Opinion Pieces: since 2007, Prof. David Hensher has written an opinion column in the Australasian Bus and Coach magazine, where he monthly discusses a lot of different transport-related hot topics. In this section we are revisiting these columns.
2009 was a watershed year with more State governments finally showing an increasing positive active commitment to public transport, as well as earlier initiatives starting to deliver tangible patronage growth outcomes. Whether we agree with the specific infrastructure and service propositions or not, there is now very tangible evidence that investment in improved public transport has begun. In Sydney we see planning well advanced on rail projects (e.g. The Metro in the CBD and out to Westmead, the South- West Rail link), and the roll out of 300 additional buses. In Victoria we see the high frequency Smartbus Route network grow to 198 kms.
The Bus Association of Victoria suggests that the success of bus patronage growth is attributable to frequency, span of hours, better network planning, and geographical coverage. We would not argue with this, but would also add capacity. We might also remind governments of all persuasions that within the limits of likely funding on public transport, achieving these four objectives will requires some careful thought on how much of the financial pie is available to serving the entire metropolitan network. We are seeing a risk associated with a focus on a few corridor specific projects that will leave little for the rest of the system.
The author, with Professor Corinne Mulley of ITLS-Sydney, and a PhD student at the University of Newcastle (UK) recently evaluated the impact of a high quality bus service known as Superoute (having some similarities to the SmartBus Routes in Melbourne), which can be delivered with relatively low amounts of financial investment. The ‘Superoute’ brand was designed and introduced to offer passengers high quality services across a number of the major corridors on local services within Tyne and Wear, to encourage greater use of public transport. Buses operating on a ‘Superoute’ offer higher frequencies than other routes, bus priority measures where appropriate to secure better punctuality, a high standard of shelters and information at stops, and modern vehicles including easy access for wheel chairs and prams. A total of 40 ‘Superoutes’ are operating across Tyne and Wear following their launch in 2002. Patronage on the ‘Superoutes’ is on an upward trajectory since the introduction of quality improvements, whilst the rest of the network continued to decline. On average there has been a 30 percent growth in patronage over each two year period.
These examples highlight the need for greater partnership between government and operator, as well as a rethink about how restrictive existing contracts are in encouraging any initiatives such as the one above. In particular we would suggest that there are greater opportunities for Local Government to engage much more with bus operators (beyond current activity which mainly relates to the provisions of roadside furniture such as bus shelters) in sharing financial inputs where State Governments are not involved, since relatively small investments in quality partnerships like the Superoute initiative in the UK (which was not funded by Central Government) can deliver strong transport benefits while taking pressure off of the road budget.
Food for thought
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