Sunday, May 30, 2010

How much does it cost to get around in the city: bikes, public transport and taxis compared

Melbourne's public bike share scheme starts tomorrow.

Each mode has its own advantages and peculiarities. For instance public transport isn't always door to door, waiting times for taxis varies, and the bike hire scheme requires a $300 security deposit (daily and weekly members only) and BYO helmet.

The charging structures for each mode varies, and this will be the topic here.

Taxi: Fares are based on a $3.20 flagfall plus $1.617 per km or 56.6c / minute time charge (the time charge applies if the speed is under 21 km/h). A 20% surcharge applies late at night or on public holidays. Taxi fares are several times dearer than public transport fares or bike hire charges, to reflect the personal door to door service provided.

Public transport: Fares depend on ticket type, validity period and passenger. Discounts apply for bulk-purchase, periodical and weekend tickets. A single-trip City Saver costs $2.80. 2 hours unlimited travel in Zone 1 (which includes the CBD and inner suburbs) costs $3.70, while a day costs $6.80. Concession fares are a bit over half these amounts. Bulk purchase and periodical tickets can offer savings of 25% or more.

Bike Share: Charges are based on a $2.50 daily flagfall (or membership charge) plus a rising charge per 30 minute block. The first half-hour is included in the flagfall. The next half-hour costs $2.00. Above then per half-hour charges rise; to $5 for 61 - 90 minutes and then $10 for each subsequent half hour.

Comparisons: Imagine a graph with time along the x-axis and cost along the y-axis.

The taxi curve is very steep, shooting up to nearly $10.00 by around 10 minutes of travel.

Public transport and bike share are both cheaper than taxis, but they swap places depending on the amount of travel time required.

Up to 30 minutes bike share is almost always cheaper, at $2.50 (much less for weekly and annual members). However users of City Saver x 10 pay $2.18 per trip - this is the only case where full fares are lower than bike share charges for up to 30 minutes of use. While the City Saver x 10 is a bulk-purchase product, there are no restrictions on when it must be used up by, unlike periodical Metcards or weekly bike share memberships.

The costs of bike share and public transport cross over in the 30 to 60 minute region. 60 minutes of bike share costs $2.50 flag fall + $2.00 usage charge, or a $4.50 total. In contrast a 2 hour full fare Zone 1 ticket costs $3.70. Hence for the casual pay-as-you-go user, public transport is always cheaper for an hour's travel.

It is in the 60 minutes or under usage level that the benefits of long-term bike share memberships are greatest. A weekly member riding up to an hour 5 days per week pays $1.60/day flagfall + $2.00, or a total of $3.60 per day. This is comparable to casual Metcard ticket purchase (for a 2 hour ticket) but dearer than a 10 x 2 hour Metcard. Yearly bike share membership is only 20 times the daily rate, so yearly members who cycle weekly or more would pay just cents for flagfall each time. Yearly members could bike share for an hour a day and pay less than public transport users, even those using periodical tickets. Around the 30 - 60 minute region bike share and public transport costs are roughly the same, with public transport generally cheaper, especially when compared against costs for casual bike share users.

Beyond an hour the cost differences between bike share and public transport diverge markedly. Because public transport tickets are mostly time-based, and the shortest is 2 hours, it is no dearer to take transit for 2 hours than it is for 1 hour. There is also a relatively gentle rise from 2 hour to daily fares, with less than a doubling for an increase in travel time allowed by over five times.

Bike share charges behave in the opposite manner, rise steeply with time of use. Charges (excluding flagfall) increase from $0 (30 minutes), $2 (31 - 60 minutes), $7 (61 - 90 minutes) to $17 (91 - 120 minutes). At this 2 hour level casual bike hire is $19.50, ie approximately 5 times dearer than a 2-hour public transport ticket. This almost exponential rise is presumably to encourage use of the scheme for short trips in the CBD region only.

Conclusion: Of the three modes of travel compared, public transport is the most cost-effective for CBD travel. This is especially for visitors from the suburbs, who in many cases will have arrived on public transport with a daily or higher ticket, so would face a marginal cost of further CBD travel of zero. The bike share scheme occasionally works out cheaper, but only for those frequently making short trips.


Gary Pendergast said...

I think you're drawing the wrong conclusion - $50/year for bike share is far cheaper than public transport for CBD travel. By bike, one can easily cover 5km without breaking a sweat in 30 minutes, or 10 km in 1 hour with a little more effort. To give an approximate idea, the following suburbs are about 10km from the CBD: Elwood, Caulfield, Camberwell, Ivanhoe, Thorbury, Coburb, Essendon.

As you suggested, visitors from the suburbs will find better value using public transport - unless they purchase their own bike for commuting. An entry-level model will pay for itself within a year ($1173 for a yearly zone 1, vs. approx. $500 for a decent bike). This even allows them to travel by public transport half the year, for days they don't want to ride.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a strong proponent of public transport, we should be investing significant amounts of money in it instead of more roads - but travelling by bike will almost always be cheaper than public transport, and your analysis of the available data seemed to be unimaginative and more than a little biased.

Peter Parker said...

Gary, many thanks for your comments.

The post specifically concentrated on the costs of the bike share scheme vs public transport, not bikes vs public transport where the bike was owned.

But if one was to do the latter, I agree the bike is cheaper. $500 is around 50% the cost of a yearly PT ticket. So if one bought a bike and occasionally some 10 x 2hr tickets for days you didn't want to cycle, one would be financially ahead in under a year. And the bike could well be faster than PT, especially if a change was involved.

I don't think the bike share scheme was intended for long trips much outside the CBD (even though cycling is no doubt practical for such trips).

I agree the $50/year cost is trivial for the frequent user (maybe a CBD resident?) but the usage costs do rise to exceed public transport costs after the first hour or so.

Let's say someone had a 2hr daytime appointment at Docklands and wanted to use the bike share from the city. As there is no bike share facility there they'd have to hang on to the bike at an escalating cost rising to $20 per hour! That's not to mention the need to BYO helmet, pay the $200 security deposit and take a lock (the FAQ doesn't mention this).

So although cycling might be a great for such a trip, the bike hire scheme would be unsuitable for it.

As it grows with more stations, hopefully it will become more practical as people will be able to return the bike near their destination, and not keep it outside (which is effectively the same as having a taxi driver waiting outside with the meter running and is denying others the use of the bike).

Anonymous said...

oh those bikes look expensive.
The fact that you need to happen to have a bike helmet with you to use them would suggest that it's a scheme very likely to fail. The city's that it has worked in have a good network of bike paths,.. I hope visitors from those nations dont have similar expectations when they hire a bike from fed square and want to turn right down swanston street.

Riccardo said...

PP, you haven't factored in the value of a person's time.

Peter Parker said...

Ricc - a valid point. A weaving dodging bike would probably beat street PT. Or probably also taxis is aggressively ridden.

Interestingly the current configuration of bike stations parallel an established PT spine, rather than seek to serve a underdeveloped ones (eg Clifton Hill - Melbourne Uni, Footscray - Docklands or Southbank - Docklands).