Monday, April 11, 2011

What should a good CBD periphery transport system look like? Both Chris Loader/Charting Transport and Alan Davies/Melbourne Urbanist have picked up on the fact that as soon as you get beyond a City Loop railway station the modal share for public transport halves.

This blog takes the view that while there exist ardent revheads, greenies, transit geeks and the lycra set, the majority of the population are pragmatists in their transport choices. Especially for habitual and often time-critical trips such as the journey to work.

So why isn't transit so attractive when you get much outside the Hoddle grid?

A play with the Metlink journey planner gives some answers.

Let's compare comparative travel times between similar distance middle-suburban stations and various CBD fringe workplaces. For arrival at a start time of 8:30am, the following results were had:

Laverton - Melbourne Town Hall: 33 min
Laverton - Melbourne University (Parkville): 40 min
Laverton - Epworth Hospital (Richmond): 49 min
Laverton - Alfred Hospital: 51 min
Laverton - South Melbourne Market: 45 min
Laverton - Citylink Business Park (Port Melbourne): 52 min
Laverton - Waterfront City (Docklands): 54 min

Greensborough - Melbourne Town Hall: 38 min
Greensborough - Melbourne University (Parkville): 60 min
Greensborough - Epworth Hospital (Richmond): 42 min
Greensborough - Alfred Hospital: 60 min
Greensborough - South Melbourne Market: 61 min
Greensborough - Citylink Business Park (Port Melbourne): 65 min
Greensborough - Waterfront City (Docklands): 67 min

Mitcham - Melbourne Town Hall: 40 min
Mitcham - Melbourne University (Parkville): 50 min
Mitcham - Epworth Hospital (Richmond): 43 min
Mitcham - Alfred Hospital: 47 min
Mitcham - South Melbourne Market: 52 min
Mitcham - Citylink Business Park (Port Melbourne): 50 min
Mitcham - Waterfront City (Docklands): 60 min

Cheltenham - Melbourne Town Hall: 32 min
Cheltenham - Melbourne University (Parkville): 50 min
Cheltenham - Epworth Hospital (Richmond): 43 min
Cheltenham - Alfred Hospital: 39 min
Cheltenham - South Melbourne Market: 53 min
Cheltenham - Citylink Business Park (Port Melbourne): 50 min
Cheltenham - Waterfront City (Docklands): 62 min

In every single case a trip to the CBD was faster than to a CBD fringe location.

This is even where the destination was on the same side of town as the origin (eg Cheltenham - Alfred Hospital). It could be for this type of trip that driving would be relatively more competitive than existing public transport services, and so command a higher modal share (people are pragmatic, remember). There may even be a self-reinforcing pattern; if people can't afford to buy a home in the inner suburbs near work they may choose an outer suburb on the same side of town as their work (if not always the same train line).

City fringe destinations vary in the amount of time they add compared to within Hoddle's grid.

Waterfront City is the least accessible by fast public transport - from any direction - despite its frequent trams. Compared to the CBD, travelling to it can add 20 to 30 minutes to travel time each way. For a commuter that's 40 to 60 minutes per day, or an extra week added to annual holidays. Not suprisingly its public transport modal share is just 22%, compared to double or triple that a little to the east.

Why are the variations in travel time so great?

We have an extensive suburban rail system that has metro-style operating hours but commuter-type frequencies on its fringes. We have trams, but unlike some compact European cities we don't have a dense metro in the job-dense 2-5km core (see maps by Neil Freeman) that allows for fast local travel. Instead for the 'last mile' we rely on slow surface modes, notably trams and buses, often without their own right of way.

Also the fixed rail we do have is planned and run as a suburban - CBD distributor rather than doubling as a (small) inner city metro that with its spare capacity could take pressure off trams for longer trips.

The City Loop's weekday noon reversal introduces unwelcome complexity, discourages casual travellers and prevents direct access between some city stations at certain times. Quite different from the consistency and legibility of a real metro.

For many years the possibility of getting a direct train from South Yarra to Footscray (for example) was scotched by the philosophy that everything should run via the Loop and the primacy of the CBD as a destination. The May 2011 timetable will introduce some welcome improvements for such cross-town trips, provided dwell times at CBD stations are kept down. Especially important as Flinders Street and Southern Cross are the nearest stations to Melbourne's fastest growing areas at Southbank and Docklands.

The May 2011 timetable will increase the number of trains that will run from Flinders Street through to Southern Cross. This ties in well with an important bus rerouting from last year, namely the restructuring of Port Melbourne routes (235/237/238) to operate via Southern Cross Station. This restored a rail-bus connection that vanished when the tram superstop in Flinders Street was built and buses were forced away from Flinders Street Station. Peak frequency of the Port Melbourne buses is high but further work would lift their legibility and profile.

Route 401, between North Melbourne and Mebourne University, is an example of a 'bridging the gap' frequent service that has become well accepted by those commuting from the western suburbs to Melbourne University. The trip plan above for Laverton include the 401 as its bus leg as it proved the fastest travel option. Other opportunities for 401-style service could include Melbourne University to Clifton Hill or South Yarra to Port Melbourne, although bus priority would assist in providing worthwhile savings in travel time and efficient vehicle utilisation.

It seems to me that the CBD fringe is an area ripe for future patronage growth. Unlike the CBD, where public transport modal share is near saturation, there is significant room here to grow. But this can only come about if it can get the pragmatists on board. To achieve it a fresh look at how the CBD fringe and the close job-rich inner suburbs can be better served may achieve some surprising patronage results, as demonstrated by the success of Route 401.


gxh said...

It will be interesting to see, once the May timetables are introduced, if trains running though the CBD are identified as such. At present, even though half the interpeak trains on the Frankston line run through to Southern Cross and on to Werribee (mostly??), commuters are not informed about this. These trains show Flinders Street as their destination, as do monitors at stations such as South Yarra and even Richmond. Only when the train arrives at Flinders St is the true destination revealed!

Daniel said...

Good post. Just a note on this:

"Instead for the 'last mile' we rely on slow surface modes, notably trams and buses, often without their own right of way."

But in most of your examples, the routes that take people from the CBD stations to those destinations are in their own rights of way. Exclusive tram lanes exist to Melb Uni (Swanston St or Elizabeth St) most of the way to Epworth (Wellington Pde), Alfred (St Kilda Rd), South Melbourne Market and Waterfront City.

The problem is the lack of priority at the many cross streets.

BrisUrbane said...

You need


You can have as much density as you want, but if you do not have the above ingredients, public transport won't work properly.

Alan Davies'/Melbourne Urbanist idea for BRT in the outer ring to the Airport is a good idea.


Anonymous said...

So why do the loops reverse? I have never seen any coherent explanation of this.

It's a bad idea not only because of the timetable complexity, but also because:

I recall reading somewhere that travel to the loop stations is about 25% Flinders St, 15% Flagstaff, and 20% each of the others.

If true, it means that the principle of 'to loop first PM, from loop last PM', as it maximises peak trip time to/from Flinders St, is the exact opposite of what it should be.

Why is it so?

Peter Parker said...

@Anon. Good question. It looks like it was designed to maximise use of Parliament/Melb Central vis a vis FSS - maybe to stimulate development of that side of town.

For those living in the eastern/south eastern suburbs (which would be many white collar workers) it optimises travel time to Parliament. However when train patronage surged and before significant services were added in the last 2000s it backfire as sometimes people were left behind from trains going home.

Regardless this concept has past its use-by date - the fastest growing areas are nearest Southern Cross and Flinders Street. Ideally the loop should be based on optimisng flexible travel between CBD and near CBD stations to form a small metro and maybe take some pressure off trams for longer inner city trips.

One other reason I've heard is that train drivers need practice driving in both directions in all portals. Maybe if preserved such operational niceties could preferably be done in a more legible way affecting fewer passengers - eg the late night trains of Friday and Saturday or maybe early Sunday morning.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully suggest that the obvious next major project to increase rail capacity to central Melbourne, when needed, is to convert the Northern and Burnley loops into a line from Nth Melbourne to Richmond via Melbourne Central, as discussed in a 2008 Dept of Infrastructure report.*

This would greatly improve cross suburban through city travel and circulation in the inner area outside the loop.

The present loop is quite wasteful in terms of the amount of track needed in proportion to the capacity added.** I can only guess that the design was driven by overriding desire to provide one-seat travel to all loop stations as far as possible.

In a city which now has significant employment in a larger CBD fringe outside walking distance of loop stations, the better principle is to abandon the goal of one-seat trips, but to ensure frequent service and convenient transfers in the inner area.

* This would give 9 track pairs to the city: Craigieburn/Upfield to Ringwood via Melbourne Central, Sydenham to Glen Waverley/Blackburn/Alamein via Flinders St; Werribee to Frankston via Flinders St; plus Clifton Hill loop, Caulfield loop, and Sandringham. See p.29 at$FILE/EWLNA-Analysis_on_Rail_Capacity.pdf

** Topologically the Northern and Burnley loops are equivalent to a track pair from the west terminating between Flinders St and Richmond, and a track pair from the east terminating between Southern Cross and North Melbourne. The overlapping section is wasted.