Thursday, May 31, 2012

Metrobus reviewed

Metrobus was started by the previous government, with an obvious agenda of visibility as part of its plan to attempt to at least arrest the degree with which they were to be booted out of government.

So what is good about it?  Firstly, a real bonus from Metrobus has been increasing the capacity of the vehicles.  The current restrictions on non-Metrobus buses within the STA are pretty absurd: a standard size bus is only allowed 15 standing passengers for 58 total passengers.  Even a bendy bus only allows 88 total passengers in Sydney Buses, but a Metrobus bendy is allowed 115 passengers aboard.  While there are some slight changes to the interior seats, mostly this change is simply a matter of policy.  It would be good to see this increase spread to other buses.

Secondly, overruling Treasury by actually providing public transport at non peak times is a real positive. An improved services is now provided on some cross town routes (M41, M54, M90, M91, M92) which otherwise would have been left to rot on an even more mediocre service.  Similarly, the frequency upgrade for the L20/M52 and 600/M60 is a positive.

What is bad?  All of the original routes (M10, M20, M30, M40, M50) have design issues.  It seems unlikely that they are money well spent for public transport in Sydney.  Other routes do not offer services after 9pm and have only 20 minute frequency after the evening peak and on weekends.  Shutting down at 9pm hardly makes the service dependable, and while the 20 minute evening frequency is arguably acceptable, it is less acceptable weekend daytimes when traffic congestion is still quite bad.  The 520 which replaces the M52 after 9pm runs approximately hourly, which isn't exactly good.

With the M10, it seems that the money would be better spent on increasing 39x and 436-440.  Only counter would be layover space in the CBD, but this counter cannot apply at weekends and evenings.

M20 does have a real positive in connecting Bourke St and the top of Joynton Ave with Central.  Conceivably, this service could be provided by moving the 302 & 303 or 301 to serve Central, and increase the frequency.  Moving the former pair of routes would also connect Todman Ave to Central which does seem like it should equally be a winner.  The other side of the M20, the Pacific Highway already has plenty of service, and the increase here seems overkill.

M30 provides an increase along Military Rd which is surely useful, however the other side completely avoids most potential passengers who would be waiting on Castlereagh St.  While it may well pick up a number at Railway Square and get some through passengers, this route seems to be a bit misguided on the south side.

M40 is like a 272 connected to Bondi Junction.  So perhaps south/east bound use the Cahill Expressway, extend to North Bondi and serve 333 stops, as the passengers bound for Bondi would be found on Elizabeth St?  I can live with a bias to Bondi passengers, with a side benefit of serving the eastern side of the CBD with respect to 272 corridor passengers.  Given that there are a large number of 272 passengers, it is likely there will be several takers for the M40 serving Elizabeth St on the Willoughby side during peak hour.

M50 is the worst of these in my opinion.  While this does connect Coogee with the University of NSW and the University with Central, both of these functions are already performed by routes which already exist.  It also connects Drummoyne with the city and provides a through route to UNSW.  Increasing the 370 between Green Square and Coogee would have done far more good.  Even the load factors are slightly below the all Sydney Buses average.  The good point about the M50 is serving the inner part of Victoria Rd, but I am sure that could have and should have been done by increasing 5xx series routes.

M52 is the best performing of the Metrobuses, getting nearly 60 passengers per trip on average.  This is roughly a doubling of the frequency of the old L20 so it's not really a new route at all, just a frequency increase and a rebranding.

Service kilometres have increased with Metrobus, but STA's overall patronage hasn't.  Similarly, Park St congestion has been AIUI significantly worsened by these changes.  While there are clearly good services, the case seems pretty compelling for reviewing some of the network.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Morning peak bus congestion on George St

In my opinion, bus congestion on George St is a bigger problem than on York St.  The difference is that it has come on much slower: congestion here has been problematic for over a decade.  This problem is significantly more difficult to solve than York St.  George St is where buses from Parramatta Rd, Victoria Rd and Glebe Point Rd and Newtown ultimately end up.

This morning, Clover Moore has again called for trams on George St.  It is not entirely clear why people who could easily interchange for Cityrail now and get a faster trip but don't would want to bother with doing this.  Perhaps the tram will be free or there will be a reasonable fare structure in the future?  Even if so, it is likely that such a move will encourage commuters to drive in to the CBD, the exact opposite of sustainability and good policy outcomes.

George St can be improved a little in the morning peak though.  Upgrading the bus lane between King St and Hunter St to a bus only lane would prevent taxis from blocking buses.  However, buses need to be able to get off George St relatively easily also.  One possibility is turning up Margaret Street, however it would be quite tight when a car is waiting to turn left out of Margaret St lane 2.  You could close this lane to eastbound traffic, but that is probably overkill.  An option is moving the stop line back, a la Cribb St, Milton, Qld.  These options largely depend on increasing Margaret St's westbound capacity between Clarence and York Sts.  Another option is increasing the Grosvenor/Harington Sts move a la L37, X04, 502.

There are a few options for buses from Victoria Rd:
  1. Turning left from Druitt St up Clarence St
  2. Using Bathurst St and turning left on to Elizabeth St
  3. Serving the southern end of town instead.
  4. Continuing along Park St.
Late last year, STA re-routed some buses via Bathurst St however, it is not entirely clear what possible advantage this had as they still join the George St bus jam.  Perhaps the original idea was to turn right at George St and serve the universities as well as businesses from Town Hall to Central, but it got mangled.  I think either that happens which would help quite a bit for some, or the peak only Victoria Rd buses should turn up Victoria Rd.

One other change which will help enormously is to increase the amount of interchange.  A number of commuters would benefit from getting off the bus at Newtown and then continuing their trip in to town on Cityrail.  This would allow less buses to come in to town, even if the routes still continue as the routes could see their seats/spaces filled more than one time per trip.  Fares are a large obstacle to achieving this.

Monday, May 21, 2012

De-bottlenecking York St

Yesterday I blogged that the NWRL cannot be relied on to fix this problem.  So what other fixes are possible?

  1. The southbound M40 would benefit from using the Cahill Expressway to Elizabeth St.  This will avoid the Park St interchange, but who cares?
  2. The Pacific Highway is over serviced and IMO the best solution is chopping off the northern part of the M20
  3. STA routes E86-9 have been removed from York St to use Grosvenor and George Sts in the AM peak.  This treatment should be spread to all AM peak only Hillsbus routes - 613, 614, 616, 617.
  4. A double decker bus meeting all ADRs (Australian Design Rules) has come on to the market.  Yet this has not been ordered by any NSW operator to the knowledge of the author.
  5. Carrington St is not used as a drop off for Wynyard terminating buses.  This is presumably due to the difficulty of accessing Clarence St via Margaret St.  The fix for this problem would be to reverse an eastbound lane of Margaret St between Clarence and York Sts.  This would allow these buses to return to their depots more quickly or perhaps in time to make another peak run.
Put simply, there are a number of relatively simple fixes, just not actioned.

Harbour Bridge bus congestion - will the NWRL fix it?

Recently, 358 buses were timetabled to arrive at Wynyard from the Harbour Bridge in the hour from 8am to 8:59am on a work day.  79 (or 22%) of these buses are M2 services.  So one might expect a significant reduction in congestion once you consider queueing theory's prediction that a small change in supply or demand can have a dramatic effect on waiting times.  This prediction has a number of problems:
  1. The remaining services can be expected to continue to grow.  Growth of 2.5% p.a. over 10 years would put us basically back where we started
  2. Cityrail's network could not handle this many additional passengers travelling over the Harbour Bridge without a lot of pain.  Transport for NSW's preferred plan is to run the trains for the upper Northern Line into Sydney Terminal, however two trains per hour via Gordon must also be trimmed.  These changes seem extremely unlikely to survive political interference, and the alternate plan of terminating every second NWRL train north of Sydney Harbour seems likely to proceed
  3. If only half of the promised 8 per hour trains actually reach Wynyard, it is likely that the short workings will not add much value.  Their value would be increased by the previously proposed quad between St Leonards and Chatswood.  This would allow people bound for stations up to St Leonards to use the short workings, and running the full distance trains express between Epping and St Leonards would also channel people who can use the short workings on to them.
  4. Integrated fares have not been achieved in Sydney, and even if they were it is unclear that people from the Hills District would be willing to use a feeder bus to reach the station.  If they will not, then that means very expensive parking must be provided, a reduction in the market penetration of public transport or the buses along the M2 to the city and North Sydney would need to be retained in a reasonably large number.
  5. An additional 25 or so buses reach North Sydney from the M2 between 8am and 8:59am on a working day.  It is estimated that between the Wynyard direct and North Sydney/Milsons Point buses that 4 trains per hour reaching North Sydney and Wynyard would be insufficient to meet demand.
So it can be seen that the North West Rail Link can not be relied on to fix bus congestion on the Harbour Bridge.  A subsequent post will go in to solutions to fix these problems.