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Canada Transit Special: The New Toronto Rocket (Toronto)

With all the feeder buses and, in the future, feeder Light Rail services to Toronto’s subway system, capacity is being stretched. The TTC costs about CAD $1.4 billion to operate and ridership is now reaching record levels – ridership on the TTC in 2011 is forecast to be around 483 million rides. This means one thing- more capacity is required.

New trains are coming into service on the busy Yonge-University-Spadina line. These new ‘Rockets’ as they are called are the same dimensions as the older trains but have 10% more space. If you look carefully at the trains, you will see how few seats there are on the trains. This is common in high capacity subway systems where distances travelled from the city are relatively short to medium (say 20 or so km).

As Brisbane becomes a larger city, there are some things that can be done to increase capacity on trains and buses without having to expend huge amounts of money on building new lines or waiting forever for big ticket projects to complete, be funded or be planned for. These non-infrastructure solutions are sadly too often overlooked; making existing infrastructure work more efficiently doesn’t seem to be as sexy as a new piece of busway/railway/subway/Insert High-Cost-Planning-and-Waiting-Forever-Infrastructure of Your Choice Here

In larger cities more people stand on public transport. Fact. Train services that only travel relatively medium to short distances could have internal seating changed to free up more capacity without having to buy more trains or build more tracks. The same principle could also be applied to Brisbane’s existing buses which have a low floor section in the front of the bus. If seating in this low floor front section were changed to 1 by 1 seating or another arrangement, the bus could hold more people, would take longer to fill and leave less people behind.

So the message is simple: For more capacity remove and reorganise the seats.

Record ridership projected for 2011 budget 


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July 23, 2011 at 9:32 am

Transit Canada Special: Toronto’s Transit City LRT Plan

This post looks at Toronto’s (now superseded) Transit City LRT plan.

Light Rail has become quite popular in Canada- Toronto (Eglinton LRT), Edmonton (ETS) and Calgary (C-Train), Ottawa (Transitway/Busway conversion to LRT) and recently Light Rail was endorsed as the preferred rapid transit mode for Kitchener-Waterloo. The Transit City LRT plan for Toronto was different from the other proposed or existing LRT systems in that it had a more “feeder” function- the purpose was to provide rapid transit to connect people in the suburbs to the main rapid transit artery: the subway system- and in doing so provide mobility for both CBD-bound and cross-town trips. Many of the TTC’s bus routes carry around 40, 000 passengers per day (roughly about 10 million per year), so the capacity of LRT would be a plus here.

There was much debate and controversy over the Transit City LRT plan as it was the brainchild of former Toronto mayor David Miller, who was replaced by now incumbent mayor Rob Ford who ran on a platform espousing subways and portraying LRT as slow streetcars (in earlier posts the difference between LRT and streetcars has been made clearer). A good LRT system can do up to around 10, 000 passengers/hour/direction in Class B ROW and, if built like a subway (Class A ROW), around 20,000 passengers/hour/direction.

Why did the TTC choose LRT, over subways, at least for this plan? Mitch Stambler from TTC service planning identifies the following points:

* Much cheaper than subways, LRT is 4-5 times cheaper than subway which means
* More bang for buck- 4-5 times more rapid transit for the same money
* Class B ROW results in excellent quality service
* Satisfies projected demand required
* Environmental benefits (Toronto has much of its power come from Hydro sources)
* Toronto is not New York, Hong Kong or Berlin– LRT fits the demand required
and is realistic for the city.

Mitch’s Presentation:

What does this mean for Brisbane? Looking past the technology, this blog’s view is that further improvements to the BUZ network should be introduced along with more ambitious priority (full length bus lanes/T2 lanes) along major arterial roads and traffic light priority. This blog’s experience with Brisbane’s buses is that they are quite slow compared to other cities, such as say, Canberra. Rail lines and ferries should be boosted in frequency to knit a ’15-minute frequent’ network around Brisbane, and using the large suburban shopping centres as interchange points, slowly cut back non-BUZ routes to create a feeder-style network, which will provide high frequency in the suburbs, where the people are and also allow people to get from suburb-to-suburb without going to the CBD first. (Try getting from Tarragindi to Yeronga- it takes a whopping 48 minutes to do this using public transport, and up to three bus changes! In a car this might take 10-15 minutes!). Improvement of the orbital 599/598 Great Circle line will also be important to enable cross-town and meet local transport needs.

Transit Canada Special: Toronto’s Transit City LRT Plan (Toronto)

The former LRT plan would have used LRT to extend the subway system. Image: Secondarywaltz, wikipedia

The BrisUrbane Blog has come across a presentation given by the manager of service planning, TTC about what LRT is and isn’t. Here is an abridged transcript, comments have been added by this blog in brackets. It shows well what the TTC had in mind when it was talking about LRT:

Mitch Stambler, Manager, Service Planning, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)
talking at the Ottawa Light Rail Transit (LRT) technology forum (video link here!)

For a transit system to be categorised as light rail, it has to have all or
most of these characteristics:

  •  It should operate mostly in an exclusive Right of Way (i.e. Class B or Class A ROW)
  • It should have stop spacing of upwards of half a kilometre (500m) or more so that is can achieve average operating speeds of 23-40 km/hr or upwards
  • Passengers should be able to board through all doors
  • Fare collection should be done off-board or there should be honour fare collection so that we can minimise dwell times (the time the vehicle spends hanging around a stop)
  • Vehicles should be multiple unit, double ended so that you can turn around quite quickly and achive high capactity so that you can use centre or side platforms
  • Operation of automobiles and traffic should be restricted in terms of turning movements and parking
  • There may be grade separations at selected key locations (in other words bridges or tunnels should be used to keep the service separated from car traffic rather than have intersections)
  • And you should use signal priority at any at grade signalised intersections (so traffic lights prioritise public transport at normal traffic light intersections)

The reason why I wanted to provide this list is because I want to show you that
Toronto DOES NOT operate Light Rail. (Crowd laughing).

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May 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Canada Transit Special: Is emergency vehicle access limited to only busways? (Toronto)

Video: ‘Toronto Fire P343 riding the rails on the St Clair Right of Way’ (efd488, YouTube)

Is emergency vehicle access only limited to busways? The St. Clair right of way (ROW) is probably the closest Toronto gets to having actual LRT; Had Toronto city councillors not forced the TTC to add more stops to the route and had the high-floor, single ended streetcar vehicles and so forth, been replaced with a double ended LRT vehicle with multiple door boarding, the  St. Clair ROW could well have qualified as LRT. Due to space restrictions preventing the construction of large medians to separate mixed traffic and transit, the TTC raised up the lanes to be higher than the mixed general traffic lanes so that car drivers would be discouraged from driving in the transit ROW.

The video above shows a City of Toronto fire department making use of the ROW to get its fire trucks past traffic. So is emergency vehicle access only limited to busways? If the LRT tracks are set in continuous concrete then it seems that emergency services- police, fire, ambulance- can indeed make use of LRT ROWs.

In addition to the previous post, here are two links for those interested about Toronto (and Melbourne’s) streetcar networks:

Note: The BrisUrbane blog is not associated with these authors.

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May 26, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Canada Transit Special: Why Toronto’s streetcars are NOT Light Rail (Toronto)

Video: Adam Giambrone (City of Toronto councillor and former TTC Chair) in the City of Toronto council chambers talking about the extreme political difficulties in getting any sort of prioritisation to speed up streetcars on St. Clair Avenue.  (prdaoust, Youtube)

Before this blog features the TTC’s former Transit City LRT plan, a word about Toronto’s streetcars and the problems they face due to system design and lack of prioritised right of ways (ROW) Toronto’s streetcar system, like Melbourne’s, is a ‘legacy’ system designed well before car ownership took off.  Stops are spaced very close together (a stop about every 250 m) which means the service once you get to the stop is going to be slow. Operation in mixed traffic without dedicated lanes (Class C ROW) interferes with service reliability and limits streetcars speeds to be no faster than the congested traffic in front of it.

It’s obvious that such problems stem from the stop spacing, features of operation (such as front door only boarding) and level of priority given by the class of ROW and not so much because the vehicle has a trolley pole, steel wheels, makes chiming sounds, and is called a streetcar. Simply swapping a unprioritised streetcar stuck in congestion stopping everywhere for a unprioritised bus stuck in congestion stopping everywhere may well cost extra money, but is unlikely to improve service a great deal.

Graham Currie (Department of Civil Enginnering, Monash University) and Amer Shalaby (Department of Civil Enginnering, University of Toronto) in 2006 published a paper titled ‘Success and Challenges in Modernizing Streetcar Systems: Experiences in Melbourne, Australia, and Toronto, Canada‘ [paywall] comparing Melbourne’s Yarra Trams to the TTC’s Streetcar system and looking at the challenges that these ‘legacy’ systems face such as keeping reliability and speed at acceptable levels in the face of growing car congestion.

Indeed, one of the reasons why Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) modes were created was to get faster speed and more separation from car congestion by giving vehicles their own dedicated lanes, wider stop spacing, and prioritisation at intersections. So in this sense, BRT and LRT are an intrinsically different style of service to the local stop-everywhere bus and streetcar.

Removing stops to increase speed and giving transit vehicles their own lanes to increase speed, cut the number of vehicles used, and increase reliability is politically charged and difficult because a conscious, public decision to spend money on explicitly prioritising public transport over the car must be made. But if you don’t do it you can expect a much compromised quality of public transport service.

Canada Transit Special: Is Don. Is Good.

Video: TTC bus 7662 rte 25 donmills (donmills station enter) by fedders4 (YouTube). (Notes were added by video author)

This is what interchange looks like on the TTC’s subway system. Look how painless the interchange is. The TTC’s objective is to keep walking distances to the absolute minimum. Similar interchanges may be found on Perth’s train network. Buses which do not run close enough to the station are brought, like a bus turning into a busway station, directly into the train station- as you can see in the video, large Queen Street busway-style stations are located directly underneath the train station. All a passenger has to do is walk out the door of the bus and go up the escalators to get the train. And because the subway trains are fed by buses, subway trains are frequent at all hours of the day and night, the most you’ll wait for a train at Don Mills station is 6 minutes. Buses are also frequent.

This seems to confirm that reluctance to interchange may be a “cultural feedback effect” more to do with bad experiences of (1) people have difficulty doing it in Brisbane because of station design and (2) because of low frequency.

“Research into the perceived travel penalty for the users due to interchanges has given some interesting results, briefly mentioned already. Users with experience of high quality interchanges have much smaller resistance than those direct bus users that are asked of their likely reactions to hypothetical, forced transfers.”

– Gustav Nielsen & Truls Lange, Network design for public transport success theory and examples.

“The goal of interchange design under network planning is to make the distance covered between connecting services as short as possible: Nielsen recommends ‘a five step distance [with] protection from the weather in a clean and nice environment’…”

– Paul Mees, Transport for Suburbia, Planning a network, page 173

TTC buses also have displays built into the bus which shows the next bus stop that is coming up, even if no-one has pressed the button. This is useful because it gives passengers certainty about where they need to get off and stops passengers missing their stop. In Brisbane you have to look for the bus stop, if you are not a regular user or not familiar with the local area it’s much more uncertainty for the passenger. Voice announcements of stops are also installed in some buses and streetcars (trams). While passengers should not be showered with unnecessary information, it would be helpful if Brisbane’s buses displayed next stop approaching information rather than just ‘bus stopping’ or ‘doors opening/doors closing’.  It’s all about making it easy to use for the passenger.

Why can’t we have proper bus-train interchanges at places like Indooroopilly rail station or other places in Brisbane?

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April 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Public Transport

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Canada Transit Special: Brisbane runs more bus routes than Toronto

Video: ‘TTC buses outside Kipling station’ by dyip90 (youtube).

A virtual busway operates out of Kipling Station; during peak hour there is about a bus a minute arriving at Kipling station. On average, 53,640 trips per day are made at this single station located about 10 km out from the city; To put this number into perspective, this is roughly equal to one third of the daily trips made on Brisbane’s South East Busway. (Source: TTC Subway Ridership 2009-2010).

Integrated transport systems where many, but not all, buses and trams feed trains may sound “academic” but this is what Toronto (and Perth) do. Brisbane doesn’t by and large feed its large train system, so an unusual situation happens where huge amounts of rail infrastructure all run very low-frequency service and many suburban bus routes also run at low-frequency or only during peak hour. And the proposed solution for this? Lump another 25 to 30 metro stations at multi-billion dollar cost into Brisbane, on top of the 22 busway stations and 85 QR citytrain stations that already exist. Why not fix up the current train system to run more like a metro (like what Melbourne is doing) and start operating bus rapid transit (BRT) from train stations?

Arguably ‘forced’ interchange is much less worse than low and no frequency (peak hour operation only), although proper facilities need to be provided. A transport system based on direct only trips that avoid transfers will be more complex, less easy to use and tends to fan out into a braid of low-frequency, less useful routes in the suburbs. Curiously, Brisbane runs many more bus routes than Toronto, but with low-frequency (see below, tram routes are included in the count for Toronto).

Toronto’s fewer bus routes form a strong, stable, all day frequent network which runs for longer with 98% of its buses connecting to a TTC subway station; Brisbane seems to be spreading itself very thinly running a weak ‘low frequency to everywhere’ spaghetti of routes and a lot of peak-hour only express buses which makes peak travel easy, but travel at all other hours of the day much more difficult (and you have to remember a whole heap of different bus numbers).

In recent years this has in part been alleviated by the introduction of the highly popular BUZ routes along arterials, but many people don’t live near a BUZ and so it seems that something needs to be done about the frequency of the other 200 or so non-BUZ routes which serve people who live in the suburbs and are facing rising petrol costs. Not every bus needs to go to a train station, within say 10 minutes of the CBD it might be faster to go directly (depending on traffic conditions), and perhaps other buses could also feed BUZ routes.

Many buses run past, but not into, train stations so in theory people may have the opportunity to transfer. In practice, this seems to be a mixed picture; some places such as Buranda, Roma Street, Park Road and Toowong this works, but in many other places such as Indooroopilly, lengthy walking distances, low or no infrastructure and the association of low-frequency and long waits with trains discourages this. And the result is still much the same- low-frequency and patronage on the trains, low frequency on the buses and great difficulty in getting to a train station if you don’t literally live next to the station office. All this makes it extremely difficult to live in suburban Brisbane without a car.

In the next post, the BrisUrbane blog will look at interchange infrastructure.


A comparison between bus routes in Brisbane and Toronto: for comparison trams have been added to the Toronto side. ‘Community buses’ have been excluded where recognized.

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April 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

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