Public transport: making the right mobility choices

Dedicated members of the TOD audience and public transport fans may be interested to hear the call for papers from UITP, the International Association of Public Transport, for a conference to be held in Vienna in June 2009. The theme for the 58th World Congress and Mobility & City Transport Exhibition is Public transport: making the right mobility choices.

As you would hope, UITP appear to be aware of the peak oil context. The text on their web page calling for papers sets the scene:

No city today can function efficiently without public transport. Indeed the development of public transport is a prerequisite for sustainable urban development. It is all the more critical in the light of some recent megatrends:

  • Galloping urbanisation, congestion and the threat of traffic paralysis;
  • Air quality concerns;
  • Peak oil production and use;
  • The pressing need to take action to mitigate permanent and damaging climate change;
  • The need to maintain or improve the quality of urban life for citizens.

The stated aims of the Congress are to:

  • Review the available options with their advantages and drawbacks;
  • Review all parameters to take into account;
  • Provide participants with a broad view of the issues and a framework for analysis, enabling them to take the best possible decisions for the short, medium and long term.

    The deadline for submitting an abstract is 30 June 2008. You can get more details at the UITP Conference Web Page.

    Sometimes it seems that events are moving so quickly that it is hard to justify preparing papers for a conference more than a year away. But a year goes by quickly whatever is happening. I prepared and presented a peak oil paper for the Australasian Transport Research Forum in Melbourne last year. The paper titled "Peak Oil: A Turning Point for Transport" referenced the Ghawar analysis presented here early last year and now allows me to cite my own peer reviewed peak oil paper, which certainly helps when communicating with Government agencies.

    So what would you tell a public transport audience about the 'right mobility choices'? Is there any point preparing papers for a conference in June 2009 or is TOD the only way? Perhaps by testing and developing the core of your proposals here for inclusion in a paper we can combine the best of both worlds.

    For those interested in public transport Deutsche Bahn of Germany has it's own TV channel. It is called BahnTV and is on pretty much around the clock. I subscribed to PC2TV to get it on high speed internet in the U.S.. I costs about $30.00 which is a one time fee. I receive it clearer than a lot of other channels with little break up and it appears to me to have a lot of effort put into it. They mount a camera on the front of the trains in Germany and travel around the country. It gives a real feel for the sophistication of Germany's passenger rail system. A recent train trip was from Stuttgart to Garmisch and up the Zugspitze and into Austria. Very interesting.

    BahnTV has another program called Bahnen die Welt where they do the same thing in other countries. Recent trips were in Tennessee and to the Grand Canyon and Green Canyon. Another trip was from Germany though Russia and Mongolia to the Great Wall of China. I highly recommend BahnTV for those interested in rail transport.


    I hope they focus on the energy use, I have been exchanging emails with a "TRANSPORT NETWORK ANALYST"
    from ARTA (Auckland Regional Transport Authority) re the efficiency of buses as public transport. My main issue is that "pax per bus km" in Auckland is 0.99! which they think is perfectly acceptable.
    This is based on

    42.7 million boardings and the total service Km 42.9 [million k] which equates to .99 passengers per bus km.

    The concept of a 10+ tonne bus with a 8+ litre diesel engine carrying 1.99 people (including driver) 42.9 million K's is bloody ridiculous. Come peak oil they'll suffer more than private vehicles. as far as I'm concerned it fails 3 of their 7 goals

    * Assist economic development
    * Assist safety and personal security
    * Improve access and mobility
    * Protect and promote public health
    * Ensure environmental sustainability
    * Support the Auckland Regional Growth Strategy
    * Achieve economic efficiency.

    Their response when i pointed this out was

    There is often a tension between objectives where some options are more
    expensive than others.

    So public transport may not be the panacea we thought it was

    Neven MacEwan B.E. E&E


    very good point, especially the economic seems that there is no substitute for something starting out efficient in the first place.

    Thinking aloud, as it were, as oil continues to increase in cost, will the busses take in revenue from increasing ridership faster than their own operating cost increases? My guess is that at some point the ridership level will more than offset the increase in operating cost, no? It's horrible now, but perhaps that is a small cost to pay for the people of Aukland to have a public transit system ready when they want to abandon their cars.



    The pax per bus km would have to be 5+ I feel to justify the network, It is at 0.99 and that is with it running near capacity at peak hours. I think the only way they could break even would be to reduce the frequency of service, which in reducing the publics expectations a difficult thing to do, The moral is the results of poor urban planning cannot be corrected by public transport.

    I also feel they (the ARTA) would be far better served by encouraging Aucklanders to live closer to work and carpool where possible, in some ways their public transport network, which mainly reduces peak hour congestion makes this unsustainable lifestyle possible for longer


    "I also feel they (the ARTA) would be far better served by encouraging Aucklanders to live closer to work and carpool where possible..."

    I agree. Another obvious option which could help alleviate morning congestion into the city and evening congestion out of it is encouraging more flexible work hours. I recently had the misfortune of driving Auckland's 'motorways' in rush hour and the situation might also be helped somewhat by better road planning and usage. Those sets of green/red flashing traffic lights on the motorway inlets are confusing and unhelpful. In the longterm, Auckland needs to act like a real city and invest billions in public transport infrastructure. Sure construction along the isthmus geography poses its problems, but it also means riders are naturally funneled along routes north and south, so plenty of ridership would be guaranteed. Population density in Auckland is sufficient, so the project simply needs to be taken in hand - finally. Buses could then feed these lines.


    how did you arrive at '5' persons/bus-km? To be fair to the transportation analyst who responded to you, it really does seem to me like a judgement call as to where a city wants to spend its money. You say 5 is the right number, someone says 0.5. Still others might say, "Start where we start and let's grow it," which might be the commitment in the background of the people running that transit system.

    The other trend to consider is higher unemployment. So one trend will be people leaving their cars. Another trend will be people having fewer places to go at a set time, i.e. the morning and evening commutes. It seems quite possible to me that the extreme range in ridership levels will become more compact. How that will impact the 0.99 will be interesting to see.

    As for moving closer, I'm not sure that will be so attractive to people. In my experience living in bigger cities, rents get higher toward the center. For the moment, commuting is still cheaper for many people. Although this may change as oil gets more expensive, it seems just as likely to me that cities will always be much more expensive as people from outlying areas move to them because their services get curtailed and cities are the only places local government has the money to provide those services.


    Meanwhile, half a world away, some of us struggle with the mass transit (or lack therof). I am fortunate, for where I live (in Chapel Hill, NC) the bus is "free." Actually, the bus system is paid for by a combination of tax revenues and student fees for the students of the University of North Carolina. When we went from a fare system to a fare-free system, the ridership jumped dramatically.

    I don't have the statistics for the distance covered by the fixed route system (it only covers an area of 25 square miles or about 65 km^2) but the ridership has increased as has the hours of operation. Overall average ridership is just over 40/hour (all fixed routes).

    The problem with some of the metrics applied is that the balancing act can get a bit skewed. It's like having fire engines and ambulances. If they aren't being used, they are a huge capital investment...but nobody is advocating burning down buildings just so their utilization rate goes up to may them look more "cost-effective."

    I am fortunate that where I live also has a regional bus system that has express routes between the major cities of the Research Triangle. My employment changed several years ago and that has meant a much longer commute. I can and do carpool but the express bus (with a short drive to a park-and-ride lot) gets me to work with about a 10-minute longer commute (changing buses) than it would be if I drove myself. Plus, I get the added benefit of not driving. Our express buses (morning and afternnon service only) stay pretty full and with the increasing price of gasoline is pushing up ridership to the point where the regional transit system increased the number of operating buses.

    The demand is here and at least someone is meeting it.

    You have badly misused the analysis !!

    How many km does the average pax travel ?

    If the average trip distance is 10 km, average pax density is 9.9 tennysons.

    Still, I see the best role of buses to be feeders for Urban Rail.


    Hi, Alan.

    I'm sorry, can you say more about how I've misused the analysis? I don't understand what you are pointing out.



    I don't know that I am 42.7 million boardings and the total service Km 42.9 [million k] which equates to .99 passengers per bus km. is a direct quote and it doesn't actually make sense either he meant 42.7 million pax km or 0.99 boardings per bus k, I think it is 42.7 million pax km.

    Andre, I say 5+ pax per bus k because that is approx the ratio of fuel consumption of a 1.2 litre car to a bus (factoring in an average car load of 1.2).

    My main point is that buses do not improve FF useage performance and public bodies are mis-representing that they do, they need to make harder decisions to improve the non FF functioning of cities, ie increase walkability via increasing density (Auckland is a large low density city) or a fixed guideway electrified automated system (ie monorail GRT), the short term bus fix is a fraud in this case.

    Public transport planners are faced with a social responsibility (I accept this) but I don't accept it when they pass this off as a clean green solution as part of their marketing when in fact it isn't.

    Alan, your point about "average trip distance" is also relevent in the fact that the longer the average trip distance is the "more efficient" PT is, the corollary is that the longer distance travelled still consumes more energy.


    which equates to .99 passengers per bus km

    Quite wrong.

    I can board a bus a streetcar or bus and have it take me three blocks to the next stop. If there is one boarding/km and the average trip distance is 500 m, then the average # of riders/bus would be 0.5.

    Conversely if 1,000 people boarded a train at the start of a 1,000 km journey and all disembarked upon arrival, there would be 1 boarding/km, but the train would hold 1,000 people for the entire trip.

    If the average trip distance was 10 km (not unusual for spread out cities), this implies an average of 9.9 passengers on board the bus.

    Without knowledge of average trip length, the # of boardings per bus km has relatively little meaning for transit planning. (It has some meaning but care should be applied in using it).


    the longer distance travelled still consumes more energy

    Not so. The impact of the weight of the passengers is trivial. Energy consumption is a function of how many km the buses traveled (and how fuel efficient the buses were, smaller usually more efficient than larger).


    At one time in the USA It was considered acceptable to have one boarding every two miles (roughly 0.4 per km). In the transit system I worked in the average passenger trip was 3 miles (5 km). Picking up 50+ passengers on one trip and then carry only 5 in the opposite direction is not unusual during peak hours. During off peak times only 1 or 2 passengers per trip was not unusual. IMHO long headways discourage the use of public transit as do bus fares. It leaves only people who legally or physically can not drive as passengers. Where I worked just about everyone with a license, and a good number without licenses, found a way to own a car. It was a choice between time and money. You use more of one in order to use less of the other. The biggest incentive to ridership is the cost of parking. People who work downtown would park where it is free and ride to and from work. The rise of the suburbs resulted in jobs moving out of central business districts and out to malls and office parks. The majority of people now commute from suburb to suburb which makes designing an efficient transit system nearly impossible.

    Perhaps as diesel becomes more expensive, many of those buses will become streetcars, electric buses and where applicable, Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). If the PRT system at Heathrow Airport works well and expands, I see a role for PRT not only at airports, but as feeders to urban rail, replacing some diesel buses, making an urban rail system more integrated.

    If you want to use public transportation, you really need to check out Google Transit. Just put in where you are and where you want to go and it plans out your entire trip through public transportation in the same way google maps/mapquest does for driving directions. Unfortunately, it's in a limited number of places today, but it's growing, and keep an eye out for it.