Tuesday, July 09, 2024

TT 191: Climate Council advocates a frequent network

Public Transport running every 15 minutes or better is the centrepiece of a Climate Council report released yesterday. 

Next Stop Suburbia: Making shared transport work for everyone in Aussie cities compares public transport service provision in Australia's five biggest cities. 

It finds that about half of such residents are further than 800 metres from weekday service operating every 15 minutes or better, with results varying between cities. 

Sydney was the clear leader, with 67% of its population near frequent service. Melbourne was next, at 52%. Adelaide and Perth were 48 and 40% respectively, while Brisbane, as confirmed here, lags the others with barely a third near frequent service. 

In all cities access to frequent service fell with distance from the CBD. Most Sydneysiders within 25km of the CBD had access to frequent transport. Whereas for Melbourne the equivalent distance was only 15km. Melbourne's difference reflects its frequent inner area trams along with a general reluctance to run frequent trains and buses in middle and outer suburbs. Both Adelaide and Brisbane had limited access to frequent service beyond 8km from the CBD while Perth's cut-off was 12km. 

The Climate Council also found a big difference in how cities catered for their low income suburbs. Brisbane and Melbourne scored lowest here, with both serving their lower income suburbs 27% less than average. This is even though bus routes in socio-economically disadvantaged areas are often productive patronage performers. Sydney was relatively better at serving its disadvantaged areas with less than 1% difference. Part of this may be because some of its high income northern beaches and Shire suburbs have quite poor service. 

Underserved high-needs clusters in Melbourne include Springvale - Dandenong, Werribee - Tarneit, Sunshine - St Albans and a strip across the north around Broadmeadows - Epping. All are are diverse areas that are politically taken for granted by the 3 or 4 largest parties. 

The report has summaries for each of the five cities surveyed. Below is Melbourne's. (Click below for better resolution, or go to the report itself). 

Here's a few points I want to make about the above map: 

Some of the statistical areas used are large. That can skew results at first glance. For instance Dandenong South looks very favourable when very little of it has frequent transport. Fortunately the authors recognise this by bordering the much smaller areas with frequent service with a black line. That gives a fairer view of what areas get frequent service. 

A further improvement could have been to exclude non-urbanised areas from shading, as the SNAMUTS maps do. Doing that would better direct the mind towards which areas were most in need of frequent service.   

Most significantly is that this map depicts all day frequent service but not all week frequent service. It is based on weekday timetables only. Given the paper's recommendation for a 7 day frequent network I think they should have used Sunday rather than weekday timetables.

This would have changed the maps dramatically, including relativities between cities. For example Sydney would surge even more ahead as they have a culture of frequent 7 day service on multiple modes, not just one, as with most other capitals. Perth would likely better than its current position because its trains and main bus routes run frequently during the day, seven days. This isn't so for Adelaide and Melbourne, whose network frequencies fall off a cliff on weekends (especially for buses). The Melbourne public transport frequent network map for Sunday shows the big difference a redefining would make, with green areas confined to strips centred on the corridors below. 

Frequent network recommended

Next Stop Suburbia recommends enlarged frequent public transport networks in Australia's five biggest cities. It suggests a frequency of 15 minutes or better between 7 am and 7pm every day of the week.

While this still leaves evening service less frequent than desirable, its widespread roll-out would still be transformative. Current networks that generally match or exceed this standard include trains in Sydney and Perth, trams in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and higher order bus routes in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Auckland. 

Notable modes that fall short on weekend service include most train lines in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide along with SmartBus in Melbourne and Go-Zone buses in Adelaide. As well all cities need a much bigger reach of top tier 7 day frequent bus routes, particularly in their middle and outer suburbs and implemented 7 day minimum service standards for neighbourhood bus routes. 

In my view the report's authors have excessive faith in on-demand transport, like flexible route buses. This has been tried and mostly failed. Either it gets such low usage that it is very expensive per passenger carried, or it gets overloaded in which case it should be replaced with fixed routes. They also have a curious disdain for the term 'public transport', favouring 'shared transport' instead. 


Notwithstanding the small quibbles above, the Climate Council has done an excellent job in shining a light on the need for more frequent public transport across our large cities. Such advocacy is welcome as it is increasingly recognised that electrified private automobility is insufficient to address the problems of the planet and our cities. 

To give you an idea of the importance of this, a widely available multimodal frequent network has bigger benefits for overall network patronage than much more discussed projects like airport rail and even the Suburban Rail Loop due to creating vastly more interchange points between frequent service. Hopefully Climate Council's work to emphasise the power of frequency influences others in the political realm, some of who have spruiked ecars above all else. This is essential to make change happen. 

As governments run out of money for multi-billion dollar infrastructure builds a move towards more intensively using what we have already is the next logical step to making our public transport work better for us. 

Index to Timetable Tuesday items


Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued that the Climate Council report shows a number of "areas serviced by all-day,
frequent public transport" that your weekday 15-minute map leaves out - for example the corridor down to Mornington, and a large area around what looks like Cranbourne. And sure enough, checking further shows that those areas have a 20-minute minimum frequency NOT 15. Given how common the 20-minute service is in Melbourne I wonder if the 'real' disadvantage versus Sydney is actually a fair bit worse?

Peter Parker said...

Anon - my approach is more conservative than theirs. If we look at Mornington you've got stops that may be served by multiple routes like 781, 784, 785 & 788. The first 3 are hourly while the 788 is half-hourly. That area gets a lot of buses per hour but they'll be uneven so don't qualify for my 15 min map which is based more on maximum waits (which I think is a better approach).

Agree this method is probably favourable towards us, as is them choosing a weekday not a Sunday to count trips. That also makes Sydney look less better than the other cities than it really is. Having said that Sydney's east has more consistent 7 day service than the west so their map probably understates Sydney's east-west divide.