Around the world, every week, with empty ACTION buses

By 14 April, 2012 23

The Liberals’ Alistair Coe is giving Chief Minister Gallagher a kick over dead running by ACTION buses and the lack of answers to how bad the problem currently is:

The Canberra Liberals lodged a question on notice on 23 February 2012 seeking information about the $120 million bus service. The answer was meant to be returned by 20 March but still has not been received.

In 2010, the Canberra Liberals obtained data showing that ACTION buses travel more than 69,000 kilometres every week, costing $8 million a year, on „out of service? buses with no passengers.

“If the 2012 data is ever released, I hope it will show considerable improvements in the efficiency of the network,” Mr Coe said.

“The most recent information we have shows that every four days. ACTION buses are running on empty around the distance of the equator.

“The fact that the ACT Labor Government has not released the data implies that the news is once again not acceptable.

Now, accepting that as long as we have buses there will be some degree of dead running, how much is OK and how do we get down to that number?

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23 Responses to Around the world, every week, with empty ACTION buses
#1
arescarti4210:28 am, 14 Apr 12

69,000 km per week isn’t that outrageous a number. That is 9857 km per day, which over ACTION’s fleet of 430 buses (say ~390 are actually in use each day), which is 25km per bus per day, or about 13km for the average bus each way from the depot to the beginning of its run, and back at the end of the day.

Short of tweaking the routes so that they start and finish closer to the depot, I would have thought the only other way to reduce dead running would be to simply have more depots.

#2
gasman10:57 am, 14 Apr 12

1. Charge $16-$25 per day for car parking within the city and use those funds to subsidise public transport (note that these prices for all day car parking is pretty common in many cities around the world).

2. Use the car-funded subsidies to reduce bus fares to $1 or $2 for 90 minute trips anywhere

3. Use smaller shuttle busses on low volume routes and at out-of-peak times

4. Make busses run MORE frequently so that they are actually useful (in Vancouver and San Francisco, busses run at 5-10 minute intervals – you don’t need to check a timetable, just turn up to a bus stop)

5. Re-do the system so that fast, big, regular busses run the length of Canberra’s spine while smaller busses do frequent loops from that spine to service outer areas.

#3
Bramina10:59 am, 14 Apr 12

arescarti42 said :

69,000 km per week isn’t that outrageous a number. That is 9857 km per day, which over ACTION’s fleet of 430 buses (say ~390 are actually in use each day), which is 25km per bus per day, or about 13km for the average bus each way from the depot to the beginning of its run, and back at the end of the day.

Short of tweaking the routes so that they start and finish closer to the depot, I would have thought the only other way to reduce dead running would be to simply have more depots.

Spot on.

#4
dungfungus11:02 am, 14 Apr 12

arescarti42 said :

69,000 km per week isn’t that outrageous a number. That is 9857 km per day, which over ACTION’s fleet of 430 buses (say ~390 are actually in use each day), which is 25km per bus per day, or about 13km for the average bus each way from the depot to the beginning of its run, and back at the end of the day.

Short of tweaking the routes so that they start and finish closer to the depot, I would have thought the only other way to reduce dead running would be to simply have more depots.

Think: “privatising Action will solve the problem”

#5
c_c11:06 am, 14 Apr 12

Might be a controversial idea, but Canberra has a significant homeless and poverty stricken population, and we at the same time have a pressing need for a more financially sustainable and responsive public transport system rather than having hulking empty busses doing the rounds.

Rickshaws anyones?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9bSrjv8BDs

#6
dungfungus11:31 am, 14 Apr 12

c_c said :

Might be a controversial idea, but Canberra has a significant homeless and poverty stricken population, and we at the same time have a pressing need for a more financially sustainable and responsive public transport system rather than having hulking empty busses doing the rounds.

Rickshaws anyones?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9bSrjv8BDs

I might have missed something here but what have the homeless and poverty stricken got to do with running empty buses that are operated by a chronically loss making public bus service which is underwritten finanacially by most Canberrans?

#7
milkman12:03 pm, 14 Apr 12

dungfungus said :

c_c said :

Might be a controversial idea, but Canberra has a significant homeless and poverty stricken population, and we at the same time have a pressing need for a more financially sustainable and responsive public transport system rather than having hulking empty busses doing the rounds.

Rickshaws anyones?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9bSrjv8BDs

I might have missed something here but what have the homeless and poverty stricken got to do with running empty buses that are operated by a chronically loss making public bus service which is underwritten finanacially by most Canberrans?

The homeless pull the rickshaws?

#8
Ian12:28 pm, 14 Apr 12

Dead running is not as straightforward as Coe would have us think. It is presumably cheaper to run an empty bus quickly to the start of its next route than to have it tour the world to pick up 1 or 2 extra people, which takes longer, and drivers’ wages are much more expensive than fuel. Never mind that at some point the extra routes replacing the dead running most likely result in more buses and drivers being needed to do the same amount of work.

#9
I-filed12:37 pm, 14 Apr 12

milkman said :

The homeless pull the rickshaws?

Excellent plan! Problematic though: on the one hand, would help address the obesity epidemic – but that would cost the rest of us more as thinner poor would live longer. On the other hand, if they’re worked hard, lots would probably die on the job, saving on health care costs.
Also, rickshaw travel would be very slow – if you are commuting from Tuggeranong to the city it would be a two-hour ride – even with a fit young poor person pulling the rickshaw.

#10
c_c1:06 pm, 14 Apr 12

milkman said :

dungfungus said :

c_c said :

Might be a controversial idea, but Canberra has a significant homeless and poverty stricken population, and we at the same time have a pressing need for a more financially sustainable and responsive public transport system rather than having hulking empty busses doing the rounds.

Rickshaws anyones?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9bSrjv8BDs

I might have missed something here but what have the homeless and poverty stricken got to do with running empty buses that are operated by a chronically loss making public bus service which is underwritten finanacially by most Canberrans?

The homeless pull the rickshaws?

That is correct, replace buses with rickshaws pulled by the homeless. Fixes two problems at once.
Heck, put some tracking bracelets on the folks at AMC, build a depot and have them earn their keep too.

#11
pepmeup2:16 pm, 14 Apr 12

gasman said :

1. Charge $16-$25 per day for car parking within the city and use those funds to subsidise public transport (note that these prices for all day car parking is pretty common in many cities around the world).

2. Use the car-funded subsidies to reduce bus fares to $1 or $2 for 90 minute trips anywhere

3. Use smaller shuttle busses on low volume routes and at out-of-peak times

4. Make busses run MORE frequently so that they are actually useful (in Vancouver and San Francisco, busses run at 5-10 minute intervals – you don’t need to check a timetable, just turn up to a bus stop)

5. Re-do the system so that fast, big, regular busses run the length of Canberra’s spine while smaller busses do frequent loops from that spine to service outer areas.

this is basically what I have thought for years. if you make Parking more expencive, maybe have some speacial car pool cheaper rate car parks (but if 3 people car poll then $15 parking is only $5 each anyway).

There are systems in Other major cities where you have to change bus more often but you still end up getting to your destination sooner, this seems to be what is needed in canberra

#12
dungfungus2:29 pm, 14 Apr 12

I-filed said :

milkman said :

The homeless pull the rickshaws?

Excellent plan! Problematic though: on the one hand, would help address the obesity epidemic – but that would cost the rest of us more as thinner poor would live longer. On the other hand, if they’re worked hard, lots would probably die on the job, saving on health care costs.
Also, rickshaw travel would be very slow – if you are commuting from Tuggeranong to the city it would be a two-hour ride – even with a fit young poor person pulling the rickshaw.

I thought this might develop into a serious discussion but I can now see why we have the dysfunctional public transport system we deserve.

#13
ka10426:54 pm, 14 Apr 12

dungfungus said :

arescarti42 said :

69,000 km per week isn’t that outrageous a number. That is 9857 km per day, which over ACTION’s fleet of 430 buses (say ~390 are actually in use each day), which is 25km per bus per day, or about 13km for the average bus each way from the depot to the beginning of its run, and back at the end of the day.

Short of tweaking the routes so that they start and finish closer to the depot, I would have thought the only other way to reduce dead running would be to simply have more depots.

Think: “privatising Action will solve the problem”

Dungfungus, with your past comments to this site and your dumb assed name, I have no doubt you are a Liberal party staffer. I have read Alistair Coe’s past comments in the Assembly denegating Canberra and the ACTION bus service but, typically, not telling us what the Canberra Liberals would do differently. Tell me, do the Canberra Liberal’s have a secret agenda to privatise ACTION buses and if so, what else do they plan on privatising? ACT Labor and the Greens have their policy announcements clearly displayed on their websites and their websites are being updated daily. The Canberra Liberal’s website hasn’t been updated since the last election in 2008.

#14
c_c7:00 pm, 14 Apr 12

dungfungus said :

I thought this might develop into a serious discussion but I can now see why we have the dysfunctional public transport system we deserve.

It’s Saturday, chill out.

Anyway, on a serious note, in the absence of a critical mass of population, mass public transport will always suffer from the following:

Mass Public Transport = life planned around it
Personal Transport = on demand when you want it

Talk of screwing people on pay parking to push them onto public transport sounds like something from the Warsaw Pact and is moronic. As are suggestions of higher frequency, until Canberra get’s a sufficient population.

#15
dungfungus10:15 pm, 14 Apr 12

ka1042 said :

dungfungus said :

arescarti42 said :

69,000 km per week isn’t that outrageous a number. That is 9857 km per day, which over ACTION’s fleet of 430 buses (say ~390 are actually in use each day), which is 25km per bus per day, or about 13km for the average bus each way from the depot to the beginning of its run, and back at the end of the day.

Short of tweaking the routes so that they start and finish closer to the depot, I would have thought the only other way to reduce dead running would be to simply have more depots.

Think: “privatising Action will solve the problem”

Dungfungus, with your past comments to this site and your dumb assed name, I have no doubt you are a Liberal party staffer. I have read Alistair Coe’s past comments in the Assembly denegating Canberra and the ACTION bus service but, typically, not telling us what the Canberra Liberals would do differently. Tell me, do the Canberra Liberal’s have a secret agenda to privatise ACTION buses and if so, what else do they plan on privatising? ACT Labor and the Greens have their policy announcements clearly displayed on their websites and their websites are being updated daily. The Canberra Liberal’s website hasn’t been updated since the last election in 2008.

Calling my blog name as “dumb assed” is a bit harsh isn’t it? What sort of a name is yours? Sounds like a laboratory specimen label from a batch of low grade bacteria.
No, I am not a Liberal Party staffer and I don’t deal in secret agenda’s. I am simply a fee and ratepaying Canberra citizen who is sick of seeing a large proportion of his revenue contribution being wasted on an exceptionally inefficient public transport system. It is reasonable to expect public transport to run at a loss but what we have in the ACT is a joke. Labor and the Greens public transport policy appears to be more of the same thing with heaps of spin and I have no idea what the Liberals are proposing. What sort of problem do you have with privatisation anyhow; apart fom being a trade union hack?

#16
Tetranitrate11:19 pm, 14 Apr 12

c_c said :

dungfungus said :

I thought this might develop into a serious discussion but I can now see why we have the dysfunctional public transport system we deserve.

Anyway, on a serious note, in the absence of a critical mass of population, mass public transport will always suffer from the following:

Mass Public Transport = life planned around it
Personal Transport = on demand when you want it

Yeah pretty much
The bigger problem with Canberra is not merely its population, but the actual shape of the city. Successful public transport systems like Melbourne’s have high frequency transport corridors that radiate out from the CBD – the Train lines (and trams to an extent) radiate out, while buses fill in the gaps. This simply doesn’t work in Canberra, and even with higher density and frequency, you’re still going to be stuck with the
suburban loop -> interchange -> “start heading where you actually want to go”
problem because of the way the city is laid out. There’s not really any solution when as far as building a transport system is concerned, Canberra effectively has 3 or 4 CBDs. You simply can’t cater to that effectively without costing the earth.

Canberra really was built for the car – neither light rail nor more frequent buses will fix the problem. Maybe in 50 or 100 years the gaps will be filled in and Canberra will have a more normal shape, but that’s about it.

#17
tg_70312:00 am, 15 Apr 12

A simple method which would significantly reduce ‘dead running’ costs would be the reintroduction of driver changeovers outside depots (yes, it happened in the past, why it ceased is beyond me). This is common place in interstate bus companies, both private and public, and ought to be considered here. Belconnen Depot is an ideal location for driver changeovers, as every bus which services Belconnen will pass through/terminate at this location. Tuggeranong, less so, but with tweaking to the routes, this too could be the case.
Having driver changeovers makes best use of vehicles in the fleet, as buses wouldn’t have to terminate in the suburbs, then return to the depot empty so another driver can pick up the same bus to then run empty to another, or sometimes the same location to commence their shift (this is where much of the dead running originates). Instead, a driver finishing their shift could pull up at Cohen St Bus Station (outside bus depot), take their cash and hop out, while the driver commencing their shift gets in, adjusts seat/mirror, etc, then continues the service, with a delay of barely a minute. Fuel tanks on the buses should allow for this too, as they are typically 200L+. Certain things would prevent on road changeovers from occuring, such as bus defects, but generally, this method works well and is proven across the country.

#18
TP 30001:50 am, 15 Apr 12

What the Liberals are yet to find out is that there have been no changes to the ACTION Network since 2010. So how could things of changed in 2012 before the new network has come into effect. Now in a few months time when the new network has come into effect, maybe then will the Labour Government release this information.

Anyway, via Twitter, Alistair Coe has been asked how exactly would be reduce this dead running. I will make sure he is kept on his toes (like he likes to do with Katy Gallagher). My responses from Katy Gallagher can be received anywhere from 5 minutes later to 24 hours later. So I give Alistair until 00:00 Tuesday 17 April to answer.

#19
Innovation7:35 am, 15 Apr 12

c_c said :

…..Anyway, on a serious note, in the absence of a critical mass of population, mass public transport will always suffer from the following:

Mass Public Transport = life planned around it
Personal Transport = on demand when you want it

Talk of screwing people on pay parking to push them onto public transport sounds like something from the Warsaw Pact and is moronic. As are suggestions of higher frequency, until Canberra get’s a sufficient population.

Actually gasman @#2 and possibly pepmeup @ #11 are not that far off a likely solution. You don’t need interchanges (just more bus stops and routes) to have effective and regular (eg 5 minute) public transport corridors/spines. People can use “personal transport” (if they are able) to get to the nearest corridor bus stops or continue to catch suburban buses that hopefully allow them to transfer to faster and regular (ie “on demand when you want it”) buses along the nearest corridor.

As for the OP, Although I agree that ACTION is very inefficient, I’m not surprised that we have so much dead running. Canberra is very spread out and it likely costs equally or more dead money to have more depots nearer the start and end of all routes.

#20
JC8:09 am, 15 Apr 12

tg_703 said :

A simple method which would significantly reduce ‘dead running’ costs would be the reintroduction of driver changeovers outside depots (yes, it happened in the past, why it ceased is beyond me). This is common place in interstate bus companies, both private and public, and ought to be considered here. Belconnen Depot is an ideal location for driver changeovers, as every bus which services Belconnen will pass through/terminate at this location. Tuggeranong, less so, but with tweaking to the routes, this too could be the case.
Having driver changeovers makes best use of vehicles in the fleet, as buses wouldn’t have to terminate in the suburbs, then return to the depot empty so another driver can pick up the same bus to then run empty to another, or sometimes the same location to commence their shift (this is where much of the dead running originates). Instead, a driver finishing their shift could pull up at Cohen St Bus Station (outside bus depot), take their cash and hop out, while the driver commencing their shift gets in, adjusts seat/mirror, etc, then continues the service, with a delay of barely a minute. Fuel tanks on the buses should allow for this too, as they are typically 200L+. Certain things would prevent on road changeovers from occuring, such as bus defects, but generally, this method works well and is proven across the country.

All well and good, except that dead running is NOT caused by drivers returning to the depot to do a change over, as you quite rightly point out the depots are close to the central terminus anyway which is where changeovers occur.

For the most part the reason is because traffic flows are not symmetrical. In the morning there are more buses from the burbs towards the town centre. To operate these you need to run an empty bus to the start of the route. Likewise in the PM the flow reverses so you need to send more buses to burbs and run them back empty too.

Sure you could operate this in service, but as someone else mentioned above it would probably cost more in wages and even more km’s for very few if any passengers and of course as they would take time to get to the start or the end of the route you would need more buses at even more cost.

But as the very first reply says the amount of dead running per bus per day is ~25km, which in the grand scheme of things is bugger all, though when you add it up it does make a ‘dramatic’ headline that pollies just love because none of us would even think about doing the sums.

#21
miz8:49 am, 15 Apr 12

There could possibly be some gains to be made from current dead running – eg, a bus goes past the Zoo every day – empty -presumably to the Belco depot. Why is there no bus to the Zoo (except, daftly, in ACT school hols)?
My daughter noticed this while doing work experience there.

It is more of a problem to me that normal route buses on the weekends are always empty because the timetable is so sh!t.

#22
gasman9:24 am, 15 Apr 12

c_c said :

Talk of screwing people on pay parking to push them onto public transport sounds like something from the Warsaw Pact and is moronic.

Thank you for your cogent and incisively reasoned argument. The Warsaw Pact was a defence treaty – not sure why you think it it relates to public transport. Calling something moronic without counter-arguments is childish.

Nobody is trying to force anyone into public transport. I’m suggesting that public money could be more effectively spent by diverting some of the money away from cars and directing it to more community friendly approaches, such as a more effective public transport system.

At the moment, people who rarely drive cars for commuting are heavily subsidising those who do. Our taxes pay for the public land around the Lake converted to car parking. Our taxes pay for the $250+ million cost of the Gunghalin Drive. Our taxes paid for the $41 million car park at The Canberra Hospital (at $30,000 per car space), money that could have been spent on hiring nurses and opening hospital beds.

Just the GDE and Canberra Hospital car park has cost each Canberra household $3000 ($300 million divided by 100K households). We all pay so you can have the convenience and indulgence of driving your 1500kg car, alone, to a very valuable piece of real estate where you car sits all day.

Many other cities around the world have discovered that you can’t just keep shoving more and more cars into a city. They are changing their policies – decreased car use and better public transport. Some of the best public transport system I have come across are in cities that were previously car-centric. Its cheap, its clean, its efficient, and everybody uses it, students, families, workers, rich and poor. It brings communities together.

If all you have experienced is Canberra’s (or Sydney’s) public transport system, you may be forgiven for thinking that public transport can never be good. However, there are cities that have made it work well, by investing a relatively small amount of money.

We don’t lack a critical mass of population, just a critical mass of political thought.

#23
sien5:43 pm, 15 Apr 12

gasman said :

At the moment, people who rarely drive cars for commuting are heavily subsidising those who do. Our taxes pay for the public land around the Lake converted to car parking. Our taxes pay for the $250+ million cost of the Gunghalin Drive. Our taxes paid for the $41 million car park at The Canberra Hospital (at $30,000 per car space), money that could have been spent on hiring nurses and opening hospital beds.

This is wrong. In 2009 Australia collected about 16Bn in fuel excise and spent 5Bn on roads. Even with other spending on parking cars make a significant net contribution to government revenue. This document has the figures.

http://www.mynrma.com.au/images/About-PDF/T3-2080_roadmapR2.pdf

In addition cars are used vastly more than other forms of transport in Australia. From the same report 74% use cars regularly, 12% public transport and 2% cycle.

Car users in fact subsidies the rest of the community in most developed countries with the US is the big exception, their fuel taxes are too low. Car users pay for car injuries through insurance. Trucks make a massive contribution to economic growth. No modern country would function without them.

sien said :

If all you have experienced is Canberra’s (or Sydney’s) public transport system, you may be forgiven for thinking that public transport can never be good. However, there are cities that have made it work well, by investing a relatively small amount of money.

We don’t lack a critical mass of population, just a critical mass of political thought.

Can you provide an example of a city with Canberra’s population density that has a good public transport system?

You want to look up farebox recovery ratio and see how except for some massive, very dense Asian cities most places lose money on public transport:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farebox_recovery_ratio

The big change that is coming in transportation is vehicles that can drive themselves. This will alter the way cars are used and owned. Currently owning a car is an expensive proposition. WIth depreciation, fuel costs, repair costs, insurance costs and parking it’s hard to own a car for less than about 2-3K a year. Even people who drive to and from work only use their car say, about 1 hour out of every 24 and often pay to keep it somewhere.

If you could get a car whereever you were in Canberra in say, 5 minutes and it would drive you where ever you wanted to go for, say, a quarter of the price of a taxis now it could make sense to get rid of your car. This may well be the reality in 5-10 years.

A bus driver costs about 100K a year when pension payments, office space, training and everything else is included. 100K should be about what a self-driving system costs that can run for years and years.

Here is Sebastian Thrun, one of the world’s foremost experts on when self-driving cars will be available to buy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5JruTeNg7s

Look up Google’s self-driving car and the DARPA challenge for more on this.

It’s also worth noting that Rio Tinto in Australia currently have the world’s largest fleet of self-driving trucks:

http://www.fool.com.au/2011/11/investing/driverless-trucks-to-drive-rio-tintos-profits/

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