Transport is supply-led

One of the fundamental problems with transport planning in Australia is that politicians see it as demand-led, when basically transport systems are supply-led.

Demand-led thinking has them looking at congested roads and thinking “we need to build another one”.

Another one gets built, and it fills up. Rinse and repeat. (More people in cars = Bad outcome)

Or a train line is crowded and they put on more trains, and more people use them as well. Rinse and repeat. (More people in trains = Good outcome)

Supply-led is why they fill up. Provide options and people will use them. In general they’ll use the easiest/quickest option available. Built it and they will come.

This is how transport systems work: through induced demand.

Sunday afternoon traffic on M1 exit to Kingsway

It’s easy to see why demand-led thinking motivates action and funding. It’s very visible. Road congestion is obvious when you see it. Public transport crowding is obvious when you see it.

And it’s also easy to see why politicians feel they have to try and fix those issues. The problem comes in how they try and fix them: providing more of the same is not always the best answer.

A letter in The Age yesterday claims that if the West Gate Tunnel is built, “a great many west and north-west Victorian citizens travelling to the south and east of Melbourne will have significantly reduced travel times.”

Experience around the world shows this isn’t true. Travel times from road expansion don’t last — see Citylink Melbourne.

“But we have to drive!” they say. Yes, you have to drive because 80 years of investment in roads, with peanuts for alternatives has given you little choice. Every new investment in major roads makes this worse, and misses an opportunity to provide alternatives to give you choice.

The State Government could be funding Metro 2 (the rail tunnel linking Newport and Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend and the City) and related projects such as fast frequent feeder buses, to massively boost public transport services from the west (alongside the logical, relatively small truck route they took to the 2014 State Election), but instead they now want the Transurban-led West Gate Tunnel.

Westgate Freeway, Sunday morning

Major roads are, by their very nature, inefficient. Vicroads data shows that lane occupancy is just 770 people per hour in AM peak, around 840 in PM peak — though this doesn’t show separate figures for motorways. For the sake of argument, let’s assume motorways are about double that, with 1800 — closer to a theoretical perfect driving scenario of a vehicle every 2 seconds.

Even 1800 is not very many people. If you try to solve congestion with another road, or more lanes, it doesn’t take many vehicles to clog it up again, and you’re back to square one.

Rail can’t move everything, but it’s far far more efficient for moving people, which is what accounts for most vehicles on the roads. Adding 1800 people is just two additional trains — about a 10th of the capacity of a rail line with old conventional signalling.

This means rail expansion is long-lasting. If managed well, extra tracks or a new line can handle huge numbers of people.

Roads get less efficient the more people use them: more space encourages more people, and congestion slows everybody down. If the response from government is more roads, we have a vicious cycle.

Public transport gets more efficient the more people use it: more passengers justifies more frequent services, which cuts waiting times and makes connections easier, and encourages more users. A virtuous cycle.

So the next time a politician talks about transport, consider whether they’re just bleating rhetoric, or they’re showing an understanding of how transport systems work.

We have to build more roads because people are driving! No, people are driving because we build more roads.

We have to build more roads because of population growth! No, we only have to build more roads if we want more people to drive. If you want them to walk/cycle/PT, then provide that instead.

This motorway will be city-shaping! Yes, but unfortunately the shape it will be is more car-dependent.

This motorway will be a congestion-buster! No, it will just generate more traffic. They always do.

Old photos from January 2008

Another in my series of ten year old photos.

In late-2007/early-2008 there was a stoush around the banning of bicycles in zone 1 during peak hours. In February 2008 the ban was reversed. Notice that this sign is ambiguous: are the bikes banned on any train that serves zone 1 during peak, or just banned on the part of the trip within zone 1? (It was the latter.)
Suburban train zone 1 bike ban, January 2008

Banksy had visited Melbourne in 2003 and drawn “Little Diver”. Later in 2008 it was destroyed.
"Little Diver" by Banksy, off Flinders Lane, Melbourne, January 2008

The Elizabeth Street tram terminus nearby, still with “The Met” markings, some 8 years after privatisation. The Metcard warning about coins only was introduced after a court case where a passenger claimed it wasn’t common knowledge that you couldn’t pay with notes. Of course nowadays you can’t board (outside the Free Tram Zone) without a pre-loaded Myki card.
Elizabeth Street tram terminus information booth, January 2008

We had a ride on Puffing Billy — come to think of it, this was the last time I went on it. Maybe time for a return visit?
Puffing Billy, January 2008

Crowded at Belgrave when the train got back
Belgrave Station, Puffing Billy, January 2008

Railway staff at Belgrave
Belgrave Station, Puffing Billy, January 2008

More proof (if it’s still needed) that actually it’s possible to carry a fair amount of stuff on public transport if you put your mind to it.
Glenhuntly station, January 2008

The beginning of the end for Dick Smith Electronics? Their Carnegie “Powerhouse” decided to stop selling electronics — at least, electronic components. This trend continued — by 2016 they’d closed their retail stores and the brand name was sold to online retailer Kogan. Jaycar moved into the space, taking over some old Dick Smith stores.
Dick Smith Powerhouse stops selling electronics, January 2008

What is a “family-friendly” house?

When you’re house-hunting, there’s a continuum of numerous factors weighed against each other, including indoor space, outdoor space, location, walkability, and plenty more, including of course price.

By walkability, I mean the walking distance to amenity such as parks, good public transport, shops. (Walkscore attempts to measure this.)

From some points of view, perhaps the traditional position is that growing families will prioritise indoor and outdoor space over other factors. Big house, big garden.

I didn’t prioritise those when I bought my house; within my budget, I prioritised location and walkability over space. This had both pros and cons of course.

I wanted to flag one of the big advantages.

When I moved, my sons were 7 and 10. Now they’re 19 and 22. Location and walking access to shops and trains (under 10 minutes away) has been absolutely crucial to them gaining a sense of independence through their high school and university years and beyond.

Public transport problems notwithstanding, they’ve been able to get themselves around relatively easily, and enjoy it too, without a long walk or a long wait for a bus to get home — either of which would push them quickly towards driving.

Just for now, my sons are holding off learning to drive, but will do it eventually. With my concerned parent hat on, the risks of personal safety issues while out walking and using public transport are far less than the risks of driving. (The equation might be different if they weren’t both boys.)

Philip Street, Bentleigh (near Patterson Road)

I hadn’t really thought about how this had played out until my sister mentioned pondering moving her family from Moorabbin (under 15 minutes walk from a station) out to “where you can get more house for your money”.

It made me think that teenagers’ mobility is an important issue. You don’t want them being driven everywhere, and neither will they. You do want them to have access to friends, jobs, events and education independent of their parents.

Lack of space has obvious disadvantages. My front and back gardens are pretty, but not big enough for playing footy or cricket or other such activities. More private open space would be great.

But we have a park down the road, and being on a quiet street, we’ve been able to use that space for outdoor activities.

More indoor space would be possible by renovating, expanding upwards, but the budget hasn’t really allowed for that.

When it comes down to it, we sacrificed private space for the ability to get around without driving — for both my sons, and also for me.

Beyond their independence, being able to leave the car at home most of the time is also good for the health and finances of all of us.

It also means they have access to opportunities without the cost burden of owning their own cars.

I’m not alone in going down this path. With pressures on real estate prices, others are raising families in smaller houses or flats / apartments.

Whether it be buying or renting, we all make our choices. Hopefully those choices take everything into account — including things that may not be immediately obvious.

I’m not trying to tell anybody what’s better for their family, but if I had my time again, I don’t think I’d change a thing.

What’s the number one priority for politicians, more than anything else? Getting elected.

Just a quickie…

A senior politician (I won’t say who, or which side) once told me something which, at the time was somewhat surprising to hear, but in retrospect it’s obvious – and puts a lot of things into perspective:

For politicians, the number one priority is to get elected / to get re-elected / to get their side into power.

And this person specifically said that sometimes, the motivation to get elected trumps good policy.

I don’t suppose that it always goes for all politicians, but often, particularly when in opposition, you can see that on show.

You’d hope that more often than not, good policy would actually get them elected, but it’s not always the case.

Of course you can argue that for someone wanting to Do Good, there’s a limit to what they can do without being elected… so of course it could be seen as important.

And no doubt there are some idealist politicians out there who would genuinely risk their popularity or their position in the pursuit of good policy.

But remember, as you watch their actions, and hear their comments and sometimes incredibly overblown rhetoric, that for most politicians, getting elected and staying elected is their number one priority.

What should I blog about?

Happy new year!

Noting that the most-viewed and commented-upon blog posts of last year were all transport-related (yeah this blog has moved to mostly transport in the past few years), I’m wondering what topics people might be interested in for posts this year.

I have a number already in the works, but if you’d like to nominate a topic, please leave a comment.

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Suggestions made on Twitter:

  • Maybe a few posts about what the biggest influences on making PT better we’re/are in Melb, Australia, and international contexts (with parallels?) And both local, regional and intercity contexts?
  • Bike safety, bike lanes, etc in Melbourne
  • Dandenong line transformation, such a massive project I imagine there is lots to write about
  • Suburban bus services & how routes could be restructured to improve travel times & integration with other modes
  • Enhancing #myki with smartphone apps. Exploiting NPP. What’s the best practice from around the world?