For a Better Brisbane

What influences public transport patronage? (1)

Perth skyline as viewed from Mt Eliza. Image credits: chip_2904 (flickr user/CC)

What influences public transport patronage? It’s a simple enough question. The first ideas that spring to mind is ‘Citywide density’ and ‘city population’. The BrisUrbane Blog is currently reviewing Dr Paul Mees’ book Transport for Suburbia, beyond the Automobile age which argues that while density has influence, a whole heap of other things like proper integrated ticketing, free transfers between services and an inter-meshing network is required as well. In other words, to corrupt a popular saying ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’, we should not fall into the trap of ‘can’t see the public transport network for the bus, train or ferry’. This blog hopes to publish a book review next week about Transport for Suburbia, but in the meantime a Google Books preview is available here.

To gain some insight on the question, this blog revisited Peter Martinovich’s slide presentation titled ‘Application of a commuter railway to low density settlement‘. The ‘comparable Australian City’ in the graph (slide 2) is Perth rail patronage versus Adelaide’s. It shows Perth and Adelaide starting at almost identical patronage in 1990/1991 and then shows Perth’s patronage skyrocketing as the Joondalup and Manduah lines are built. This blog found Adelaide’s train patronage statistics from TransAdelaide and the South Australia’s Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure’s annual reports here and here.

Perth’s rail patronage (around 56 million/year) is now a full five times the levels of patronage on the Adelaide rail system (~11 million/year).

It can’t be citywide average density as this only changes very slowly, and both cities started out from the same situation in the 1990s. Perth is not five times more dense than Adelaide, nor does it have five times as many people; Demographia puts Adelaide (1400 persons/km2) as slightly more dense than Perth (1200 persons/km2). The populations of Perth (1.3 million) and Adelaide (1 million) are similar, and even more interestingly, the when one looks at bus boarding statistics for both cities in 2007/2008 sourced from The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Perth had 65.7 million boardings reported on buses, while Adelaide had 52 million boardings. If you ‘scale down’ Perth’s bus boardings to adjust for Perth’s slightly larger population (divide Perth’s 65.7 million boardings by 1.3 million) you get 50 million boardings per 1 million people, a figure almost identical to that of Adelaide. If differences in city density or structure were really the answer, why are the bus boardings almost identical?

This similarity in bus boardings suggests to this blog that it can’t be that ‘car culture’ is stronger in one of the cities over the other, or that Adelaide people somehow intrinsically react differently to public transport than their Perth counterparts do. And it’s not that Adelaide somehow has a smaller rail network with fewer train stations either- Adelaide (83 train stations) has far more train stations than Perth does (70 stations).

Adelaide has a good bus system with their O-Bahn high speed guided busway and ‘GO Zones‘- roads where frequent ’15 minute or better’ bus services are offered. However, the improved bus system does not seem to have been a substitute for an improved rail system. Judging by the similarities in bus patronage between both cities perhaps those millions of potential rail trips are being done in Adelaide cars at the moment. There is a message for Brisbane here too- regardless of how good the Brisbane bus and busway system is (and it is world-class), the train system still really needs to be fixed up!

Adelaide still runs diesel trains on its rail network and 15 minute frequency at only a few train stations. Perth got rid of its diesel trains and its train patronage is now rivaling Brisbane’s 67 million trips (and South East Queensland has 149 train stations, over twice the number of Perth’s and links the three cities of Ipswich, Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast!) time will tell if Perth patronage manages to overtake Brisbane/South East Queensland’s patronage.

The good news is that much of Adelaide’s train network is now a construction site as it works hard to make major improvements to rail facilities, services, electrification and frequencies. There’s no hiding behind density figures for Adelaide now.


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March 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm

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