Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Some people hate the bus. Not me, I can't get enough"


Although I was critical of the frequency of Canberra's bus service when arriving back here, I really do love riding in buses - when they come. To misuse a line of Elvis Costello's, I think of them as "people's limousines". Truely

I am typing this on one now.

Here's indie Rock band Art Brut. They understand.  And I love the song:






HT: Bella Counihan

"She looked like someone's girlfriend
She looked like a dream
She looked as unlikely
As the people's limousine"



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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've given up on public transport. The bus just gets stuck in a traffic jam and takes 45 minutes to travel 10km. I now ride a bike. I never liked buses though because of their low level of infrastructure investment. I prefer trams and trains because they attract businesses around their fixed infrastructure. It's a kind of guarantee of long term service. Bus routes are "easy come easy go" and therefore inherently unreliable. They often don't run on Sundays and the routes weave all over the place - it's a transport planners wet dream but a commuters nightmare. And lets be honest - buses are as ugly as the suburbs they ply. At least trams and trains have a little self respect.

davidp said...

While I like riding on trams and trains buses are fine too and my experience with peak time buses in the Doncaster (Melbourne) area (with bus lanes) is that they are great. They run more often than trains and trams (and no less reliable than trams in my experience). I agree they should run more on weekends and off peak. Their big advantage is that their routes should be more flexible than trains and trams (in which stops exist because of factories that haven't existed for decades...) in that they can more easily respond to changing commuting patterns. Though in practice this isn't realised (we are still waiting for direct bus services from Doncaster to La Trobe U.) due to regulation. They are more practical for dealing with cross town transportation. Routes do not have to weave all over the place - a result of regulation - in Vancouver, Canada, they have a mixture of direct buses, winding buses, and a hub and spoke system that is great. They are also more robust to weather fluctuations than the train system in Melbourne.

Buses run in all suburbs (in Melbourne) - "ugly as the suburbs they ply" - detracts considerably from your argument. I don't see a new bus as any uglier than a run down train.

Anonymous said...

Bus lanes are great but they are undermined when you still spend time waiting in traffic jams to get on them. My bus ride was about 50% on bus lanes, this still left me with a 25 minute trip to go about 4km to get onto the freeway.
I do see a place for buses, and they can work well in compact cities as part of an integrated network, but in cities like Melbourne they are mostly pretty dismal. The route from Doncaster to the city along the freeway is probably the best example of where it can work.
"Their big advantage is that their routes should be more flexible than trains and trams (in which stops exist because of factories that haven't existed for decades...) in that they can more easily respond to changing commuting patterns."
Since the provision of much public transport in Melbourne is managed as a welfare service, bus routes tend to weave around a lot to provide maximum coverage at the cost of ease of use and speed.
It's precisely the flexibility of bus routes (that transport planners love so much) that means that the routes will be optimised for coverage not speed. It also means that occasional users will not have much hope in figuring out which bus they should take. Trams and trains have fixed routes and that means that you can be more certain of where they will take you.
It is also interesting that houses near transport routes seem to fetch a premium. I live 2.5km from a railway station and it would cost me about 50k for every 500 metres closer to the station for an equivalent property. Admittedly there are other useful infrastructure around the train station (this is another point I was making) but there doesn't seem to be much of a correlation between house prices and bus routes - they don't seem to develop as focal points or landmarks. This indicates to me that although buses can be used to provide low cost transport to more people, trams and trains are what people think about when making long term commitments.
"Buses run in all suburbs (in Melbourne) - "ugly as the suburbs they ply" - detracts considerably from your argument. I don't see a new bus as any uglier than a run down train."
It might be a mystery to economists, but trams and trains are loved more than buses. "When observing transport projects such as the tramways being built in Nice or Edinburgh, it seems that where rail transport is concerned, serious cost benefit analysis goes out the window while people are usually commercially hard-nosed in their attitudes to buses. Perhaps there is something psychologically irresistible about vehicles on iron roads, although it is difficult to know exactly what it is." from http://www.johnkay.com/2005/03/29/fantasies-will-not-pay-for-costly-tramways/
It's no mystery to me. It's just a plain fact, as is the ugliness of the suburban sprawl. I wish I had time to look more into this issue, which will become more critical as the price of petrol increases.

davidp said...

A few comments:

1. The point about traffic jams reducing the value of bus lanes is fair enough.

2. My (informally informed) view about the routes is a bit less benign than welfare oriented - there is an element of existing operators preserving market power and rents - and regulatory inertia in making routes inflexible - and preventing improvements to train and tram networks.

3. It is fair enough people value being close to train and tram lines - I don't think the quantity infrastructure is tied to them (beyond their being focal points) - shopping centres, medical centres etc will respond to the level of demand in the suburb - whether there are trains and trams or not (unless there is systematic evidence to the contrary?)

4. I can understand people liking to ride on (nice) trams and trains more than buses (though the new buses can be nice) and feel that way myself. Was actually more perturbed about the putdown of the suburbs. I don't like sprawl (and support policies to deal with it) but if you get away from the unattractive stream of shops along the major roads there are certainly nice parts of the suburbs with their own charms.

Anonymous said...

DP this issue is a bit of an obsession for me so it's nice to be able to discuss it.
"2. My (informally informed) view about the routes is a bit less benign than welfare oriented - there is an element of existing operators preserving market power and rents - and regulatory inertia in making routes inflexible - and preventing improvements to train and tram networks."
I hadn't really thought about this. It isn't often mentioned in the media, but it makes sense. I'm not an economist so I always struggle a little recognising rent seeking behaviour in markets.

Your points 3 & 4
The issue of focal points could be explored more because there is something about the scale of developments in older areas that pre-dated the almost total takeover by the car. Developments that happen away from rail or tram transport centres like chadstone don't have an external pedestrian scale to them. Most of the successful strip shopping centres with a more complex variety of retail businesses seem to exist mostly around trains and trams. So there is some relationship although it isn't exclusive by any means.

The bit about the suburbs being ugly was glib, but I still maintain it's mostly true. I live in an area that has some beautiful and very expensive suburban streets a kilometre away, but I'm living in the "welfare" section where people either can't afford the time or money to maintain their front gardens and the houses were built to budget with minimal design or care, but I have to admit that buses aren't to blame for that.

David said...

I share your love of buses and your distaste for actually waiting for them. To my mind all public transport, even when it is fairly crowded, beats car-driving any time. For one thing there is the whole 'democratic' social mix of it, it is a great introduction to the feel of the city.

The aspect of reduced responsibility (compared to driving) immensely appeals. You can look around, read, listen or just zone out. Assuming it is not packed-out it is usually a pretty relaxing experience.

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