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Do light-rail systems help cut down on traffic? Perhaps not.

By slashdot 1 March 2013 48

Thanks to the wonderful wonk blog:

new study in the Journal of Transport Geography suggests that four light-rail systems built around England during the 1990s and 2000s had virtually no effect on overall car traffic. Instead, the rail systems mainly seemed to attract riders who would otherwise have taken the bus.

Without shifting away from our bush capital moniker, light rail appears to be another green boondoggle.  The question that nobody is asking but should is, do we want to give up the current character of Canberra as the bush capital?


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Do light-rail systems help cut down on traffic? Perhaps not.
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Postalgeek 2:38 pm 01 Mar 13

I’ve always thought the Bogata Bus Rapid Transit system looked like a far better proposal for a city like Canberra.

Free feeder buses bring people to the transit hubs where they pay, increasing flow. It’s compared to an above-ground subway, with dedicated lanes.

http://www.amara.org/en/videos/8j5CmMQxxj93/info/bus-rapid-transit-bogota/

Easier to update buses or remove broken down ones than a light rail.

Bogata also has median strip cycleways, putting cyclists in the middle of large roads which protects them from entering and exiting traffic. Something like that would be most suitable for Northbourne.

You could do a lot for the whole of Canberra with the money spent for a light rail.

nsn 2:32 pm 01 Mar 13

enrique said :

Why would anyone use it if they don’t already use the bus system?

Well, mainly because they’re different systems with different goals.

Light rail is pretty much straight line point-to-point to-from major hubs. They’re a lot more efficient (i.e. faster) to get someone into a major urban centre than buses that snake through the suburbs are. Get the frequency up and you’ve got a reliable and quick service to get you into town.

Say, about every 15 minutes? Between a major town centre and a CBD? Like the 200 Red Rapid bus from Gungahlin to Civic?

Your arguments are not arguments for light rail. They are arguments for public transport.

enrique 2:15 pm 01 Mar 13

Why would anyone use it if they don’t already use the bus system?

Well, mainly because they’re different systems with different goals.

Light rail is pretty much straight line point-to-point to-from major hubs. They’re a lot more efficient (i.e. faster) to get someone into a major urban centre than buses that snake through the suburbs are. Get the frequency up and you’ve got a reliable and quick service to get you into town.

Why would someone use light rail if they currently use their car?

Commute cost & time reduction… no parking and no fuel to pay. If they can keep the ticket prices and transit times low enough then people are just as well off perhaps even better off in terms of time and money if they use the light rail to get to and from work everyday.

Future proofing Canberra so it doesn’t end up with horrible traffic problems like bigger cities.

If we put in the infrastructure now we’re getting ready to avoid the traffic problems that bigger cities have. You won’t keep your ‘bush capital’ the way its going. There was once a time not that long a ago when you could drive anywhere in Canberra at any time of day and *never* experience a traffic jam unless there was some major accident or event. Those days are over and the population is just going to keep increasing. If you think this town can keep growing without efficient public transport then you’ve got rocks in your head.

On top of that, there are the future generations to think of… what sort of legacy do we want to leave for our children and grandchildren etc? More of the same system but with higher local/city pollution and worse traffic jams or an improved overall system with better options and potentially lower pollution? Good urban design should allow people to be able to get around without *having* to own a car…

Lastly, what about people less fortunate than most of us that can’t drive a car? e.g, those with a disability? Why should they be stuck with the same crappy bus system forever? Shouldn’t we go out of our way to make life easier for them? Imagine if you physically couldn’t drive and you were told your only option to get around was by an ACTION Bus. Not only do you have to deal with the cards life has dealt you, you’ve also got to add *hours* to your commute each day because your local bus service is terrible. How f@#ked would that be for you!

damien haas 2:10 pm 01 Mar 13

An article, about an article, about an article. That references other articles showing the evils of light rail…

Please google ‘confirmation bias’.

In my experience, almost all transport economists have biases. Even those that hand on heart proclaim they are mode agnostic. Some are pro-bus, some are pro-rail. You need to look at a wide range of material before arriving at a conclusion.

Capital Metro will reduce road congestion by altering travel habits over the long term. If it had been built in the mid-90’s the GDE may never have been built.

The buses from Gungahlin to Civic in peak hour are already at capacity. Where do we go from here? To light rail. If you also believe you are going to see more and cheaper parking to cater for the car drivers of the future, i suggest you start riding unicorns to work.

Damien Haas
Chair, ACT Light Rail

nsn 2:02 pm 01 Mar 13

TheAxeMan said :

I never take a bus – hate them
But I would take a train or rail

“I like choo-choo trains.”
Can’t argue with that logic.

TheAxeMan 1:42 pm 01 Mar 13

I never take a bus – hate them
But I would take a train or rail

Thumper 1:17 pm 01 Mar 13

UNDERGROUND!

Deref 12:55 pm 01 Mar 13

OMG! Common sense! Kill it with fire!

Keijidosha 12:35 pm 01 Mar 13

Light rail proponent logic: Lets build a half-billion dollar (plus operating expenses) light rail trunk network to replace the most operationally efficient part of the current bus network (which is already subsidised by $101 million annually). Then take those those extra buses and use them to provide additional loss-generating suburban services. Genius.

FioBla 12:14 pm 01 Mar 13

Public transport in Canberra is going to be poor because of the lack of density. As such it’s not going to “solve” congestion directly. If you take someone out of a car, into public transport, then someone else takes that place. IMO, congestion fees, and parking fees do.

But “good” public transport, as well as “good” non-car investments provide an alternative way to get around.

>…is The Worst Idea Ever

Everything is the worst ever. Few days ago Civic Loop was “worst projects that this joke of a government has signed off on”. Zara is “the most over-rated rubbish…”. Only the strongest emotions will do.

(Not convinced that light rail plan is a good idea either, but live in the south side).

Rollersk8r 12:12 pm 01 Mar 13

p996911turbo said :

If it ever gets built…

They have already committed to build it! That was the deal with Rattenbury! Construction must start by 2015.

Rollersk8r 12:11 pm 01 Mar 13

thebrownstreak69 said :

The intertown routes are the thing Action does best. Replacing these is a total waste of resources. It would be smarter to think about building more dedicated bus infrastructure (e.g. widening roads for dedicated bus/motorbike/taxi lanes) to improve the services, because this could be done bit by bit, and we could assess the performance of each change and use this information for planning more work.

We need a more pragmatic approach. How and why do people here use public transport? Why? What can be done to improve service in this context?

Spending a heap of money to build something that already works reasonably well is not smart.

Agree! The Northbourne busway idea would be so much cheaper!

Rollersk8r 12:07 pm 01 Mar 13

gasman said :

We lived in Vancouver…

Correct me if I’m wrong but the Vancouver area has at least double Canberra’s population, with a much denser downtown/city area – which is why a train (especially an elevated one) makes so much sense there.

thebrownstreak69 12:03 pm 01 Mar 13

The intertown routes are the thing Action does best. Replacing these is a total waste of resources. It would be smarter to think about building more dedicated bus infrastructure (e.g. widening roads for dedicated bus/motorbike/taxi lanes) to improve the services, because this could be done bit by bit, and we could assess the performance of each change and use this information for planning more work.

We need a more pragmatic approach. How and why do people here use public transport? Why? What can be done to improve service in this context?

Spending a heap of money to build something that already works reasonably well is not smart.

Mysteryman 11:53 am 01 Mar 13

Rollersk8r said :

I’ll say it again: light rail for Canberra is The Worst Idea Ever – and I say this as a regular bus user. It’s a no brainer – the only thing the train will possibly do is take a few passengers off ACTION. So how many tens of millions for a few less buses down Northbourne??

If you won’t currently catch a bus why would you suddenly start catching a train? Those who have a need to drive will still drive. And what is more convenient – a train station in the middle of Gungahlin or a bus stop on your street?

If there’s not a train stop within walking distance of your house then why would you wait for a bus to the train station, and then wait for a train? Gungahlin’s only around 10km from Civic – once you’re on a bus you may as well stay on it!

The reason so many people don’t bother catching the bus is because the service is inconvenient when compared to using a car. I could catch a bus to work, but it would take me nearly 3 – 4 times longer than taking the car because the first bus only comes every hour, and then I have to change buses to another bus that only comes hourly. The changeover times don’t coincide. Plus I have to rely on the bus being on time (has been hit and miss in past). I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that most of my friends/colleagues experience something similar.

Implementing light rail between the major city centres would allow for Action to use their resources to more effectively service the non-city centres and funnel commuters onto rail. Of course, the government would have to do sensible things like have a single ticketing system for bus and rail to make it worthwhile, but the potential is there. I’d be happy to catch a bus and then light rail to work, but not if the current bus system remains as is.

p996911turbo 11:38 am 01 Mar 13

If it ever gets built, Canberra is going to be a prime example of what that article is talking about. The only proposed light rail routes are exactly the same routes that are the BEST our buses have to offer.

Take the Gungahlin to Civic route. The buses are extremely regular and good. Anyone who chooses to drive instead is obviously doing it for a bloody good reason (maybe they’re going somewhere else, maybe they need their vehicle, whatever). None of those people are suddenly going to stop driving because they can take a train instead of the bus.

gasman 11:34 am 01 Mar 13

We lived in Vancouver when the 20km long Richmond line of the Skytrain was opened. This elevated light rail linked the southern part of Vancouver to the Downtown core. The week after it opened, car traffic along the same corridor dropped by over 20% and has remained so. It converted what used to be a very frustrating 45 minute car drive into a very efficient 20 minute train ride.

Just that one line transports 136,000 passengers per day. Thats a lot of cars not used. Admittedly several bus lines were also removed along the same journey, but not 136,000 passengers worth. Most of that capacity is from people who would have otherwise used cars. The reduction in cars to the core has allowed the City of Vancouver to convert one entire lane of the Burrard Bridge into a dedicated and separated bicycle lane, to general acclaim.

Since the original Skytrain was introduced into Vancouver in 1985, it has carried over 1 billion people with just 10 accidental deaths over 28 years (from people falling onto tracks). There has never been a Skytrain collision. Compare that to car transport where the annual risk from a car accident in Australia is about 2000 deaths and 18,000 serious injuries, or a 1 in 1000 risk per person per year.

Of course, the Skytrain is a little more sophisticated than what I suspect Canberra will get:

It is elevated, so it never has to stop for traffic lights.
It is computer controlled (no driver)
It gets its power by induction (no wires).
Trains run at 1 to 5 minute intervals during peak times and 5 to 10 minute intervals at other times. Yes, up to 1 train per minute! There is no need for a timetable – just show up and a train will be by soon.
A $2 ticket gets you 90 minutes of travel on the entire Vancouver public transport system – Skytrain, bus, ferry.
Children, students and pensioners travel for just $1 for 90 minutes
it has a 96% punctuality record
At each end of its journey, a cleaning crew runs through the train to clean it.
Each train has a bicycle carriage, and bikes travel free
Every Skytrain station has bicycle lockers for easy park-and-ride
It is safe, clean, fast and cheap.

I guess it depends of how well a city implements a public transport plan. Build it right, and the people will use it. Build a half-hearted underfunded system, and it will be a waste of money.

Jivrashia 11:31 am 01 Mar 13

Rollersk8r said :

If you won’t currently catch a bus why would you suddenly start catching a train?

This.

Before light-rail is even considered there should be resource spent on trying to get more commuters to catch the bus.

Rollersk8r 11:05 am 01 Mar 13

I’ll say it again: light rail for Canberra is The Worst Idea Ever – and I say this as a regular bus user. It’s a no brainer – the only thing the train will possibly do is take a few passengers off ACTION. So how many tens of millions for a few less buses down Northbourne??

If you won’t currently catch a bus why would you suddenly start catching a train? Those who have a need to drive will still drive. And what is more convenient – a train station in the middle of Gungahlin or a bus stop on your street?

If there’s not a train stop within walking distance of your house then why would you wait for a bus to the train station, and then wait for a train? Gungahlin’s only around 10km from Civic – once you’re on a bus you may as well stay on it!

BicycleCanberra 10:33 am 01 Mar 13

What happens if you build it and they don’t come. England has become car centric like the USA and us. Building the road capacity at the same time won’t encourage people to use public transport no matter how good it is.
The carrot only works with the stick and that is that you need to restrict car use as well.Governments are frightened to do that because they will inevitably will lose elections.

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