The Age’s Liveability survey – and where it fell down on transport (Service quality matters more than infrastructure)
I don’t have major arguments with the overall list; I suspect most of the critera are reasonable. Of course, people obviously need to take into account their own preferences and what they consider to be “liveability”. (For me it’s very much about walkability of a neighbourhood; easy non-car access to amenities, which has flow-on effects in less traffic,
more less concrete jungle, and easier interactions with neighbours and other locals, and also implies some level of usable PT.)
The problem with the scoring
But I need to point out that the survey’s transport scores are not perfect.
You can see this from the description of Toorak, which says that virtually no bus services helped to drag down the score. As the original 2005 articles noted: The study awards a score between 0 and 5 for proximity to train, tram and bus services — giving a total score out of 15.
The problem with this type of scoring is that a suburb with lots of bus stops served by infrequent buses, but no trams, would score equally to a suburb with lots of tram stops served by frequent trams, but no buses.
The 2005 figures for instance show Toorak scored 5 on trains, 4 on trams, 1 on buses = 10 for transport. Huntingdale scored 5 on trains, 0 on trams, and 5 on buses = 10. Essendon North scored 1 for trains, 4 for trams, 5 for buses = 10. But in reality these suburbs have quite different levels of usable public transport, especially for non-CBD trips.
Infrastructure vs services
Proximity to stops does not necessarily mean usable services.
In Melbourne, most buses operate nowhere near as frequently as trams, nor do they come close in operating hours. Many bus routes operate only half-hourly on weekdays, hourly on weekends and evenings. Typical tram routes operate to 3-4 times this frequency.
In some extreme cases, a bus route may only operate once a day. Did The Age’s survey give Hawthorn points for this bus stop?
(The answer, as it happens, is no, at least in 2005. Perhaps that route didn’t operate to Hawthorn back then.)
Infrequent buses make services virtually useless for most people, and while individuals may happen to be able to use the service because it coincides with a trip they need to make, at a time they need to make it (or they have no choice, because they can’t/don’t drive), those infrequent services can’t be thought of as enhancing the liveability of a suburb.
In contrast, frequent buses (such as the services Smartbus routes offer, at least on weekdays) are useful to a lot of people, do get plenty of patronage, and do enhance mobility and liveability in a suburb.
As far as the survey goes, this is one of those cases where in public transport, they’ve thought only about the infrastructure, not the quality of service. Service quality was touched-upon in some of the accompanying articles to the 2005 survey:
At weekends they catch trams to the city for shopping or to hang out in restaurants and bars. Even on the weekends there’s no need to check the timetable. “You know there will be a service every 10 minutes or so,” she says. “I just assume that it will be there for me.” — Getting around never a problem
A better measure
A better measure for a survey like this would be something that tried to quantify not just the proximity to stops, but also the quality of the service in terms of departures per day or week, as well as the variety of destinations served, so as to give an indication of how usable the local public transport is — and preferably in a mode-agnostic manner (though many would argue that trams and trains are more desirable than buses).
Difficult to do, of course, given timetable data is not publicly available. Shame.
(By the way, The Age’s 2011 interactive map isn’t up to much. You can barely tell which area is which, thanks to almost no labels.)