These are some important questions that I find complex and hard. I’d welcome any thoughts and discussion on any of them. I’ll add to the list over time.

1. Dec 2010: How do you define a viable public transport service?

2. Dec 2010: How is a minimum level of service for a public transport route defined – is it solely political?

3. Feb 2011: How do you define the boundary of a city like Melbourne? Where does it end?

4. Feb 2011: How do you define the inner city? What is it and where does it begin and end?

5. Feb 2011: What are the suburbs? How do you define them and where do they begin and end?

6. May 2011: What would encourage fringe suburban settlers to choose to live in town houses rather than in detached houses?

17 Comments on “HARD QUESTIONS”

  1. Siobhan says:

    I suspect a minimum level of service might better be described as cultural than political. I think there may well be some standards to do with waiting time that are more or less tied to the human condition. Ten minutes feels like not long. 20 minutes is ok. 30 is pushing it to be considered reliable etc.
    Another measure relates to the available alternatives, and goals of the transport. If we aim to get people out of cars in the city, public transport needs to compete with cars on the dimensions people care about.

  2. Mahyar says:

    I think the aim of public transport is the reproduction of society. If it deteriorates to the point where it’s inhibiting the status quo, ie, by causing traffic jams or by making people late to work on a regular basis, things will change. We’re almost at this point now, I think.

    So the minimum level of service on a route or on the system as a whole is not political, but functional. That explains why there is no great difference between the main parties.

  3. Matthew says:

    I want to know how do you define a viable road?

    • Russ says:

      Matthew, a road is just an egress, all properties need one or more adjacent roads. The questions around roads concern their width and quality, and the circumstances under which users are allowed to enter and use them. From a purely economic perspective, if an entire road reserve is considered as divisible public space, you’d prefer the use of any part of that space to be used for its highest marginal value – keeping in mind that there are substantive network effects between spaces, excessive transaction costs prohibiting all but a few roads being divided and used as private property and therefore a large number of externalities.

  4. jack horner says:

    3. In post world war 2 car dependent suburbs, how to get ‘charity’ bus services up to a level of service (eg in frequency/speed/directness/span of hours) that can begin to attract ‘choice’ riders, without excessively increasing the cost in public subsidy of operating losses.

  5. Alan. You need to separate these questions in to a values-element and a technical element. Most incoherence in discussions of public transport derives from mixing the two.

    e.g. Your question (1) depends entirely on what level of subsidy you consider appropriate. You can analyse that 17 different ways — parity with road subsidies, subsidy per person km, etc — but ultimately it will be a value judgment. How important is public transport to you?

    The answer to (2) is “by convention, usually no worse than hourly.” There are some practical reasons for that, mostly that very infrequent services need to make regular patterns of connection, and the hourly cycle makes that easy to do. But if you wanted to press hard on what that costs and whether it’s “viable,” you’re back to question 1.

  6. sani says:

    My Two cents thought are:

    1) How do you define a viable public transport service?
    A system which is affordable by critical mass without jeopardised the whole economic yet contribute the growth to the GDP per see.
    2) How is a minimum level of service for a public transport route(PTR) defined – is it solely political?
    The track and rails are aligning to Reach the People ,Touch every livings with Regularly examine the route routine yet cover political construct .


  7. chrisloader says:

    Question 2: A social minimum level of service should enable people to be socially included, without needing to own a car or be heavily reliant on lifts from others.

    An hourly service is not great but it still lets you travel independently and you could probably get several things done in a day with some planning, not to mention patience! Span of hours is also important – if the bus finishes too early then you cannot go out in the afternoon.

    For a whole presentation I gave on the minimum service levels in Victoria, see: http://tiny.cc/17ow2 (though it has something of a regional focus).

    Determinations that hourly is a suitable minimum frequency seem to be largely based on feedback from PT-dependent users, mixed with realistic funding availability for servicing urban areas. Rural areas are more of a challenge.

    Question 3: We’ve found in Melbourne that SmartBus has been very successful at growing patronage, but that involves 15 minutes on weekdays, and 30 minutes off peak. The average inter-peak bus headway in Melbourne is a bit over 40 minutes, so the more realistic question is to what extent will you pull in choice riders when going from 60 to 30, or 40 to 20 minutes?

    We almost always see patronage growth from frequency upgrades, but is that choice riders mode shifting, mode shift from lift-receiving, or more trips being made by bus dependent people? All good things, anyway.

    Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of evidence to look at (you really need to survey before and after, as full fare v concession is not a great indicator). But I should take a look in case there is some data incidentally collected on such routes.

  8. Hammah says:

    Viable is a very low threshold test – it has nothing to do with financial sustainability, frequency, service level, reliability etc.
    For me it is merely a service that can be delivered, ie appropriate infrastructure, is funded and is sought for use by at least some people.

    Minimum service level is relative to a timetable. A twice weekly regional bus might be the minimum in winter.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Dear Alan,
    May we please have some more questions to chew on?

  10. sophie says:

    alan, do you have any recommended documentaries or films about urbanisation in melbourne? i’m doing a research project, and i need to look specifically at film

  11. Oz says:

    Hi Alan, My respy to Q6 is
    “What would encourage fringe suburban settlers to choose to live in town houses rather than in detached houses?”
    Primarily price parity for the family choosing between the accommodation locations! To the best of my knowledge there is still no mechanism in place actually delivering affordable accommodation for lower income families in locations such as on Southbank with its proposed residential population increase of 60,000 by 2030 in addition to the present 10,500.
    WHEN and WHERE are the housing subsidizers from Government and benevolent funds proposing to step in?

  12. Jack says:

    6. May 2011: What would encourage fringe suburban settlers to choose to live in town houses rather than in detached houses?

    Well this one would be easy if there was a cheap way of installing bayside beaches anywhere in the city. More practically, the town houses need to be on plane tree lined streets, need to have a tram nearby, need to be close to a park full of deciduous trees, a good pub, characterful shopping areas and so on. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be much problem luring anyone to live in a townhouse in Fitzroy or Albert Park.

  13. Sean Deany says:

    Dear Alan,

    I live in the inner suburb of Fitzroy and one of a few, but decreasing renters. Over the past two decades I have experienced the marching tide of gentrification in such “inner city” suburbs.

    My house mate, who owns the property and which he bought in the mid 1970s for a song, jokingly calls Fitzroy’s gentrification – “Glen Waverlization”. I’ve called it in the past the “Doncaster Factor”. Most of our neighbours have tradesman’s entrances, tradesman now earn more than university professors and have taken up residence in tarted up terraces with million dollar kitchens which are rarely used! Along with this car ownership in Melbourne’s inner suburbs has spiked, as one who doesn’t drive but cycles has noticed. There are more cars than kids per household, in spite of the baby boom of recent years!

    So in a way I’m answering questions 4 and 5: Suburbia and suburban values have overtaken the inner city suburbs, which were traditionally poorer and culturally diverse places as compared to the middle and outer suburbs. The margins for the inner city has altered in the past two decades while living in inner Melbourne. When I moved out of home in the late 1980s I wanted to live in vibrant Carlton or bohemian Fitzroy, but had to compromise with cheaper and more downmarket Northcote as opposed to the “not in my life” Brunswick. In 1990 I had to abandon a beautiful Victoria home with polished floor boards and open fire places in Flemington because we couldn’t get anybody to move in as it was considered to far out!

    In the past few years friends and acquaintances have often complained about the decline of Brunswick Street, Fitzroy where hoards of “suburban tourist” now flock in on a Friday and Saturday evening to party up and disturb the “natives”. Recently I met up with my mother for an excellent coffee at a Croydon Main Street cafe. Going into this outer suburban cafe something of da ja vue hit me when I stepped inside, as it brought back a fond memory of the first time back in October 1987 when fresh from the suburbs I first set foot into Fitzroy’s Black Cat Cafe.

    Defining the inner city has become more complex than ever. In many outer suburbs today new homes are built on tiny blocks, clustered or are simply townhouses or units on multi levels. In the traditional inner suburbs of Fitzroy or even Flemington suburban values and lifestyles are rapidly taking over.

  14. Johnyboy says:

    A viable transport means simply something that is cheap enough to travel on and also quick enough to make people want to use it. It has to be faster and cheaper to use then a car. Though I do not want artificial barriers (costs) on cars to make it a reality. I think the car deserves a special place and should be protected. The car gives us freedoms like never before in the history of human kind.

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