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.