Thursday, May 15, 2008

Investment, risk and success: making interchanges work

Though they sound like something from a business seminar, today I will demonstrate that these finance-like concepts are key to effective passenger interchange.

To transfer from a train to a bus requires investment in both time and physical effort. Ideally this effort is small, as with efficient interchanges and able-bodied passengers. But in others passengers may need to climb stairs, negotiate busy roads and walk several hundred metres. Especially in poor weather or with older passengers the 'investment' and energy is significant. And passengers do make calculated decisions based on these hard-headed criteria.

Still on the business theme, there's risk and success. Risk is the chance of the attempted transfer not working. If the passenger perseveres, the main consequence is a long wait (if a bus has just been missed). If they abandon the transfer, the passenger might retrace their steps, walk home or call a taxi. In both cases they are unlikely to risk the transfer again, assuming they have alternative transport. Success, in contrast, generates repeat patronage the next time that trip is needed.

Successful interchanges require the following:

1. Low investment/low commitment. It should not require much effort to make the transfer. Should it not work out, little time will have been wasted, and other routes or alternative transport can be used to complete the journey with minimum delay.

2. Low risk/high success. Information increases certainty and certainty lowers risk. If the bus is not due for a while, passengers must know about it as soon as they alight the train (eg from bus timetables at station exits), and not until after they've trekked to the bus stop on the other side of a major intersection. The waits themselves can be minimised by co-ordinated bus scheduling. Variability in access time and the chance of missing buses can be reduced with direct walkways, underpasses and crossings. Good wayfinding signage improves navigability and passenger errors. All these lower risk and increase the chance of success.

To summarise, low investment, low risk and a high chance of success is what makes a winning business proposal. Successful transport interchanges are no different.

A successful interchange

The diagram below shows a small but successful transport interchange. The three elements that make it so include information, access and service co-ordination.

Some of the new bus/rail interchanges on the Perth suburban rail system can claim to score highly, since passengers can scarcely alight from a train without bumping into a bus timetable. Werribee in Melbourne is one of our better examples, with good access and service co-ordination, but some limitations with information.

An unsuccessful interchange

Below illustrates a poor interchange. Passengers alighting from the train have no idea of bus times. Station exit locations maximise walking distance. The road might be difficult to cross as no provision has been made for pedestrians. There is a high chance the bus will have left before passengers will have been able to reach it, but long waits are equally likely due to poor service co-ordination.

Epping Station* is one of our better examples of a poor interchange, with its main redeeming feature the co-ordinated TrainLink bus.

(*) Though monies have recently been budgeted for this interchange to be upgraded.


Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff. I'll try to cross-ref your stuff from mine.

We will necessarily take a different approach on some things as I make a point of using overseas (and often large) examples to illustrate local failure.

Agree with all this one though

Anonymous said...

Honestly Peter, I'm more critical of the situation that bus-rail interchanges haven't been designed integrally in Melbourne and elsewhere from the beginning.

VR had bus-rail connections in the 1920s, and though it probably wasn't market sensitive back then, there's no reason why developments built since then haven't been like Perth (buses above) or Moss Vale (buses in the middle of the island platform)

It saddens me that for example, the giant unused monstrosities of stations at Malvern, Armidale, Toorak and Hawksburn are built to honour some previous bureaucrat's glory, but the same money might have built a more humble island rail platform (with no side platforms), but room for buses or trams to run onto the top of each station, on a turn-up and go basis.

Recent stations suffer from this too. Westona, for example, was a greenfields station.

But it's not just design, but signage, lines of sight and so on. Do you know that all through the 80s I knew that if I wanted to go to East Kew, I could get the bus from East Camb, even though I never needed to. Because it was written on the VR train maps. And Southland and Coolaroo.

Why are not some of the major bus connections written on the train system maps. Like the South Morang and East Cranbourne buses. Or 401. Or Huntingdale to Monash Uni and beyond?

Peter Parker said...

I agree, there was some very short-sighted station building. For example, I'd have liked Malvern to have been directly under Glenferrie Rd, so that trams on both sides of the road could have been boarded without crossing (depending on whether you chose the front or the rear carriages).

As it is a potentially major N-S tram connection is lost, exacerbated by the Burke Rd tram stopping short of Caulfield.

However despair for what could have been should not be allowed to obscure the fact that improvements can and should be made today.

And it's so cheap, especially the information component!

In its most rudimentary (and least robust) form, doing a whole station costs less than what I spend on lunch each day. Example:

While the VR buses are before my time here, some of the signage for them (eg Flagstaff) was up until just a few months ago. At least in my 1975 WTT the 901, 902, 903 services did not meet all trains, tending to finish earlier.

For this reason I'd be wary about putting such buses on a train/tram map unless there were both guaranteed connections and matching hours (eg 571, 732, 896 today).

Agreed re maps with major connections. Essential at every station, along with more detailed maps for the local area. Melway Edition 25 (1998) doesn't cut it in 2008!

But did you know that such a schematic map has been produced and it's on display inside the Met Shop? I've never seen one actually on the system, which is a shame. It's a little wide for the standard railway station poster cases, but I reckon some creative folding could make it fit.

And that gets onto another vexed issue - poster cases at stations. Another of those dirt cheap improvements that current arrangements fail to provide for properly.

Unknown said...

Spot on Peter - it's cheap and simple stuff like this that can make a huge difference to bus quality and patronage. A lot of it really should have happened when Metlink redid the signage.

Some of the problems (like the mess that is Clifton Hill station) are going to require a bit more in the way of foot bridges and so forth - but it's still peanuts compared to projects like myki and has a far greater benefit.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful. Would you mind if I use your diagram in a government submission? I'll do the 'copyright' business.
You don't have to say yes, but it will save much time.

Peter Parker said...

rvb: yeah, no problems.