Sep 28, 2008

BRT Dos and Don'ts (Part One)

Is your city considering Bus Rapid Transit? If so then you are in fine company.

As more and more cities implement BRT, we are gradually learning what works and what doesn't.

DON'T put your BRT in an outer lane by the curb
Much more than median lanes, curb-side lanes are prone to delay from turning vehicles and stopping taxis and to conflict with bicycle users. So ...

DO put BRT in the median location
It simply works better in most circumstances.

DO have lots of doors ... and make them wide ones
Walter Hook of ITDP says that the "size and number of doors is more important than bus size" for speed and capacity of your BRT system.

Jakarta busway (BRT)
Jakarta's BRT has boarding problems

DO have level boarding of the buses
Having no steps up when boarding makes for speedier boarding and universal accessibility.

DO have prepaid boarding in stations
This also speeds up boarding.

DON'T skimp on pedestrian access to the stations
Some people think this is only an issue for median BRT lanes. Wrong! Either way, passengers need to cross the road safely. As I have explained before, regardless of where in the street the BRT is, someone making a round trip will end up crossing the whole road to finish their journey. Delhi's BRT is one that has faced disinformation on this issue.

DON'T put your first BRT where buses face no traffic delays
Walter Hook of ITDP points out that Beijing's first BRT route made this mistake. There is physical separation on sections with no congestion but no physical separation where there is congestion. So when we factor in the new need to transfer, the BRT system actually increased passenger travel times rather than decreasing them! So ...

DO put your first BRT corridor where buses are severely slowed by congestion
... so that BRT really makes a difference and so the speed improvement will be dramatic.

DO put BRT in corridors with lots of buses
If a corridor has a huge number of buses contributing significantly to congestion then a closed BRT that replaces all of those buses can improve speeds for everyone. This is very often the case in Latin America, where bus congestion has been common.

Metrobus, Mexico City
Mexico City's Metrobus BRT replaced large bus and minibus flows.
Fewer buses, higher system capacity.

DON'T plan an under-capacity system
If patronage is likely to grow then planning your system with inadequate capacity can be a mistake. Jakarta's Busway is an example of a system designed with relatively low capacity but which already needs much more, especially at interchange points. Jakarta's BRT buses have only one door, causing delays at all busy stations.

DO design for buses to pass each other at stations
This can make a huge difference to the capacity of the system. If space is tight, there may be a space-saving design that can achieve this.

Acknowledgement: Most of these tips are adapted from ITDP's work, and especially from a photograph-rich presentation by Walter Hook (pdf here). ITDP's BRT Planning Guide is a vital reference. Any mistakes are mine.

Sep 19, 2008

Everything you wanted to know about sustainable and equitable transport worldwide

Well almost ... especially if you are interested in Bus Rapid Transit or Non-Motorised Vehicle/Bicycle planning for cities in developing countries.

For a long time I have had a lot of respect for the work of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) which works on almost every continent to promote and provide technical assistance on 'sustainable and equitable transportation'.

I just noticed that ITDP's Information Center has been expanded and improved since the last time I looked. It contains a wealth of reports and resources in a number of languages. Just about every report ITDP has ever done seems to be there now.

Some recent highlights include:

Sep 17, 2008

Vienna's livable streets in photos

Vienna has been a pioneer of 'livable streets' policies since the early 1970s.

In July, I was lucky enough to visit Austria for a conference (where I presented a paper on 'car possession'). So here are some photos from my explorations of Vienna's public transport, bicycle facilities and pedestrian environment.

Hover mouse near top of slideshow to control speed or pause.

Click on an image if you want more information about it.

Update and addendum: The following quote from the indomitable Prof. Hermann Knoflacher might help you appreciate the photos:
In the early seventies a new transport plan for the city centre was developed (Knoflacher 1970) converting most of the streets in the city centre into pedestrian areas. This was realized in 1972 and since then the city centre of Vienna became an attraction for the region and for the country; it has become a global attraction and a global heritage. Two-thirds of the people coming into the city centre use the public transport, or come as pedestrians and cyclists. Since Vienna had no cycling tradition it had to be developed from scratch. Due to sound scientific research the city established a cycling department which built more than 800 kilometres of cycle tracks during the last twenty years. Today Vienna is one of the most famous cycling cities. Cycling brings money into a city, it makes the city attractive, it gives people health and is an excellent, cheap urban mode of transport.

Prof. Knoflacher with his famous gehzeug (or 'walkmobile') which he uses to illustrate the space consumption of cars, even parked ones. Photo uploaded by Muhwiki at Wikimedia Commons.

World Urban Transport Leaders Summit 2008

Singapore's LTA Academy has asked me to give a plug for this forthcoming event.

LTA Academy, Singapore, is organizing the inaugural World Urban Transport Leaders Summit from 4 to 6 November 2008 in Singapore.

This first of its kind high-level global summit is exclusively for top policy makers, transport chiefs, industry leaders, senior management of international organisations, and leading academics and transport professionals from around the world.

There will be no registration fee (delegates will make their own travel and hotel arrangements) and participation in the summit is by invitation only.

Visit the LTA Academy's Summit Website for more information or if you wish to be considered for participation.

Sep 12, 2008

New transport innovations blog

A new blog on transport innovations has appeared.

SMART's Inspire Mobility blog started in June. It is billed as "the official on-line innovations library of SMART (Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation) at the University of Michigan".

The blog depends on contributions from readers, so head over there if you think you have a transport innovation to submit.

What is SMART? More information here. It also has a lively series of events and speakers and a useful e-newsletter.

I like their 'five themes' approach to 'sustainable transportation'. The diagram above is from the SMART website here.

Sep 4, 2008

Should we (can we?) make our cars dispensible?

It's interesting to see the ideal of universal car ownership gradually eroding.

Don't believe me? There have been several books in recent years along the lines of "Divorce your car!" and "How to live well without a car". The rise of car-sharing has prompted some to see it as a potential alternative to car ownership. The car-free housing movement seems to be gathering pace and entering the mainstream of real estate development in certain places. Meanwhile, Shoupista parking policy reformists are increasingly questioning parking entitlements, including (gasp!) residential parking entitlements. Even William Ford Jr. of Ford Motor Company seems willing to contemplate a future in which cars provide a service rather than being primarily a product.

So more and more people seem to be asking the question, 'are our cars dispensable' or 'could we make our cars more dispensable?' But maybe a more positive way to ask the same question is, 'can we make our relationships with cars more "provisional"?'

I've been thinking hard about these (and related) issues for a couple of years now, and one of the results is a draft paper which I presented at the TDM2008 symposium in July. The draft paper is here. And the poster presentation is here.

Here is the abstract, which should give you the flavor of my arguments:

The way cars are possessed has not had the close attention it deserves. The primary way of gaining access to cars has been assumed to be via owning one. Possession has thus been taken for granted, preventing us from seeing it as possibly problematic.

However, the link between car use and car possession is eroding, in both practice and in theory. High mobility had been widely assumed to require a car but it has recently become possible to envisage excellent mobility through an integrated package of services and modes, including convenient access to cars, without needing to possess one. This reveals possession (and its sharp contrast with being car-free) as a source of ‘rigidities’ that inhibit active choice making in travel.

Previous work is drawn upon in order to explain the main sources of these possession-related rigidities, which are grouped into two categories: reversible effects (‘stickiness’) and difficult-to-reverse effects (‘invasiveness’).

The paper thus builds a case for seeing car possession, the way it works, and its contrast with non-possession, as problematic for travel markets and for TDM policy. Possession-related effects are shown to be more wide-ranging and interesting than is generally appreciated.

Cars themselves are not seen as the problem so much as the ways in which we possess them. This focus on possession-related rigidities opens a possible policy agenda, focused on reducing such rigidities (or, equivalently, making our relationships with cars more ‘provisional’).

There has been a widespread taboo against devoting policy attention to car ownership but the policy possibilities here address both sides of the car possession divide and go well beyond merely constraining possession.

This diagram (from the TDM2008 poster) illustrates possible policy implications of the arguments in the paper (these need work).

If this has whet your appetite on this topic, a number of my previous blog posts relate to these issues and also link to other people who are thinking along these lines:
Furthermore, a number of elements of what Eric Britton calls the 'New Mobility Agenda' resonate with these arguments.

Sep 2, 2008

Planning is key to public transport excellence (but by all means delegate operations to businesses)

Vienna's public transport is an example of excellent integration and planning

I have long been interested in public transport systems in which a public agency takes responsibility for the excellence of a highly integrated system. This interest was provoked by Felix Laube's explanations of Zurich's public transport system and by Paul Mees' excellent book, 'A Very Public Solution'.

I am also interested in the growing trend for such agencies to often delegate operation of most services to business enterprises under service contracts, often with competitive tendering.

Examples that I have blogged about include Seoul and Bogotá but many others are moving in the same direction, such as various Scandinavian cities, Adelaide in Australia and London famously. Even Indore in India has created a much-praised bus system with a similar regulatory approach.

This year, Singapore announced a shift in this direction too, something which I called for in an OpEd in Ethos Magazine (see April 2007 edition).

I recently finalised a paper that reviews this phenomenon (pdf here). It concludes:
This story presented here seems to be one of an industry successfully discovering the appropriate role for the public sector. It would be misleading to imply that there are no more problems nor dilemmas. Nevertheless, I have drawn attention to the fact that many recent success stories in urban public transport have been associated with strong public sector planning and control, either ongoing or reasserted. For many, this has gone hand in hand with both competition (for the market) and a role for political deliberation and accountability mechanisms. This ambitious public sector planning has involved the creation of dedicated agencies that have been empowered to coordinate the system at a metropolitan scale. The most successful cases have devoted their ability to do proactive planning to seeking excellence via ambitious levels of network integration.

In the West, a shift towards this model is often seen as ‘privatisation’. However the international and historical perspective provided in this chapter reveals that proactive planning with service contracts should be better understood as a retreat from deregulation. More generally it is a response to the poor results seen whenever the public sector fails to take responsibility for overall system outcomes, such as under passive approaches to franchising. Recent European Union directives will give the model of proactive planning with service contracts a further boost in Europe. It will be interesting to see if it can also succeed in North America where such reforms have so far been very limited.

Questions of pathways were also addressed. Although some had suggested that public monopoly may be a necessary intermediate step for developing cities, we have in fact seen a surprising range of cities taking more direct paths towards this effective combination of public and private roles.

The question remains of how widely 'proactive planning with service contracting' can be applied, especially in the South. This review suggests that it may be possible in more developing country contexts than has previously been assumed. It will be important to watch those cities in the South that have adopted this model. Most of the cases discussed here were in middle-income or high-income contexts with reasonable prospects for mustering sufficient institutional capacity. However, we have also seen that this approach is now spreading to India where the case of Indore seems promising. However, it is not yet well documented. Indore’s bus system, and other Indian cities that may emulate it, will need to be studied to see if this model will prove to be an enduring and successful one for such low-income contexts. This would have important implications for public transport across the South.

Comments on the paper are welcome.