thousand might also have a community bus for the seniors. If on a passenger railway, regional trains may stop there. 3. Towns around 10000 (eg Sale) tend to have a rudimentary fixed route bus system but with operating span and frequency only suitable for day shoppers (not work commuters). 4. Bigger centres of 30 000 or more may have services before 10am and after 4pm, allowing some use for town centre commuters. 5. Even larger cities (such as Geelong) have much the above, but with weekend and some evening services. However as with examples 3 & 4 all routes converge on the CBD. 6 and 7 are more characteristic of Australian capital cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. However due to limited services the network may still be CBD-centric, so may retreat to being closer to 5 during these times. 8. is only found in the big transit cities such as Paris and Moscow, and there are no examples in Australia.

The least sophisticated networks (1 & 2) cater for special-need groups only, so can't legitimately be called 'public transport'. Those who aren't in the nominated groups cannot use these services. They they will drive, cycle or walk, so the public transport modal share in these centres is small.

Networks 3 to 5 represent conventional small city public transport systems, and can cater for varying types of town-centre trips. Network coverge, operating span and service frequency tend to governing the range of trips it can cater for and represent the main differences between 3, 4 and 5. Inter-suburban trips may require backtracking to a town-centre terminus, so are less attractive.

Networks 6, 7 and 8 represent the most developed systems and are the most versatile. They can cater for a wide range of CBD and cross-suburban trips throughout the day and night. Cities with 7 and (especially) 8 offer car-competitive travel times and have the highest modal share for public transport.

Inspiration on the Frankston train

Both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of travelling on public transport can be the public. In this it's no different to shopping centres or on the street. Hence parents publicly scolding their children or the details of a relationship breakdown being shouted into a mobile phone. Try as one may, such carrying on is hard to ignore when the voice fills the whole carriage and one's mind is compelled to fill in the blanks.

The flip side is that there are also some great conversations to be heard on trains, trams and buses. One does not wish to be rude and be seen to be listening in, but the content of such discussions can be compelling and divert attention from the scenery or book at hand.

Quality conversations can be as prosaic as two grandmothers talking about their offspring and their families. Another example, also heard on the Frankston train, was where someone has a passion for something (in this case composing electronic music) and made a success of it as an independent. Even as one with no interest or knowledge of the topic, the human interest is universal, the enthusiasm infectious and the content genuinely uplifting.

If you discount the bad and savour the good, the overall result is a net benefit, so the exposure to same can be considered to be one more advantage of using convivial modes such as public transport.

Friday, June 02, 2006

What politicians have said about public transport
Parliamentary speeches about public transport, as reported in the Victorian Hansard.
The search function includes entries from about 1991. Note that the list produced may take 5-10 seconds to appear due to its size. Also it may be incomplete. Users can refine their searches by using more specific terms.
Here's a few on still-topical matters. Be prepared to sift through debate, ranting, history lessons and promises - both fulfilled and unfulfilled!
31 May, 2006 Meeting our Transport Challenges
30 May, 2006 Smartbus rollout
17 August, 2005 Outer eastern transport improvements
19 July, 2005 Station at Southland
24 August, 2004 Review of Sandringham line train evening frequency
27 May 2004 Sandringham and Frankston line train reliability
2 May, 2002 Metcard reliability
2 March, 2002 City loop capacity
9 October, 2001 Sometimes petitioners get some of what they want!
2 October, 2001 Eastern suburbs transport
23 May, 2000 A question
23 May, 2000 private operation
2 December, 1999 More trains & 3rd track to Mitcham
2 May, 1999 Automated ticketing, etc
29 April 1997 Abolishing the Summer train timetable
6 December, 1996 Glen Waverley Sunday train improvements
13 November, 1996 Echuca Sprinter
16 October, 1996 Speech by Robin Cooper
31 October, 1996 Automated ticketing
2 June, 1996 Bell Station
2 May, 1996 Station at Campbellfield
4 October, 1995 Nightrider buses
2 September, 1995 Doncaster buses
2 December, 1994 Freeway debate
19 October, 1994 664 service improvements
2 October, 1994 Doncaster bus changes
29 March, 1994 Bus-only ticketing
2 March, 1994 Rant about Labor transport ministers
17 November, 1993 Bus route 788
13 May, 1993 Reduced tram service frequencies
19 May, 1992 What to do about Cranbourne rail?
7 May, 1992 Some local member wishes also get granted
17 March, 1992 Enforcing scratch tickets
6 June, 1991 Bus services
10 September, 1991 Tram to Knox
18 April, 1991 Sprinters to Sunbury
20 March, 1991 Mornington Peninsula transport
13 November 1990 Questions on rolling stock leases