For a Better Brisbane

Canada Transit Special: A chat with former Toronto Mayor David Miller (Toronto) reporter Madeline Stephenson interviewed the then City of Toronto Mayor, David Miller about his vision for public transport in Toronto and the next four years. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is owned and operated by the City of Toronto.

The Transit City transit plan caused controversy in Toronto; the BrisUrbane blog will cover the particulars of Transit City in another post for historical purposes. However for this post, former City of Toronto Mayor talks about how he felt that public transport really was not just a tool to get people around, but something really important in good city-building. The ability to guide development into particular corridors and draw or discourage development away from established single-family home neighborhoods was one of the benefits he cites.

If you build rapid transit in a city like Toronto, you encourage development, but you encourage it in the right way. So you get development building along the rapid transit lines instead of development pressure in neighborhoods in single family homes.

To David Miller, good public transport makes a good city

If you have a city built around public transit … … you have a city that’s livable, affordable
and meets high environmental standards.

Toronto’s recent mayoral elections resulted in the election of a new Mayor, Rob Ford, who has different ideas centred around subways, subway expansion and getting public transport out of the way of cars.

Note: This YouTube video is embedded consistent with the the YouTube terms of service (here)


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May 8, 2011 at 8:49 am

Canada Transit Special: Next stop Spadina subway (Toronto)

Video: Diving into the Spadina Streetcar station, Promagstyle (YouTube). For a sequel, click here.

Here’s something you won’t see a Melbourne tram do. Look at how much effort has gone into making this streetcar connect to the subway system. The closest Brisbane has to this is the busway at Roma St Station. We need more of this kind of thing in Brisbane, properly connecting buses to trains. Toowong and Indooroopilly spring to mind.

Toronto is the benchmark for rail-bus and rail-tram interchanges with ‘free-body’ transfers at most subway stations outside the CBD. Trams and buses are actually brought inside the ticket gates on special roadways and stop at the top of escalators serving the station platforms. Similar arrangements are provided at the main railway station in the German city of Freiburg, and at key stations on the new Southern Railway in Perth, Western Australia…

– Dr Paul Mees, Transport for Suburbia, Planning a network, p173

The 510 Spadina and 509 Harbourfront streetcar combined carry around 48,000 passengers per day (source: TTC service improvements for 2008). That’s roughly 12.5 million passenger trips per year. To get a feel for this number, this is roughly the same number of trips carried by the entire Adelaide or Auckland train network in a year or roughly four times the patronage of Brisbane’s 199 BUZ. After midnight on Sunday (so early Monday morning) there is a streetcar every 6 minutes feeding into Spadina station. The off-peak frequency is a service roughly every two minutes all day.

Image: Toronto Streetcar map, E Pluribus Anthony (Wikipedia). Note how almost all streetcars serve as extensions of the subway system, starting, finishing, passing through or near subway stations.

With only eleven lines, Toronto has a much smaller streetcar system than Melbourne, and Toronto’s streetcars are mainly found in the downtown area. Despite this, the streetcar system carries around 285 600 trips per day or around 70 million passenger trips per year, which, for scale purposes, is roughly what the 200+ route Brisbane bus network carries in a year. Streetcars are not Light Rail because of stop spacing and there is much mixed traffic running. Toronto’s streetcars are also unusual since, unlike Melbourne’s trams, they use trolley poles rather than pantographs and can only be driven from one end, like a bus. They are also high-floor, however there are moves to modernise the vehicles.

If you don’t have connections, you don’t have a network; You have a bunch of lines.

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May 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

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

Canada Transit Special: Using bus to extend Toronto’s subway

Video: TTC1700, TTC – Buses at Kipling Station (HD Test Video 2) (Youtube). Shows the frequency of buses arriving at Kipling station.

In the previous post, this blog showed that there was far more public transport heavy infrastructure within the Brisbane City Council area than the entire Toronto TTC Subway system (Brisbane’s 85 train stations + 22 busway stations vs Toronto’s 69 subway stations) which serves a city over three times the population of Brisbane. How does Toronto manage to move almost 470 + million trips on far less infrastructure than Brisbane has?

To be fair, both cities are very different in terms of densities, population and layouts, however, you can see that the philosophy underlying the network is also different. The answer lies, in part, in using buses to boost the rail system ridership. This blog gets the impression that many people have the view that the only serious way to increase patronage is to spend huge amounts of money on effectively putting a train station on every street corner. This blog’s opinion is that this “brute force”, “rail to everywhere”, “metro station/light rail on every street corner like Paris” method is the slowest, most disruptive and most expensive way to increase ridership. Bigger does not automatically mean better.

Toronto’s “secret” is the non-sexy bus. These go to train stations and allow people who don’t live near subway stations to get to it- which sounds awfully similar to what Perth is doing on its newer train lines. In fact 98% of Toronto’s bus routes connect to a subway station– an extremely high level of tight integration. Although passengers are ‘forced’ to transfer to trains, it means that buses and trains can run frequently all day and night. The TTC Subway runs about every 5 minutes or better, all day. It spares passengers the even greater inconvenience of ‘low or no frequency’* that seems to be a feature of public transport in Brisbane. What is worse? A 3 minute walk from a bus to a train at an interchange or only being able to catch your bus during peak hours only and have low or no frequency service for the rest of the day?

The video shown is just outside Kipling Subway station. Now think of the last time you tried to get a bus from the train station, and how frequently the train and the bus came along? Did you imagine a bus coming every few minutes to your local train station and not bothering to look at a timetable? Or did you imagine a massive walk from a bus that ‘sort of goes near’ the train station, a long work and an uncertain wait on the platform?

‘Transfers’ in Brisbane are synonymous with inconvenience and this blog’s view is that the dislike for transferring could well be a ‘cultural feedback effect’ much like people’s dislike for riding Brisbane’s diesel belching, rattling, noisy, ancient history, un-airconditioned buses before people grew to like them when they were fixed up with BRT. If facilities and bus services going to train stations were improved, interchange may become second nature for people and transferring a minor or even non-issue.

The TTC’s bus network operated as an extension of the subway system, linking it to the whole of the city… This enabled the provision of a ‘Paris Metro’ style frequent service, running every 5 minutes or better until 1:45 am seven days a week. Frequencies like this would require extremely high densities if patrons walked to the station, but the TTC’s rail-bus strategy circumvented the density problem in the way Thompson argued in Great Cities and their traffic

– Paul Mees, Transport for Suburbia, Toronto and Melbourne Revisited, page 93

Buses after Midnight on Sunday you can catch from Kipling Station– to highlight the frequency and ability to travel at almost any time of the day or night** (makes you wonder whether Brisbane can really claim to have “world class” public transport):

  • 38 Lambton – every 30 minutes
  • 44 Kipling South to Kipling Station – every 15 minutes
  • 45 Kipling – every 20 minutes
  • 46 Martin Grove – every 30 minutes
  • 49 Bloor West – every 30 minutes
  • 111 East Mall- every 20 minutes
  • 112 West Mall- every 20 minutes
  • 123 Shorncliffe- every 30 minutes
  • 191 Highway Rocket- every 30 minutes

* peak hour only services which make up a substantial proportion of Brisbane’s bus routes.

** average buses per hour between midnight and 1am.

TTC Operating Statistics:

Kipling Station at Night:

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April 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Canada Transit Special: TTC Subway and RT

Video: ‘Toronto Transit’ by Preston Kanak (Vimeo)

Toronto has three main subway lines: The Yonge-University-Spadina subway (yellow) that forms a rough U-shape through the CBD area and the Bloor-Danforth subway that roughly runs East-West. The newest subway, the Sheppard Subway (purple), runs underneath Sheppard Avenue. The Sheppard subway is a feeder line- passengers must change trains at Sheppard-Yonge to continue their journey. The blue line is the Scarborough Rapid Transit or ‘RT’, a subway-like technology that is a story for another time. The Toronto system is comparatively small. Melbourne has over 200 train stations and South East Queensland has over 140 stations, although Toronto separates the long distance trains (GO Transit) from the subway. Australian systems generally run everything (freight/passengers/long and short distance) on the same tracks.

Despite these caveats, Brisbane has 85 train stations within the Brisbane City Council area and 22 busway stations which is more than what Toronto has. Is it really true that poor public transport in Brisbane is due to a lack of stations and lines? Of course, Brisbane has a commuter rail system where trains from all lines mix and there are limitations that come with that. However, Metro Trains Melbourne has recently announced trains every 10 minutes (off-peak) for the Frankston Line, with a long-term view to run their commuter rail system more like a metro (see here). So with a bit of adaptation, enabling infrastructure upgrades and increased frequency around-the-clock, perhaps it may be possible for Brisbane to offer a more ‘metro-like’ train service? Infrastructure is not an end in itself, it is a means to enable service. Service means frequencyreliability and good service outside peak hours, key ingredients in a ‘metro-like’ train operation.

Timetabling plays a key role in moving towards a more metro-style operation and as we add 38 new X’Trapolis trains. For the customer, this style of operation will reduce the reliance on a traditional timetable and allow the focus to be on the frequency of services.

Improvements to our timetabling can only be made if the infrastructure is in place to enable it. We’re delivering new train maintenance facilities, building ‘turnbacks’ to enable trains to make additional runs to and from the city in the peaks, hiring more drivers and enhancing the reliability of network power supplies.

These changes are all part of the step-by-step process to simplify the timetable by segregating lines to improve the reliability of the railway.

Moving to a Metro, Metro Trains Melbourne

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April 7, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Canada Transit Special: Moving Toronto

Map of Toronto (City of Toronto in lightly shaded areas) by SimonP (Wikipedia)

Toronto is Canada’s largest city and capital of the province of Ontario. Sitting on the shores of Lake Ontario, the city is home to 2.6 million people. If you include the regions around the City of Toronto- the GTA ‘Greater Toronto Area’ this rises to 5 million, so it’s not too far off that of greater Melbourne, Australia. Public transport in the Toronto area is provided by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Like Melbourne, Toronto retained its streetcar (tram) system, but only after a campaign to save it. The TTC streetcar and rail systems are smaller than their Melbourne counterparts, but is arguably more tightly integrated with its rail (subway) system.

After the second world war, Toronto started growing and traffic started to become a real problem. In the 1950’s Toronto replaced its busiest streetcar lines by digging a gigantic trench into one of the city’s busiest streets- Yonge Street- to create Canada’s first subway. Although digging up streets resulted in huge disruption, a bored tunnel would have been deeper, costlier and more inconvenient for people interchanging from surface streetcar and bus lines. The Yonge Subway opened in 1954.

In a way that is similar to South East Queensland (SEQ), Toronto also has a number of cities within the GTA region. SEQ has Ipswich, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coasts, Toronto has Hamilton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham and Oshawa. It may come as a surprise, but this blog’s view is that SEQ is ahead of the GTA when it comes to regional integration of transport services. You can travel almost 200 kilometres in SEQ on the same TransLink ticket, you can go to different cities on the same smartcard. If Torontonians travel north of Steeles avenue into York Region (an east-west street at the top of the city) they have to pay an extra fare and the fares for all these different cities are all different.

Following BrisUrbane Blog posts will cover the TTC’s subway system and streetcar systems.

TTC: ‘A cavalcade of progress, 1921-1954’

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April 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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