Saturday, December 27, 2008

Do we need a public transport architect?

Sometimes later add-ons to a railway station, bus shelter or other infrastructure can detract from its function, amenity or aesthetics. Other times buildings may go unused (eg old goods sidings or kiosks) when they could do something useful, such as bicycle parking or a business. Whether it's an inconvenient entrance, an insensitively located ticket machine, a mid-platform obstacle or an errant billboard, expediency can sometimes prevail over passenger needs or built heritage.

Example: A tale of two platforms

Mentone Station was identified here as a 'high amenity perception' station. It's easy to see why from the photo below. The things that make Platform 1 special include a pleasant treed outlook, visibility of people and shops. A low-profile fence, a gap in the shelter and easy access all combine to integrate the station with the surrounding community. Rather than the platform being seen as a 'fortress', 'isolated' or 'unsafe' the perception conveyed is safe and welcoming with good passive surveillance.

The next photos are also of Mentone, but Platform 2. The difference with Platform 1 couldn't be more stark. Outside is a carpark that is full of commuters during the day and empty at night so it is less active than the shops overlooking Platform 1.

The main damage however is caused by the long line of billboards along Platform 2. This visually cuts the car park from the platform and shops and the platform from the people and traffic outside.

While Mentone is a very safe suburb, the poor nighttime safety perception of an isolated carpark and unstaffed station platform still lingers in many minds and the blocked visibility makes it appreciably worse. The fix in this case is simple; remove the billboards to improve amenity and perceived safety. A previously blocked vista to shops and buses would also be opened.

The example shows that good design can make a difference and that a generally well designed station can be spoiled by later add-ons. There is also the matter of competing criteria; in this case the dominant (only?) design factor in erecting the billboards appears to have been exposing waiting passengers on Platform 1 to the most advertising possible.

With booming patronage, proposed 'tag-off' ticketing requirements, and the need for existing stations, platforms and entrances to carry 2 or 3 times their current passenger throughputs, we will need to rediscover the need for good station design.

To cope with increasing demands, some of the expediencies put in place during the 1960s - 1990s patronage slump/stagnation may need to be reversed. A public transport architect conversant with rail operations and passenger traffic may well be a sensible investment to ensure that stations, shelters and stops are reviewed with throughput capacity and amenity maximised.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Walking's slower in the west

If you reckon walking's faster in the middle and eastern parts of the CBD than in the west you're not mistaken. As the figures below demonstrate long light cycles and the lack of or closure of station subways shrinks pedsheds and lengthens access times in the west.

Station entrances that allow access over or under major road

Southern Cross: 0 (since subway under Spencer St closed)
Flagstaff: 1 (under Latrobe St)
Melbourne Central: 1 (under Latrobe St)
Parliament: 4 (entrances at Nicholson, Bourke, Collins, Macarthur St)
Flinders Street: 1 (under Flinders St)

Source: Melway Map 1A & 1B

Traffic light cycle times
intersections with Bourke Street, walking from west to east

Spencer St(120s)|King St(120s)|William St(90s)

Queen St (90s) | Eliz St (75s) | Swanston St (60s)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A win for passenger access?

A previous post studied the 888/889 bus terminus at Chelsea and concluded that it was poorly located for easy access from either the Nepean Highway shopping strip or the railway station. An alternative stop location that could reduce transfer times by 80 to 90 percent was suggested.

The photos below show the alternative site as it was yesterday. If they are indeed the beginnings of timetable totems for the proposed Green Orbital then wisdom will have prevailed and the best possible stop location will have been chosen. And then, it is hoped, passengers will be able to bid the current stop (which takes 4 red lights and 4 minutes to reach from 100 metres away) good riddance!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

34.8km/h: not too bad

Today's Herald Sun is reporting Vicroads figures stating that average morning peak hour travel speed has fallen to 34.8 km/h. This is a decline from 37.5km/h in 1999/2000. The tone of the article was generally critical of the government for 'not doing enough to fix road bottlenecks' and complaining that 'drivers were spending more hours per year getting to work'.

What the article does not do is compare the 34.8km/h average speed with the situation in other cities or with alternatives such as public transport. If it did it might find that 34.8km/h in a large city might still be rather fast.

Let's look at other cities. Generally CBD traffic is slower than suburban traffic, and definitions of cities and urban boundaries around the world vary. But here's a few examples from around the world:

* Los Angeles (highway speeds as low as 5 or 10 miles/hr)
* Dublin (average 13km/h)
* Various UK cities (We're faster than London, faster than Bristol and comparable with Birmingham) Average for English urban centres approx 15-20 mph
* Sydney (22km/h on major roads - article from Herald Sun's Sydney sister
* Perth 30km/h on Mitchell Freeway

The quick survey above is not definitive, but compared with those places, our 34.8km/h (21 mph) does not compare unfavourably.

What about public transport? Travel speeds vary greatly, so here's a 'basket' of trips to provide a range. The Metlink journey planner was used to calculate travel times, selecting the quickest trip departing the origin around 8:00am. Distances are approximate. Waiting times are not included, but neither were parking times in the driving speed statistics reported above.

* 50 Jukes Rd (Fawkner) to Broadmeadows Town Park: 8km @ 55 min = 9km/h
* Durham Rd/Glengala Rd (Sunshine West) to Victoria University Ballarat Rd (Footscray): 10km @ 45 min = 13 km/h
* Glendale St/Whitehorse Rd (Nunawading) to Doncaster Shoppingtown: 10km @ 40 min = 15km/h
* Pascoe Vale Rd (Oak Park) to Melbourne Exhibition & Convention Centre (Southbank): 17km @ 1hr:08 = 15km/h
* 1000 Glenhuntly Rd (Caulfield South) to 600 St Kilda Rd: 8km @ 31 min = 16km/h
* Tooronga Rd/High St (Glen Iris) to Monash University (Clayton): 14km @ 52 min = 16 km/h
* Beach St/Dandenong Rd West (Frankston) to State Library (City): 40km @ 1hr:06 = 36km/h

Looking at these trip times, it is difficult to achieve a travel speed of more than 20km/h by public transport. For these transit passengers, a 34.8km/h average travel speed would halve commute times and seem in the realm of fantasy.

Public transport at its best (eg frequent express trains) can exceed the average peak driving time, as the Frankston example shows. The gap in favour of public transport may be even wider if 'to CBD' roads move slower than the 35km/h average. However as soon as either the origin or destination ceases to be almost next door to the station or a transfer is involved, travel speeds might fall by a third or more and driving becomes faster.

To summarise, Melbourne's 34.8km/h average morning peak road traffic speed is not necessarily slower than elsewhere and is about twice the speed of public transport for all but direct train trips. Contrary to the Herald Sun article, maybe our drivers don't have it too bad after all!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

iHub transport information: a demonstration

Forewarned is forearmed. The passenger told about the cancelled train before entering the station underpass is happier than one who only found out after the train failed to arrive. And it's better for everyone if the passenger can use this knowledge to do something useful (like grab some food or a paper) and minimise 'any inconvenience caused'.

Conversely not displaying train information until the last possible moment (eg suburban train times at the Bourke Street end of Southern Cross Station) is bad. It's a bit like having a shop on a first floor up a one-way staircase since if the services or times aren't to your liking, you've passed the point of no return and must wait it out.

Hence attempts to bring public transport information off the system to where the people are, in the street, at work or in their homes, are very much to be welcomed. One such information source is the iHub booths around Melbourne CBD. They were installed just before the 2006 Commonwealth Games as part of making the city 'tourist-friendly'. With their touch-screens they're like an electronic visitor guide, with information on things to do, attractions, food and transport.

Today I tried one out, in this case to find out about city trams. You can watch how the trial went below.

To summarise, they're not much good, at least for transport information, and usability was poor. While they might make some advertising revenue for the operator their public benefit is limited. The average tourist would be better off if the space was used for large city maps with attraction guides and transport information instead.

Monday, December 01, 2008

More from the Pedshed Series: Pedestrian and transit access around intersections

The areas around intersections are hotly contested on the road network. Frequently public transport comes off second best, with bus stops and pedestrian crossings planned or moved mid-block to add more lanes or room for turning cars.

The video below looks at the corner of Springvale Rd and Wells Rd in Chelsea Heights. This intersection is 30 kilometres south of Melbourne at the start of one of Melbourne's busiest roads. Topics covered include provision of footpaths, traffic lights versus roundabouts, location of bus stops and access to major trip and job generators.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Buses replacing trains

Due to level crossing maintenance at Aspendale and Chelsea, buses replaced trains between Mordialloc and Frankston yesterday and today.

Here are some pictures of aspects of the occupation around Chelsea Station, showing the work done, substitute services and passenger information.

Information for motorists and passengers

Work on the level crossing

Substitute services

Other work at the station

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Meeting Our Transport Challenges: How's it travelling?

Perhaps the most tangible part of the Victorian Government's 2006 'Meeting Our Transport Challenges' plan is a program of service improvements to metropolitan bus routes.

To set the context to this, it should be recalled that despite extended trading and working hours, the average Melbourne bus ran every 40 minutes before going to bed at 7pm. Almost nothing ran on Sundays, meaning that if you lived away from trains and trams public transport simply did not exist for most hours of the week. At that time Melbourne's buses were easily the nation's worst; even smaller cities like Adelaide, Perth and Canberra ran more Sunday and evening services than we did.

MOTC changed this by introducing minimum standards to bring at least an hourly service to most areas until 9pm, seven days a week. Public holiday schedules on the upgraded routes were also standardised, improving usability and legibility.

While there were smaller earlier upgrades, the real gains under the MOTC policy started in late 2006. These ocurred over several phases, with Phase Three having just finished. Hence it's now a good time to look at the bus services available today and compare them with how things were three years ago.

The most striking difference has been the doubling of the number of routes with Sunday service. Almost as significant is the number of routes that run until at least 9pm. The greatest change is undocumented here but would be those services that (i) run at 8pm on a Sunday or (ii) run on Good Friday and Christmas Day. In both cases the increase in the number of routes with service would be five to ten times. The least change has been in after 9pm service; since these are outside MOTC standards the only significant increases have come through the introduction of two SmartBus routes (900 & 901).

Here are some raw figures. They should be considered approximate only, and in any case are not always fair; percentages are depressed by peak-only services and some very similar routes (eg 600/922/923) should probably be counted as one.

Number of bus routes by operating days/hours - November 2008

Routes that run Mon-Fri only and cease before 7pm weekdays: 22
Routes that run Mon-Fri only and cease before 9pm weekdays: 10
Routes that run Mon-Fri only but cease after 9pm weekdays: 1

Routes that run Mon-Sat only and cease before 7pm weekdays: 46
Routes that run Mon-Sat only and cease before 9pm weekdays: 35

Routes that run Mon-Sun but cease before 7pm weekdays: 20
Routes that run Mon-Sun but cease before 9pm weekdays: 17
Routes that run Mon-Sun and cease at 9pm (MOTC STANDARD): 120
Routes that run Mon-Sun and run after 9pm (ABOVE MOTC): 16

Peak period only routes: 16
Limited service and special routes: 5
Sunday only routes: 1

Detailed figures for 2006 are contained in a previous post here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Transport: Visions for a Sustainable Future

Held in the ironically-named 'BMW Edge' at Federation Square earlier tonight this gathering attended by about 400 provided a stage for various academics and lobbyists to say their bit on transport. Thanks to Transport Textbook for the notice.

Here's a quick summary from each of the speakers:

William Mitchell (MIT Design Lab) advocated electric micro-cars aimed to satisfy last-mile 'mobility on demand' that existing bus services generally do not.

Like Flexicar they turn car ownership on its head, with 'swipe and drive' one-way rental replacing full-time ownership. They provide an intermediate position between no and full car ownership. Stackable like shopping trolleys with kerbside recharging depots dotted around the inner suburbs and near railway stations. Unlike Flexicar (which uses standard vehicles) their small size means that they're less useful for some errands that can't be done with public transport such as large-scale grocery shopping and bulky retail.

Rob Adams (City of Melbourne): Argued that nearly all non-housing infrastructure we'll have in 2020 is already built and we can't build our way out of congestion.

Blames the early 20th century Garden City Movement and later motorisation for our low densities which he says are unaffordable. Strongly advocates high housing densities (4-8 storeys) along every major road within about 20 kilometres of Melbourne CBD; this could accommodate an extra 2 million people within the existing urbanised area. These corridors would be served by trams or frequent buses. Housing in between these corridors (about 90% of the urban area) would be at existing densities but 'greener'. Cities such as Barcelona and Curitiba provided examples.

Like other speakers, high density was considered essential due to a claimed relationship between it and good public transport (similar to Newman/Kenworthy). Having single-family houses on tramlines (a common sight 5 - 10km from Melbourne) was considered a waste that this reurbanisation would address and bring more people closer to public transport.

Dr Jago Dodson (Griffith Uni) introduced us to his mapping work comparing fuel dependency with suburban location, transport infrastructure and incomes (called VIPER). When interest rates and fuel prices rose in 2007 the study got an M (for mortgage) and became VAMPIRE.

As would be expected, the lower income outer suburbs had the biggest susceptibility to fuel price increases due to more widely spaced services, poorer walkability and less public transport. Conversely the posh inner suburbs had high incomes, better public transport, lower car usage and thus high resilience to oil price hikes. Hence we had an urban structure that conspired to increase inequalities as cities grew larger and fuel prices rose. While he did not advocate a government housing program he did mention that private developers tended to seek highest returns by developing in (dear) inner city areas instead of outer areas (I assume this referred to unit development; there are plenty of private housing estates on the fringes).

Not mentioned tonight were two points; that mortgage holders are generally not the lowest income earners (most of these rent) and that the outer suburbs can be quite diverse and include high-service nodes such as central Werribee, Frankston and Dandenong where people can live without a car. Comparison between residents very close to those centres and those further afield (but in the same suburb) would have been interesting.

Dr Jago was a Melbourne 2030 skeptic for a couple reasons. Most activity centres are in the inner suburbs therefore they perpetuate existing inequalities, and much high-density development is of low quality and poor energy efficiency (which might even offset saving from reduced car use). A critic of large infrastructure projects, he saw planning, co-ordination and service as important and supported high-frequency buses. He also preferred local road/rail seperations to mega-projects such as road tunnels.

Nicholas Low (GAMUT) started off with a shopping list of transport projects that he claimed were to be in the Premier's transport statement next month. His particular list included: Tarneit railway line to Southern Cross, extension to South Morang, electrification to Melton, what was called Mees-style trains through central Melbourne, 100 new buses, Doncaster and SmartBus improvements, bike paths. Plus road projects like the Frankston bypass (already announced), Greensborough - Eastlink freeway and half the Eddington road tunnel (Sunshine to Citylink via Tottenham, Kingsville and Seddon).

Prof Low saw this list as being biased too heavily towards roads. Instead he (like Prof Currie but unlike Prof Mees) advocated Eddington's rail tunnel plus rail lines to Doncaster and Rowville. This could help stem car use in Melbourne, which had recently outstripped Perth (in average kilometres driven per year). He stated his opposition to the plan (before it has come out), instead favouring a 'no new roads' policy and bigger cuts to carbon emissions (350ppm suggested).

Cath Smith (VCOSS), like the previous speakers mentioned how lucky she was to live in a bikable inner city neighbourhood with trams, trains and buses. However with high rents and property prices such living was less available and affordable.

VCOSS' constituents comprise many who don't drive, the disabled, pensioners and the unemployed. While train crowding was important, it was clear that VCOSS' priorities were elsewhere, especially with regard to co-ordinating community transport, integrating country school buses and, in Melbourne, local bus route coverage. Industrial estates have no or little public transport and apprentices in particular can find jobs difficult to reach due to 'historical' bus routes that skip job growth areas. As with prevous speakers, the interplay between housing, jobs, transport, education and services was mentioned.

Faster DDA roll-out and higher multi-purpose taxi funding was advocated (the ministerial announcement today was praised) as well as minimum frequencies for buses. Every 30 minutes seven days a week was proposed; while this is a doubling of the existing MOTC safety net, it still may not necessarily guarantee connectivity with trains.

On the environment the point was made that transport modal shift was the key to carbon reductions, not more efficient cars. This was contradicted by Robin Batterham who said that our car fleet (amongst the least efficient in the world) could double its efficiency to European standards if only regulation was applied.

After the main speakers were two respondents; Robin Batterham (former Chief Scientist) and David Ettershank (Kensington resident and, like other speakers a self-confessed 'inner-city elite member of the chattering class').

Robin Batternham drew several threads together and saw a general consensus (at least amongst those there, an important qualification given the non-representative speakers and audience). These included support for higher density and a belief that (pace Mees) it is necessary for good public transport. This can be made to happen politically if those in power are convinced of sufficient support.

David Ettershank carried the political theme further. He claimed that the Labor Party was abandoning the inner-city (Andre Haermeyer was mentioned), and that ALP focus groups have such a construct called 'Cranbourne Man' (who always wants more roads), as well as a 'Shepperton Man' (who was not explained) to draft policy.

Questions from the audience were about housing, train over-crowding and one from left-field apparently advocating a high-speed ferry to Hobart. Jago Dodson said good houses cost no more than bad houses and all should have 6-7 stars (in energy rating). Nick Low said that more trains were needed, but we also needed more train paths as well so they could run. Rob Adams said that train infrastructure had long lead times and 100 'green' buses could be put on special bus lanes on major roads overnight. A Vicroads employee suggested an intermediate road network for human-powered and low-powered vehicles. Such a metro-wide network would cost about the same as a single freeway and overcome the main impediment to cycling - safety and cars. However one of the panel suggested kerbside lanes on all roads would be cheaper and provide a more extensive network.

Overall it was an interesting session, albeit predictable given the narrow inner-city pro-density panel. The attendance of 400 (estimated) indicates extreme interest in transport and city policy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The new train timetable: (week)Day 1

Today was the first weekday test of the November 9 suburban train timetable. The main changes include (i) Single direction loop running on Epping/Hurstbridge line, (ii) Extra peak services, particularly on the Epping line, (iii) 15 minute service until after 10pm to Ringwood and (iv) Peak Werribee trains running direct instead of via the loop.

The Werribee changes, though necessary to permit increased services, was always going to create the most controversy, with some extended travel times or transfers needed.

The handling of this was exemplary so is described here.

Passengers alighting at Southern Cross (the recommended morning peak transfer point) firstly saw notices about the change on Platform 13/14. Frequent PA announcements were made. Platform staffing was provided; everyone departing the train was offered a brochure explaining the changes (below).

Loop trains were on Platform 9, so it wasn't a direct cross-platform tranfer. However signposting was provided, including arrows on the ground (below).

All up a good effort and an example for other service changes.

Passengers travelling today may have noticed the extra automated announcements on peak trains. As well as announcing next station, these contain messages to move down the aisle and to keep doors clear. Well meaning though these are, they aren't always relevant and are sometimes better not made.

An example was a peak Frankston line train this morning. At Bentleigh the train carried a fully seated load with few standees. However an automated announcement was still made when loading was comparatively light. The next announcement was made at Malvern, by which time the train was close to crush-loaded and there was little if any room to do as the announcement recommended. The optimum time to have made an announcement would have been somewhere between those two stations, but there is no way a programmed system can gauge this.

Much like trying to sell service improvements by advertising the weekly network number of trains added (instead of daily line-specific figures), unnecessary automated announcements do not exactly endear passenger confidence. The railways would do well to borrow a radio broadcasting maxim (especially relevant in this age of iPods) ie keep it live and keep it local.

This brings us to the human element. As with any job, how employees see and perform their role varies. Some train drivers make announcements above and beyond, while others say very little. Although automated announcements provide a 'tech fix' and a 'minimum standard' (if working), they are less personal (at best) and erroneous or irrelevant (at worst). Overall they are a 'second best' option. As seen with the Werribee loop change previously, keeping passenger communication live, local and human wins every time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

10 years of Service Improvements: What and When

The table below shows the time and mode of the public transport service improvements by time of day and day of week. Thick lines are for major network-wide frequency and span improvements with thinner lines for more localised or smaller upgrades.

The largest changes in summary are:

* Improved span and frequency of regional trains (2006)
* Local buses running longer hours, particularly early evenings and Sundays (2006-)
* After midnight train, tram and bus services (2007 & 2008)
* Sunday trains and trams (2000)
* Five SmartBus routes (2002 - 2008)

The next large patronage gains are likely to come from a different set of improvements. These are likely to include: (i) shoulder peak and evening train and tram services, (ii) Orbital trunk and restructured local bus routes, and (iii) boosted weekend trains and buses.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NightRider upgraded

The small hours of last Saturday saw the first operation of the upgraded after-midnight NighRider network. Frequency doubled from hourly to half-hourly and new routes extended reach to Doncaster, Healesville and Narre Warren/Cranbourne.

Over the last five years no part of Victorian public transport (except regional rail and local buses in some areas) has received bigger upgrades than NightRider. The improvements have been so great that some outlying areas now get a more frequent service from NightRider than on their normal daytime routes.

The recent NightRider service improvements follow fare reform about 18 months ago. Previously NightRiders were subject to a seperate (higher) fare and Metcards were not accepted. Now they are, with the same zones applying as with any other route. Route numbers are also being standardised and signage is being renewed (below).

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Rosebud - City Express: Will it survive?

Grenda's is currently trialling a premium commuter coach service from the Mornington Peninsula to the CBD. The prebooked service completes a round trip, departing Rosebud West at 6:30am weekdays and Southern Cross Station at 5:30pm. A premium fare of $15 (one-way) or $25 (return) is payable. As a non-subsidised private service, the coach operates outside the integrated state-wide fare system.

Poster advertising the service (photo by Craig Halsall)

The posters above have been seen in route buses and at Frankston Station. This plus the wording indicate that the intent of the service is siphoning existing passengers from existing services as much as attracting new commuters from their cars. If successful this could be advantageous to the operator since their special fare means they keep all revenue. On the flip side the service is non-subsidised, so the number of passengers needed to pay is much higher than for a regular (subsidised) route.

About to leave Southern Cross

Last Friday afternoon Craig and I got on board to see how it was going. One other passenger boarded on Collins Street, but that was it. Before jumping to conclusions on its likely survival, let's look at the service in a little more detail:

The speed A major hold-up was the CBD portion, accounting for nearly half the 2-hour total travel time. While taking an indirect freeway route via Mitcham, travel time from then on was fast. Nevertheless had the bus called at Frankston Station it would have been about 30 minutes slower than an equivalent train trip from Southern Cross. However given that there is no waiting time and the express running compared to train+788, the coach wins for those near one of the stops.

The frequency No contest here. The coach has one round trip, so has no flexibility of arrivals and departures. In contrast express trains to Frankston run every 10-15 minutes with Bus 788 every 45 minutes, permitting better flexibilty of travel times.

The fare It's higher than the standard fare. Plus transferring passengers will need to buy a Metcard to board other buses, trains and trams in the CBD as it is not tied into the statewide fare system. However $15 for an 80-odd kilometre trip still represents fair value, so if the service fails the fare probably won't be the reason.

The profitability. Zero. The $45 collected would certainly not cover the fuel of the large coach, let alone Eastlink tolls, the driver's wage, any dead-running, vehicle maintenance or opportunity cost. I don't know the break even point, but even 20 passengers wouldn't be enough to make it pay. Even if it was subsidised as much as a regular local bus (say 25% farebox recovery) much higher patronage would still be required.

The patronage One (genuine) passenger per almost 100 kilometres is not good. Expressed in another way it's 0.01 boardings per kilometre or just 1% of that of even a moderately quiet local route (1 boarding per kilometre). Even if it was subject to public subsidy the service would almost certainly be withdrawn, alternative more frequent services already existing.

The future It is difficult to see one, whether it remains independent or becomes subject to public subsidy. Public subsidy would likely require incorporation into the statewide fare system and a social rationale for the service, which doesn't exist given alternatives. Ride it when you can!

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Pedshed Series (even more)

The concept here is of a 'Footpath Freeway'. Aim is an engineered path to permit high throughputs of people, while providing safety for for slower walkers and those who need to stop.

The Pedshed Series (more)

The previous post was rather abstract and referred to differences in terms of area that an improved pedshed around a railway station would make. But public transport doesn't exist to serve areas; it serves people and jobs.

Previously we mentioned a hypothetical improvement where a station's 10 minute was increased from 800 to 880 metres. The areas covered are as follows:

* 800 metre pedshed: 3.14*(800*800) or 2 009 600 m2

* 880 metre pedshed: 3.14*(880*880) or 2 431 616 m2

The difference is about 400 000 m2.

400 000 m2 doesn't mean much to most people, so let's put it in more familiar terms. It's 40 hectares. A typical residential area comprising mostly houses on seperate blocks (but a few units) might have 15 homes per hectare. Or a population of 600 assuming 3 per dwelling.

Of that 600, let's assume that 100 would regularly take public transport to work or school if it was near enough (ie within the 10 min pedshed). Assuming an average spend of $1000 per year per passenger that's an extra $100k fare revenue per year obtainable. If these commuters took 400 trips per year, that's an extra 40 000 trips per year, generated from that one station. And, unless services are crowded, these good results are possible at no cost except for the relatively modest works required to improve pedsheds.

Further improvements are possible in denser areas and where several measures are taken to improve pedsheds. For instance, as well as a pedestrian crossing or underpass, extra entrances onto platforms can be built. This is particularly effective where entries/exits at at one end (eg Frankston). The length of a railway platform is about 160 metres so the pedshed gains of a second entrance are considerable.

Now what about jobs, which, at least in CBD areas, is much denser than housing? I do not know how many jobs typically exist in 40 hectares. However gains of several thousand per improvement are not unreasonable.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Pedshed Series

or how to get the patronage gains of 10 extra stations without building them

Most people with a choice will only walk a certain distance to public transport. The generally accepted maximum is 800 metres/10 minutes to 'high quality' public transport (eg railways or busways) or 400 metres/5 minutes to 'regular' public transport (eg local bus routes).

The area surrounding a station within 800 metres or ten minutes walk is within its service area or pedshed. Since people are more concerned about time rather than distance, the service area of a station can be increased if overall origin to platform walking speed is increased.

Because walking speeds are a matter for personal discretion, the only way to do this is to eliminate all obstacles between station platforms, origins and destinations. The most significant of these obstacles are those where the passenger is forced to wait or is moving much slower than regular walking speed. Examples of obstacles may include unresponsive pedestrian crossings (or none at all), indirect detours, inconvenient entrances/exits and bottlenecks near ticket barriers.

The diagram below shows how a station's service area can be increased by improving access speed.

Because the increase in area is proportional to the square of the radius, a even small change could easily increase a station's potential catchment population by 10 or 20 percent. If pedshed enhancing measures were applied to all stations in a 200-station network, it's not unreasonable to expect patronage gains equivalent to building several new stations.

Let us get some more detailed figures on this.

800 metres in 10 minutes assumes a walking speed of 4.8 km/h.

Suppose we were able to speed station access times by 60 seconds. Instead of passengers being able to walk 800 metres in 10 minutes, they can now walk 880 metres in 10 minutes.

The pedshed areas are as follows:

800 metre pedshed: 3.14*(800*800) or 2 009 600 m2

880 metre pedshed: 3.14*(880*880) or 2 431 616 m2

This is an increase in service area of 21%. Patronage increase might not be quite this high (those 10 min away might be less likely than those 5 min away to use it) but even if half or three quarters the service area increase it is still substantial.

It works in reverse as well. Removing a subway or zebra crossing in favour of a signalised pedestrian crossing (for example) reduces access speeds and therefore a station's pedshed. In the example above, a minute's delay reduces the pedshed to 720 metres and coverage area to 1 627 776 m2 or a 19% reduction.

The other effect with signalised crossings is that waiting times vary, meaning greater variability in origin to platform times. Walking time via subway or zebra crossing is constant and predictable but becomes variable when they must encounter pedestrian signals (especially those on 90 second cycles). Assuming two crossings, worst case variabilty can be 3 minutes, which is a significant proportion of the ten minutes access time allowed. The effect is that passengers must build 'fat' into their schedule (by leaving early), further reducing origin to platform travel speeds.

A program to widen station pedsheds would require a range of measures of varying cost. These vary from subway or elevated walkway construction (most expensive) to altering pedestrian cycles, removing roundabouts, installing median strips or painting zebra crossings. However such measures are desirable if public transport is to operate at peak performance, delivering the lowest possible (and most predictable) door to door travel times.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Welcome to Transport Textbook

I'm pleased to announce that melbourneontransit has joined Phin's Transport Textbook. This is like a group blog but the actual posts and comments remain at our own URLs. Think of it as an index that gives quick access to the latest from Phin, Riccardo and myself.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How to get concession public transport and not be poor

Concession public transport is only for low-income people, such as age pensioners, disability pensioners, students and the unemployed. Right? Wrong!

This post will examine two cases where one can be quite well off (a millionaire household, even) yet get concession or cheaper public transport. It raises some welfare policy issues of who gets what, whether the greatest benefits go to the most needy, or if it's more about votes.

Chapter Six of the Victorian Fares and Ticketing Manual explains who gets concession and free travel.

While many groups get free or concession travel, in this post we will talk about only two; low income earners and seniors.

Low income earners

This group of passengers do not need to be on any welfare benefit, but they do need a Low Income Health Care Card, issued by Centrelink.

Maximum qulifying weekly incomes for various household types are shown here, but for our purposes an amount of $23192 for singles and $38636 will suffice. Income can go up a bit and you will not lose the card, but you won't be able to renew it unless it is below the qualifying amount mentioned above.

The income limits above are not particularly high. There would be many people working part-time (and even some full-timers) who could qualify. Since commuting is a major added expense when one goes to work, the effect of this benefit as it applies to public transport is to assist the 'working poor' and provide an incentive to get off welfare.

If income rises further (eg extra hours at work) a poverty trap effect is created as the concession entitlement cuts out and the passenger must pay full fare. This difference is about $23 per week, assuming Zone 1+2 travel. This is not unique to public transport, and also applies to any heavily targeted welfare benefit with a steep taper rate. The alternative in this case is lessening the benefit withdrawal taper rate, but the problem with this is that welfare becomes both dearer for the taxpayer and less targeted at the needy.

I see nothing wrong with low income working people getting concession travel on public transport, and indeed there are social benefits, especially if it improves work incentives.

However it gets interesting if the cardholder is not working, for instance living off investment income.

Since the Centrelink low income health care card has no assets test, only an income test, you can have quite a lot of assets and still qualify for one (and thus concession travel). How much? Well it depends on the deeming rates.

Working back from the income limits above the result is up to $386533 of assets for singles and up to $643933 for couples. This is a rough (conservative) calculation based on a 6% deeming rate; where 4% applies for part of the capital the figures will be higher.

On their own these are quite respectable asset levels to be deriving government benefits (or concessions). But that's not all. Since the family home is exempt we can add that as well. Assuming ownership of an average home (worth $400000), you can be worth nearly $800 000 as a single or over $1.2 million as a couple and still get transport concession benefits!. Or to put it in another way, you can be a millionare couple who owns their own home and gets $38000 pa and still get concession tickets since Centrelink deems you 'low income'!

Seniors Card

Sick of slumming it on just $38k pa so you can get concession fares? Well you've got a treat coming as soon as you turn 60! Provided you watch your working hours (because I doubt others will), getting a Seniors card is your key to a wonderland of benefits unavailable to working people.

Younger Centrelink clients report various letters, compliance checks and audits to verify you're still entitled to benefits (which is as it should be to maintain the welfare system's integrity). But if you've got a seniors card, about the only mail you'll get are free country travel vouchers. Plus you can rely on the local rag to convey news of seniors festivals (more free travel!) and other goodies.

Admittedly the above has been a bit flippant but the reason will become apparent later. But beforehand, let's distinguish between seniors and (age) pensioners. All age pensioners are seniors, but not all seniors are age pensioners. The single age pension at around $280 per week (single) isn't exactly a life of caviar. However at least they do get various Centrelink benefits, and the assets and income tests ensure there is a sound needs basis for them.

Seniors Card is a quite different animal in no way related to various needs-based Centrelink pension and health care cards.

Over 60? Victorian resident? Well that's two out of three criteria met. The other one is a rather curious work hours test. If you're delivering junk mail around the streets part-time you're in. If you've got your own surgery so can control your work hours to 34 per week you're in. Ditto if you're a BHP board member. But if you're a PAYE earner working 38 hours per week you fail. Eligibility boils down to the control you have over your time, and self-funded investors or business proprieters have more of that than full-time (and taxpaying) employees. Plus, unlike Centrelink cards, no assets or means tests apply.

Since its criteria is so rubbery, you'd think that Seniors Card would attract less generous conditions than than the concession fares enjoyed by holders of Centrelink cards (which have needs-based eligibilty requirements). Again you'd be wrong, at least for Melbourne.

Compare the daily ticket fares between a Zone 1+2 concession daily ($5.30) and the Seniors Daily ($3.30). The non-means tested Seniors Daily is nearly 40% cheaper than the means-tested regular concession tickets. This indicates that if the Seniors Daily ticket has a sound reason for existence it cannot be on fairness, equity or welfare grounds.

However my journey to find a rationale for the sub-concession Seniors Daily did not return empty-handed. This came about because a lot of senior travel is 'discretionary' or 'impulse'. And elasticity for impulse, recreational and other concession fare trips is higher than (say) another person's journey to work.

On all modes interpeak weekday service frequencies are higher than during the weekend or at night. Working people are working and youth are at school during this time. So that leaves the unemployed and seniors as the main potential interpeak passenger base. While services may not be crowded, interpeak patronage is still important to a successful public transport system.

And as the buses are already running, it seems to be in everyone's interests to stack them with sub-concession passengers rather than have them empty. The same seniors who so powefully resist a ticketing change can also resist a bus service cut, so it may be that it is in the interests of operators and public transport generally that seniors form a political constituency for a route's survival.

Since public transport relies on public funding it is inherently political and susceptible to government decisions with regard to services and service levels. A bus route full of seniors is less likely to be withdrawn than one that runs empty, so from the point of view of self-preservation it seems better to carry seniors cheaply, even if the equity is terrible vis a vis concession passengers.

This leads us to a conflict; the policy rationale for the Seniors Daily ticket is poor, but it has great value in getting 'bums on seats', especially during the interpeak period. Outright abolition of the Seniors Daily (while the best on equity grounds) could cost patronage and, given recent events, is politically impossible. Another option could be to maintain the Seniors Daily but confine its use to off-peak travel. This might shift a small amount of discretionary peak senior travel to the off-peaks, so slightly relieving congestion and increasing overall patronage and revenue. Plus equity is slighly improved vis a vis concession passengers as the latter's relative penalty is less ($3.30 vs $4.75 instead of $3.30 vs $5.30). Politically, event this may not be worth the trouble, despite its policy soundness.

Conclusion

I have illustrated two ways in which wealthy households can get concession (or cheaper) public transport.

The first is through the Centrelink low income health care card. Though some millionaire households (living on interest or rents) also qualify overall it is generally in the public interest that such cards continue to be good for concession travel because the main benficiaries would be the 'working poor'.

The second is through the Seniors Card, which can sometimes offer cheaper travel than available to concession holders. The Seniors Card (and thus the allied Seniors Daily ticket) has slack eligibility criteria, fails all equity tests and appears to be more about buying votes. The Seniors Daily however successfully promotes off-peak use and the retention of this ticket for off-peak travel would slighly improve equity while still promoting patronage.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The best of Melbourne public transport

A few of the 'bests' in Melbourne public transport services.

Best span

Skybus runs 24 hours. Runner-up is Route 896, the Cranbourne TrainLink, which is somewhere near 20 hours.

Most frequent daytime service

There's several tram routes that run better than every 10 minutes, with 19, 59, 86 and 96 rating highly. 19 takes the cake for its frequent service seven days per week and except Sunday mornings would win 'best weekends' as well.

For buses the new 401 from North Melbourne Station runs every 6 minutes off-peak weekdays. The other bus route with a 10 minute or better frequency is 246 up Punt Rd. Ditto for the Knox Transit Link portion of Route 732

Most frequent weekday peak service

401 again for its 3 minute peak service. Belgrave/Lilydale line trains manage a similar service level, at least to Blackburn. Second place amongst the buses is held, not by a SmartBus, but by the low-profile but well-used 465 between Keilor Park and Essendon with a 7-8 minute average frequency.

Best weekend service

Pretty much any tram route will win here with services at least every 15 minutes. This includes Route 82, our only tram route with a better service on weekends than during the week. This is followed by trains with a 20 minute frequency at most stations.

As for buses, some of the MBL 200-series routes do well (every 15-20 minutes), followed by Knox Transit Link 732, South Morang TrainLink 571 and the 700 SmartBus (on Saturdays).

Best night service

Skybus without a doubt, with the new timetable extending 15 minute service until late seven days per week. The only other bus to run a 15 minute night service is 220 between Sunshine and Gardenvale on weeknights. On weekends service is comparable (though earlier finishing) to trams, with a 20 and 30 minute Saturday and Sunday evening frequency respectively. Honourable mention goes to the new SmartBus Route 901 between Ringwood and Frankston, with weekday services every 15 minutes passing Knox until after 10pm.

Most trams run a flat 20 minute service until about midnight, with later services on Fridays and Saturdays and 30 minute service on Sunday evenings. Night trains on most of the network are a flat 30 minutes except for the ex-Hillside lines where they're every 40 minutes on Sundays. Caulfield is the furthest suburban station which receives a 15 minute night service until last train seven nights per week.

Best transport corridor

Swanston Street/St Kilda Road wins due to its length, the number of routes and combined frequency. Others to rank highly include Oakleigh to Chadstone, Doncaster to Box Hill, Southland to Cheltenham and Footscray to Highpoint and Clayton to Monash University, probably in that order.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Connex Customer Information Centre opens

Yesterday was the first day of the Connex Customer Information Centre at Flinders Street Station. The centre is open seven days a week and is on the main concourse, inside the fare-paid area.

The opening presents a good opportunity to discuss the sort of customer service passengers need and how this is best provided.

Passengers are best divided into regular commuters (who make frequent routine trips) and occasional travellers (eg tourists and those who don't normally use public transport). The information needs of these groups vary, as per the table below.

Basically occasional passengers need detailed individual advice, while regular passengers just want their ticket or timetable with a minimum of fuss. At very busy stations it may be desirable to seperate the routine transaction from the trip assistance role so regular commuters are not delayed. The arrangements at Flinders Street appear to do this in that there are ticket windows for sales and the new information centre for more detailed queries.

Just like in a shop where you can ask questions about a product before buying, passengers need to be able to ask about a service without needing to buy a ticket first. This means that the main enquiry desk needs to be immediately outside the fare paid area, as all staffed suburban Melbourne stations do with their booking offices and Transperth does with its InfoCentre at Perth Station. Doing this makes the information booth accessible to those likely to need it (see table above).

As well as helping passengers board the right train at Flinders Street, there are other information needs that a full information centre can be expected to meet. This includes advice for the onward journey; passengers may alight at an unattended station and may need bus information for the next stage of their trip. Planning here may determine whether passengers board the next train or get a later one for a better bus connection.

Because no one (except gunzels) ends their trip at a railway station, Connex passengers alighting at Flinders Street need to be looked after for the next stage of their journey. This might include directions to a particular address or details tram and bus services. Best practice (as done in Perth) is to have all timetables available, but as a minimum in Melbourne all tram/bus timetables for the CBD, major trip generators and major suburban routes need to be carried.

Disruption information is largely electronically delivered through passenger information displays and PA announcements. An information desk may have a role, although sheer passenger numbers may not necessarily allow individual attention. The effectiveness of this depends on the extent to which information is conveyed to the staff and their awareness of possible alternative tram and bus services (both rail substitute and regular).

The concept of expanding customer information at major stations is to be commended. However placing the main information booth so it can be accessed off the street and providing tram/bus information are both essential for the idea to reach its full potential.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The TOD Top Ten

Despite concerns over fuel prices, resource scarcity, population growth and housing affordability, there is still large amounts of land near shops and railway stations that is not utilised to its 'highest and best' use.

While high-density apartment blocks in outer suburbs are beyond the 'human scale' and are not supported by market demand, there is much to be said for medium densities such as small-scale low-rise apartments, townhouses, villas and semi-detached houses.

Of these, the most promising is the villa. They were built in large numbers in the 1960s and 1970s certain suburbs such as Reservoir, Carnegie and Chelsea. Typically part of a small group (3 to 8) they provide adequate privacy and space for smaller househould, including a private yard, carport or garage. Because villas are typically single-storey, their construction and maintenance costs (ie body corporate) are lower than two storey townhouses or even multi-storey apartments. Despite this the space, amenity and ease of maintenance offered is intermediate between an apartment and a house and thus likely to be of wide appeal.

Where in Melbourne could such transit-oriented residential developments be located?

While people discuss about what they need in a suburb, the three big things are good transport, shops and schools. Villas are less likely to contain children than seperate houses so the first two are relatively more important than the third. For 'good transport' we can read train, and for shops, we can read 'large supermarket plus some specialty shops'.

We are lucky to have a large number of such suburban centres near railway stations in Melbourne. Unless you've been to Perth (where railway stations can have no nearby services except for bus stops) this benefit is not sufficiently appreciated. The sort of centres I'm talking about are generally Melbourne 2030 major activities centres and include places like Heidelberg, Mentone, Ferntree Gully, Glenroy, Carnegie, Noble Park or Chelsea.

However only a minority of the suburban population is within walking distance of a station and a smaller minority is near a railway station that has a reasonable retail and commercial area such as those listed above.

Increasing the proportion of the population near such well-serviced centres is the tenet of the Melbourne 2030 plan. In the public mind this was associated with higher densities in prime suburbs and frequently met with NIMBY resistance.

A look at any street directory indicates there are a number of areas that could attract higher housing densities but are not normally considered transit-oriented centres. My criteria for such potential TODs is that it have a railway station and supermarket within about 1 kilometre of one another. The area in between is thus walkable from both and could lend itself to more transit and pedestrian oriented housing. Minimum parking space regulations would be abolished in such areas due to the likely higher use of other modes. And this in turn could reduce costs for businesses and developers, providing a possible incentive to invest.

So without further discussion, here's my list of the top ten potential transit-oriented development areas:

1. Lalor. Some areas are within walking distance of the Lalor Shops and either Thomastown or Lalor stations.

2. Fawkner. Includes railway station and shops on Jukes Rd. Sydney Rd presents some barrier for pedestrians but some houses are within walking distance of both.

3. Keilor Plains/Centro Keilor. A small area is within walking distance of both. Main roads again present barriers for pedestrians.

4. Watsonia/Diamond Valley Shopping Centre. A busy road nearby but abuts the generally affluent and green north-eastern suburbs.

5. Narre Warren/Fountain Gate. Has the Southland problem - the shopping centre is just beyond a reasonable pedshed of the station. However some areas half way in between are in the pedsheds of both.

6. Berwick/High St Berwick. Main constraint is limited land supply in area in between as much is used for school, retirement and medical uses.

7. Merinda Park/Thompson Parkway SC. A small section of Endeavour Drive is walking distance to both.

8. Seaford/Safeway Seaford. A small area is within walking distance of both but again supply is limited.

9. Cheltenham. Only noble Frank Fisher-style public transport martyrs would say that Southland is within the pedshed of Cheltenham Station. However some land is within the 800m pedsheds of both. Much is currently taken up in car-oriented commercial uses.

10. Williamstown. Major shopping strip within walking distance of three stations. Already high-rise (housing commission) tower in area. Area considered historic, so future development would need to be sensitive to this.

Laverton just missed the list. While parts of the suburb are walkable from Central Square Shopping Centre (Altona Meadows) the freeway presents a major barrier and makes foot access from one or the other to nearby houses unattractive. Cranbourne is another possibility though the station and shopping centre may just be too far apart. People in medium and high density sacrifice personal space for access/amenity, and standards regarding the latter need to be higher than for houses.

Numerous places where shops are declining or stagnant present development opportunities. Examples include Moorabbin (once conceived of as a major Box-Hill sized centre) and Glenhuntly. Many smaller centres are restricted by the lack of a large supermarket; these include Murrumbeena, Edithvale, Oak Park and Blackburn. Kmart Campbellfield, though car-oriented, would present some opportunities with a station; and of course Southland is a no-brainer. High through traffic can sometimes reduce local centre amenity (Moorabbin and Ormond), but low through-traffic can also lead to decline (or may be an expression of it) eg Laverton and Patterson.

Other TOD opportunities include Westall Station around which there is significant new housing being built. This is best described as commuter-oriented development; unlike a true TOD there is no substantial retail. Bus services are limited and residents are almost certain to drive to get even basic food items.

Williams Landing (near Laverton) is another to consider. It illustrates that 'ending (and building elsewhere) is preferred to mending' as Laverton shops sit vacant (Zone 1 notwithstanding). If infrastructure is timed right it could be a true TOD, rather than a TAD (Transport After Development), as ocurred with Roxburgh Park and to some extent Sydenham/Watergardens.

The most outstanding TOD opportunity, however, is Caulfield. The transit provision is good, with train frequency never worse than 15 minutes until midnight seven days a week. Caulfield is a desirable suburb with a potential NIMBY element. However this is mitigated by an underused racecourse that has made itself unpopular with residents by restricting public access to its parkland. Evicting the racecourse (the land is publicly owned) and replacing it with 50% TOD (station end) and 50% parkland would be a fair compromise that would benefit existing locals and new residents alike.

To summarise, some readers will be intrigued that most of the areas listed above are regarded as 'cheap' suburbs well beyond the 'latte belt'. While Williamstown and Cheltenham are exceptions, most of the rest (eg Lalor and Fawkner) have little natural beauty or recreation and are a fair distance from Melbourne CBD (Zone 2) and so-called 'good schools'.

Reflected in house prices is that most of the above areas aren't exactly high-demand suburbs. However that won't stop people moving into them if they're the best of the affordable choices and offer all 'must have' services. Rail is the clincher; rail suburbs like Lalor or Keilor Plains are better commutes to the CBD than desirable but bus-only suburbs such as Beaumaris, East Bentleigh, Wheelers Hill or Templestowe.

The other benefit of the cheaper suburbs is that they have less natural or manmade heritage; NIMBYs shed tears over Camberwell but the locals of St Albans, Laverton or Keilor Plains are likely to accept and even embrace development especially if there are other benefits such as improved retail, transport and recreation facilities.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What is a 'wasteland station'?

Today's Age had a story slamming some stations as unsafe wastelands.

The problem was seen as this:

...the unstaffed stations where people don't want to park their cars because they might get nicked.

Their solution?

transform the stations into community-friendly hubs

While the article focussed on staffing, I believe the article missed other important factors that affect a station's perceived amenity and 'friendliness'. The most important are design of the station, the surrounding facilities and access to them from the station.

Let's compare a few stations; large and small, staffed and unstaffed and group them by amenity. I will define 'amenity' as being 'would you want to wait 20 minutes there at night'.

Comparison factors will include (i) staffing, (ii) platform configuration (island or edge/facing),(iii) nearby active shops/facilities, (iv) direct at-level access to these facilities and (iv) grade seperation of platforms.

High amenity perception stations

* Clayton: Staffed. Edge platform. Nearby shops. Direct access. Platforms at-grade.
* Mentone: Staffed, Edge platforms. Nearby shops. Direct access. Platforms at-grade.
* Montmorency: Unstaffed. Single platform. Nearby shops. Direct access. Platforms at-grade.
* Oakleigh: Staffed. Island platform. Nearby shops. Access via subway. Platforms at-grade.

Low amenity perception stations

* Boronia: Staffed. Island platform. Nearby shops. Access via steps/bridge. Platforms sunken.
* Huntingdale: Unstaffed. Island platform. Few nearby shops. Access via subway. Platforms at-grade.
* Kananook: Unstaffed. Island platform. No nearby shops. Access via bridge. Platforms at-grade.
* Moorabbin: Staffed. Island platform. Nearby shops. Access via steps. Platforms sunken.
* Patterson: Unstaffed. Island platform. Few nearby shops. Access via steps. Platforms raised.
* Richmond: Staffed (remotely). Island platforms. Some distance from nearby shops. Access under rail bridge. Platforms raised.

No one factor is critical (there are high amenity unstaffed stations for example), though several go together to influence a station's amenity.

For example, to characterise the highest amenity stations, they tend to be staffed and are surrounded by open and active shops overlooking and visible from the platforms. If it's 20 minutes until the next train, walking to them is a quick at-grade duck around the corner. Platforms are at ground level and walks are not lengthened by under or overpass ramps. Access to bus stops and surrounding residential streets is direct and passengers do not need to walk across empty car parks to reach them.

The lowest amenity stations are pretty much the opposite. They are either not near shops (Kananook), or access to them is dark and uninviting (Richmond). Especially if the station has an island platform there is a feeling of being 'trapped' as there is only one way in/out and that is via a subway (Huntindale) or bridge (Kananook). The same effect applies where platforms are lowered (Boronia) raised (Patterson). While there are video monitors, staff cannot directly see the platforms (Boronia, Moorabbin) or are so remote from them they might as well not be there (Richmond). And what made the comment about parking ironical is that surrounding it by acres of parking is a great way to turn a high amenity station into a low amenity station.

Sometimes giving people what they say they want can reduce a station's amenity or 'friendliness'. As an example, there are often more calls for more parking at stations and Boronia-style grade seperations for better (car) traffic flow. However such projects could actually reduce passenger amenity and wellbeing as they isolate a stations's platform from its local community. Conversely single-platform stations (eg Montmorency or Altona) tend to be well integrated with the surrounding area, providing a 'village' feel.

I should mention that the concept of amenity described above, though important, is a somewhat narrow view and operational compromises sometimes have to be made.

For example, while island platforms cut a station off from its community more than edge plaforms they are operationally better. This is because they permit more accessible customer service (staffed stations) and cross-platform passenger transfers (eg Caulfield on the weekends). In this case, you'd stick with island platform at major staffed stations (especially junctions) but acknowledge that for unstaffed stations facing platforms are better (eg Huntingdale or Hughesdale vs Murrumbeena).

Similarly ticketing system designers love island platforms and single entry points. This is because fewer ticketing hardware is required and enforcement is easier. However platforms accessible from a single end reduce a station's pedshed (and thus patronage) by around 20%. Plus island platforms are more claustraphobic than edge platforms and require use of under/over-passes or wide at-level crossings (Bentleigh).

Then there are the nearby shopping strips that provide the facilities wanted in the report and make a station the hub of the community, rather than its edge. Southland's dominance at the expense of Moorabbin, Forest Hill Chase at the expense of Blackburn, Altona Meadows instead of Laverton, Patterson Lakes instead of Carrum and the demise of other strips (eg Edithvale) can't have helped passenger amenity or provided 'safety in numbers'. Melbourne 2030-type policies, along with the removal of minimum parking regulations for new homes and businesses near stations, could be helpful in this regard.

To summarise, there are several factors that determine the amenity of a station and its environment. Staffing is one factor, but a station's design and the surrounding facilities are at least as important.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Outer suburban communities and rail electrification

There is little doubt that electrification to Sunbury, if it happened, would be a patronage success, just as the previous Werribee, Cranbourne, Sydenham, and Craigieburn electrifications have been.

While travel times and comfort might be somewhat inferior on the electrified service, their longer operating hours and tripled frequency have more than compensated. The increased patronage means that public transport is successfully meeting more people's travel needs. This is a good thing, especially if it takes trips away from its main competitor, the private car.

There are however certain local factors and personalities in Sunbury that have given rise to some opposition to an improvment that would be uncritically welcomed elsewhere (eg South Morang). This could come from a 'coalition' of the following:

1. Existing peak hour train commuters worried they would lose their comfortable inter-urban seats and have to stand on a crowded electrified suburban service. In contrast all the residents of South Morang would lose is a (slower) bus.

2. Local activists who see improved rail as being bad for their community. Objections raised include crime, vandalism, noise, litter and sprawl.

This is possibly less a debate about transport than the sort of place Sunbury should be. Unlike accretions to the suburban sprawl like South Morang or Rowville, Sunbury sees itself as a large country town seperate from Melbourne. Sunbury has many local community groups, affordable housing and locals recognise others in the main street.

Like 'green change' areas such as Eltham, it may be that local residents jealously protect their lifestyles from outsiders, sprawl and development to the point of paranoia verging on xenophobia.

Suburban standard rail service is seen as 'the thin edge of the wedge' and a step towards Sunbury losing its seperateness and becoming an anonymous suburb. Long time residents might express apprehension of 'ferals' moving in and the area becoming more like less favoured suburbs such as Dallas, Doveton or Melton.

Of course freeways can have similar effects to rail extensions in encouraging outer suburban development. So-called 'ferals' can drive (and steal) cars as much as riding trains, but this does not seem to be accepted as an argument against roads that bring Sunbury closer to Melbourne (eg the Calder and Tullamarine freeways). Such roads seem to be widely lauded in these parts with any opposition being on broader environmental rather local community or business 'protection' grounds. Instead local business people see the shorter travel time to Melbourne as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

The flip side of neighbourliness in rural communities is protectionism, and this can lead to resistance against change, urbanisation or outsiders. A vocal local can be well-known by many and be perceived to carry a degree of influence. Or equally importantly, they may be regarded as representative of community wishes by outsiders.

One such local activist is Steve 'Jack' Medcraft, who is fiercely against rail electrification. A google search will reveal a most colourful character, whether it be in his council activities, activities as a real estate agent, convenor of 'People Against Lenient Sentencing', sporting activity and more. You can be sure his voice is heard in many places around the community.

Get 20 such people together and you can assure the outside world that locals don't want electrification; though more may support it they may be less vocal or not have any fear campaigns to run.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Multimode network maps

Some interesting comments on public transport maps are on Phin's blog to which the reader is referred for a fuller discussion.

I thought it worthwhile to provide further examples of multimode maps used in Melbourne and Victoria. They were not universal around the system and the pictures below are the main types available.

Many Melbourne railway stations had maps installed by a private company, with about a third of the space devoted to advertising. The maps themselves were high quality Melway types, showing trains, trams, buses and local streets. However while the advertising portion was updated the maps were not; hence there remain maps from Melways Edition 25 (1998) or older.

Some trams had an inner city travel map produced by The Met. This showed the CBD and near inner suburbs. It was a high quality map showing trains, trams and buses. These have become out of date and have been replaced by tram-only maps.

The Melbourne Public Transport Map was sold for $2.00 (or $2.20) at railway stations. This was a comprehensive network-wide map showing the whole metropolitan area on a single sheet. Hence while it covered all modes its scale was insufficient to travel to a particular suburban address without also carrying a Melway.

Two Melbourne-wide maps (dated 1992) are located at Flinders Street Station (Degraves St Subway and behind Platform 1). These were viewable when last visited (May 2008) but were underneath other material when the photo below was taken.

Below is a recent multimode map, showing train, tram and some bus routes. As far as I know there is only one on public display - it is inside the Met Shop in the Melbourne Town Hall.

Regional areas have had maps system-wide provided as part of the Viclink project. Below is Geelong's.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why don't they just get along?

It has been my privilege to observe, know or work with people in various parts of transport. This has exposed me to competing (and often strong) views on the merits and limitations of other people or organisations.

I might be talking to Y and they might be proposing many things that Z supports. But when I ask Y's opinions about Z they might be quite dismissive. In return Z might be similarly contemptuous of Y, even though the people concerned haven't even met. But on the substantive issues (in my possibly naive opinion) I find more similarities than differences between the protagonists.

This leads me to the following conclusions:

* Transport policy, planning and debate is a play. All the key individuals act and say things largely determined by their set role (eg operator, bureaucrat, academic, activist, media etc).

* There is consensus amongst all the above actors that a larger role for public transport is in the public interest.

* There is a somewhat lesser agreement on the projects and policies are most needed to handle increased patronage. Nevertheless there is more commonality than some would have us imagine. For example, I believe that important things like (i) reforming the way the City Loop runs, (ii) tram priority, and (iii) buses headway harmonised with trains would command broad support - probably 80% or more. And even the bigger debates (Dandenong triplication and Eddington's rail tunnel) are more about means than ends.

Having established that there is more agreement than is generally acknowledged it now remains to explain the intensity of some of the squabbling.

I attribute this to the three Ps; Politics, Position and Personality (and background).

First politics. Public transport (like roads) is largely publicly funded. The proportion that isn't (ie fares) is publicy collected through the Metcard system. Franchisees look after the operations but policy, planning and new projects rests with the government. As public transport involved politics, we need to have an idea of how the system works.

There is always more demand for public services than taxpayer dollars to fund them. The democratic political system provides a mechanism for the people to elect members (mostly from a political party) to form a parliament. Some of these members (nomally from the largest party) get to be ministers with responsibility over a portfolio such as transport. Senior ministers are also a member of cabinet which sets the general direction for the government and approves major decisions.

The department oversees contracts with the operators, develops policy, plans for future needs and provides advice to the Minister. A minister can also refer matters to her department for its advice.

Policies and proposals can be developed by departmental staff, come to the department from outside or be requested by the minister. For example, an innovative manager could introduce a revised ticketing rule, or the government might reduce fares. Overcrowding might force action such as additional train purchases.

The exit of an operator might cause a revision to franchising arrangements. Matters may get in the media or be the subject of lobbying; these might force action (eg New Years Eve) or the Minister to ask for a review (bicycles on trains). Operators themselves might press for change, for instance the 2003 campaign by BAV to improve bus services (leading to the MOTC bus improvements from 2006).

The point is that democratic politics can be adversarial. There are always more demands than resources to satisfy them. if politicians are convinced there is broad support for public transport then they might put more resources into it. Lobbyists might seek to grab media headlines to demonstrate support for their cause. Then the government commits additional resources and instructs the department to implement.

A more co-operative style of advocacy relies less on megaphones and media. It is more technocratic than political. This is the one that seeks to forge relationships with bureucrats rather than speak to their masters through media sound-bites and public rallys. Graham Currie exemplifies the first approach; Paul Mees the second.

Position is to do with acting the roles in the big play mentioned above.

Key actors, with some quick notes, include: Operator professionals (Connex, YT, bus operators)

Work for one of the operators, often for many years. Experienced in operational matters. Respect own technical rigour and proud of what they do. Sometimes view media reports, activists and some academics with suspicion because they 'get it wrong'. Because of where they work, they might not always see 'bigger picture', the passengers' view or view transport system as a whole. Variations exist between the 'lower level', 'skilled technical' and 'managerial' strands.

Bureaucrats (eg DOT)

Good knowledge of political process, policy, contracts and regulations. Network knowledge varies greatly. Favour a co-operative method of working over 'megaphone lobbying' that speaks over the department's heads or worse. May be variations between the 'skilled technical' and 'managerial' strands.

Activists (eg PTUA)

Good overview of system as a whole (as seen by passengers). Value independence highly. Articulate and effective relationships with media. Perceived within the industry as being 'negative' with limited relations with middle levels in bureaucracy and operators of most modes. Distrust some bureaucrats and professionals as belonging to an 'entrenched culture of failure' from the PTC days.

Academics (attached to one of the universities)

See bigger transport picture well. Generally strong media profile and contributors to public debate. Not always good with technical details. Either 'collaborators' or 'crusaders' - depending on personality.

Enthusiasts/Gunzels

Either (i) already work in the industry, (ii) aspire to work in industry, (iii) don't work in industry or (iv) unemployable. Network knowledge is excellent, though can sometimes be single mode only. Mindset ranges from being able to see things from a passenger's perspective to 'the operator is always right'. Impatient when the media or activists get it wrong.

The above groups are not necessarily fixed; there are people who've belonged to two, three or more. Academics have become activists, gunzels have got industry jobs, and industry people have joined the Department.

However it is possible to find some differences that (mostly) hold up and might further explain why people with similar views in a similar field don't get along.

This is personality and background. Here I will make some quite sweeping generalisations that nevertheless might account for some of the irrational reasons for difference.

As a general rule, the operators are 'blue collar'. They contain large numbers of 'frontline staff' who man the stations, drive the trams and service the buses. These jobs do not need university degrees as all the specialist skills are taught in-house and on-the-job. Unionisation is high and incomes aren't bad. This is the Labor of Chifley and Calwell.

In contrast, bureaucrats are 'white collar'. Almost all have degrees. This is Whitlam or Keating Labor, though you might find some Greens in there as well. There will also be some Liberals, but 'tertiary educated', 'urban' and 'government employee' all point to a left-liberal majority.

That's the two groups of insiders. What about the two groups of outsiders?

Gunzels (who aspire to run the operators). There's exceptions, but I think most are blue-collar-ish.

Activists (who aspire to run the Department or tell it how it should be run). Well they've all got degrees, just like the bureaucrats.

See a pattern? It's almost like there's two strands, most clearly identified by formal education. I could go on about Zone 1 versus Zone 2, values intellectual vs practical, refugee rights vs border protection, art vs sport but won't for lack of evidence.

I can't help wondering if there's some sort of socio-cultural thing that pits each group against one another and makes them hate each other. Just look at many Railpage discussions if you want any doubt of how the gunzels view the activists. Higher up the tree (operators versus bureaucrats) similar differences may exist, but discussed with more decorum, always about substantive issues and generally not in public view (unless one counts subleties in media comments).

But it's not just differences that can cause conflict; commonality can lead to 'competition'; for instance between the degreed 'insiders' and 'outsiders'. Insiders might support a particular 'outsider' policy but be unable to get it through the department. Then it might make a big splash in the media, the government adopts it and the 'outsider' claims all the credit.

Similarly operator people can be (often rightly) dismissive of the more 'feral' gunzels. However the door should not be completely closed since some gunzels have made successful transport careers.

To sum up, those involved in transport, whether as operators, bureaucrats, activists, academics or enthusiasts have more in common than some arguments you hear indicate. Thus the differences must be due to other factors. I have attempted to describe some them, including the nature of the political process, the roles people have and the characteristics and backgrounds of the participants.