How do world transit systems compare?Posted: April 7, 2011
This is an eye-opener. First thing you need to do is go here where artist and urban planner Neil Freeman has prepared maps of many more cities at the same scale (none from Australia unfortunately). What these maps show is the enormous variation in the scale and density of different systems. No doubt the artist has had to make assumptions about what to include and exclude*, but this is nevertheless very important information to bear in mind when comparing the performance of Australian rail networks with systems elsewhere.
I think Melbourne’s rail system is a leviathan compared to some of these e.g. the networks in Toronto, Vancouver, Amsterdam, Budapest and Brussels. Note the scale (5 km) beside the map of Toronto above. As a point of reference, it’s about 5 km as the crow flies from Flinders St station to Merri station on the Epping line, Hawthorne station on the Lilydale line and Newmarket station on the Broadmeadows line. Five kilometres is the boundary of the inner city.
Some cities however have much denser networks than Melbourne. The Paris system, for example, is diminutive in extent, but extraordinarily dense. I’m not well-travelled enough to know how many of these cities have extensive tram networks, but if you factor in Melbourne’s trams we also have a pretty dense network (albeit a slow one) within 10-12 km of the CBD.
There are important differences in the way different configurations operate. For example, a system like Melbourne’s with long average trip distances will generally require that more space is devoted to seating — thus reducing capacity — than is the case with systems where trips lengths are relatively short. So it’s not always as simple as “if they can do it so should we”.
I’m using broad terms like ‘extent’, ‘scale’ and ‘density’ to describe these systems, but if you were serious about comparing the various morphologies you would need to come up with a range of descriptors to describe the differences accurately.
If anyone can incorporate Melbourne’s train and tram networks into the diagram at the same scale I’d be happy to add it to this post.
* See points made by commenters below. Reinforces the point that making any sort of comparison is a fraught task and there will be compromises.