For a Better Brisbane

Archive for October 26th, 2010

SmartBus: Public transport’s version of the ring-road

Can public transport compete with the car in low density city-fringe areas?

Apparently public transport can’t serve orbital non-CBD trips, won’t work in lower density outer suburbs, is unsuitable for short or dispersed trips, and nobody will catch a bus that doesn’t go to the CBD. And this is apparently why we need to sink billions into freeways and tunnels designed to allow bypass car traffic to avoid the CBD.

But counter-examples to this idea are emerging right here in Australia. Introducing Melbourne’s SmartBus network: It’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and what a success it has become.

There are five SmartBus routes now, and excluding the Doncaster Area Rapid Transit (DART) buses, all of them do not go into the Melbourne CBD. Instead, they link up the rail lines in an orbital or cross-town way, so that people can catch a bus to the train station or the local shops. The innovation is in the idea of combing what would be small local trips to the local rail station or the local shops by using a bus route long enough so that there will always be enough passengers on it at any one time to keep it viable, despite people constantly hopping on and off.

The bus stops have real-time information, good frequency (15 minutes or more in peak) and good scope of service (buses run until late, and on weekends). Extensive bus priority is used.

But surely nobody catches buses that don’t go to the CBD? Well, in the video above John Brumby, the Premier of Victoria, states that around 9000 journeys per day happen on SmartBus 902. A quick calculation (for simplicity we will assume that nobody rides on the weekend):

9000 per day x 52 weeks/year x 5 work days/week = 2.3 million journeys per year, at least.

That’s at least 2.3 million trips per year, equal to some of Brisbane’s most heavily used BUZ routes:

Selected Brisbane Bus Patronage, 2009

Passengers (Millions) Route
3.4                                                          BUZ 199

2.5                                                          BUZ 150

2.4                                                          BUZ 130

2.0                                                          BUZ 111

The simple fact that Brisbane is building many road bypasses to cater for city-bypass and cross-town travel is direct evidence that many people want to make cross-suburban trips. So the demand is certainly there.  The reason these trips are almost never taken on public transport in Brisbane’s is probably less to do with “low density”, “being addicted to cars”, or the intrinsic “inability” of public transport to serve “dispersed” trips. Instead, it’s probably got a lot to do with the poor or non-service that is on offer.

Brisbane’s orbital “Great Circle line” bus isn’t frequent and doesn’t run on Sundays. No wonder hardly anyone wants to catch it. Brisbane has much to gain from getting a Melbourne style BRT orbital bus network to link up the trunk rail and BUZ lines. Indeed, its likely that any grand rail or even light rail plan for Brisbane will need some form of complimentary BRT to feed it, fill in the gaps, or extend its reach.

SmartBus network. Copyright Department of Transport, Victoria. Used with permission. Click for linking URL.

The BrisUrbane Blog wishes to acknowledge the assistance and kind permission granted by the Department of Transport, Victoria to use their material here.

Brisbane BUZ patronage figures are from: ‘Are you in the one million club’,  On Board pamphlet, Spring 2009 edition.


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October 26, 2010 at 9:52 pm

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