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Posts Tagged ‘light rail

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This post looks at Toronto’s (now superseded) Transit City LRT plan.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

Written by .

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.

Written by .

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.

LRT: Why Brisbane missed the tram

Brisbane has experienced the failure of LRT proposals three times over, and since this time two further LRT proposals (former premier Peter Beattie’s Smart Cities proposal and The Greens’ Light Rail plan for Brisbane) have appeared. It seems the issue of LRT will just not go away.

This blog recently came across this paper which explores why Brisbane’s three serious LRT proposals all failed. Written by Peter Turner of the engineering consultancy firm Parsons Brinkerhoff, it surprisingly identifies a range of non-technical issues a reasons why the three LRT proposals for Brisbane failed.

For any LRT proposal to succeed in Brisbane, all the following things must all align:

  • The proposal must be simple, and have “common sense” about it
  • Funding must be secured
  • Community groups and the community must support it
  • Stakeholder groups must have genuine consultation (i.e. Property Council)
  • It must serve demand
  • At least for the initial stages, it should not run on the busway or require busway conversion

A stable and committed partnership between State and Council levels of government, particularly the support of the Lord Mayor of Brisbane is absolutely critical.

This blog therefore believes that the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle is a helpful guidance. This means 1 or 2 LRT lines, serving areas that have the best chance of high patronage: The New Farm-CBD-West End corridor. This corridor has proven high patronage: BUZ 199 carried about 3.4 million passengers in 2009 and now runs every 5 minutes in peak hour,  the CityGlider has carried 1 million passengers to date and runs every 5 minutes in peak hour, and the New Farm-CBD-Fairfield 196 bus carried 1 million in 2009 and runs every 15 minutes for most of the off-peak.

The inclusion of West End and New Farm cannot be stressed enough. The later light rail proposals such as BrizTram, were compromised because they had the “profitable high-patronage bits”, such as West End, The University of Queensland and New Farm cut off. West End is ideal because of the large amount of industrial land that can be converted over to sustainable transit-oriented development, particularly along Montague Road.

Further issues such as proposals to run heritage trams (and use non-standard voltage to allow this to happen) and potential tram-train operation over the QR heavy rail network only served to further cloud and complicate the LRT proposals. This blog therefore favours the use of standard equipment, heritage services not be run on it and no interface with the QR heavy rail system. Excessive tunneling and bridge works should probably be avoided too as it will easily price the proposal out of existence.

The argument that “a light rail system is not a council responsibility” is sometimes advanced. The Gold Coast City Council however has set a precedent against this, by contributing $120 million of its own money. By spreading the cost burden over different levels of government it becomes possible to pay for the system. The private sector (developers along the route) may also be another source of funds if LRT is to happen in Brisbane.

Funding breakdown for the Gold Coast Light Rail project, stage 1:

  • Commonwealth Government – $365 million
  • Queensland Government – $464 million
  • Gold Coast City Council – $120 million

The Gold Coast Rapid Transit website is here:

Connecting SEQ 2031

The beginnings of a huge shift in transport thinking are underway. The Connecting SEQ 2031 draft plan was released a few months ago and is open for consultation until the 26th November. For those interested in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) or sustainable transport solutions, the opportunity for your voice to be heard will close soon.

This plan signals a break with the idea that South East Queensland will be forever locked into a cycle of car-dependency and that only palliative measures can be taken to improve the situation.

As with any plan, there will be strengths and weaknesses. Strong points include the decisive move to rail based transport. South East Queensland is gifted with one of the largest commuter rail systems in the world (by length), but sadly it is underutilised. The advantages of heavy rail–  high-speed, tracks stretching over the entire region, high-capacity, labour and cost efficiencies make it the ideal fit for South East Queensland’s growing needs. The Cross River Rail will be absolutely essential. A frequent network of bus services over the entire region will also greatly improve transport.

Some of the weaknesses of the plan include the uncertainty over funding, the absence of a plan to deal with busway capacity, the metro proposal and, yet again, the complete absence of Light Rail options for Brisbane. The earlier 1997 plan dismissed Light Rail as “too costly”, unfortunately since then Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and now the Gold Coast have all built and extended their LRT systems or have LRT systems in initial construction stages. LRT is also being considered in Perth and Hobart. Perhaps Brisbane will be the last state capital in the country to consider LRT?

A plan to deal with the capacity of the busway system, particularly the South East Busway and the capacity of the CBD to take more buses is also absent. At certain points along the South East Busway there are now buses roughly every 20 seconds or below in peak. While functional now, it is highly questionable whether simply adding more and more buses will cope with future demand all the way to 2031 under the current working philosophy. And is it really cost-efficient, fuel-efficient and labour-efficient to run such a large number of single buses directly into the city each with their own operator?

The proposed metro also seems questionable. Is it really a necessity for Brisbane? Brisbane is not Paris, London, New York, Tokyo or Berlin. The service proposed mainly serves the inner city area which is already saturated with transit options. The real problem is out in the car-dependent suburbs where people have fewer transit options where rising living costs threaten to make long distance commuting unaffordable.

The main ingredient of a metro isn’t fancy trains, stations or technologies. The main ingredient of a metro is high frequency. By upgrading the heavy rail network, a metro-style system can be created from existing rail assets at a fraction of the cost of a brand new system and rapidly. Coupled with Light Rail and improved bus options, this blog believes that the proposed metro system is probably not required. Although upgrading busway corridors to metro may be one idea to look at. The merits of a metro will feature in future posts.

Video is © The State of Queensland (Department of Transport and Main Roads) 2010. The Connecting SEQ 2031 website and video is at

One Cent Light Rail

We are often told the Light Rail costs too much and would be too big a cost burden.

It’s strange then to walk around Brisbane and see multi-billion dollar road projects in construction or newly in operation. But for today, we look at Hillsborough county*, Tampa Bay, Florida where they face a proposition in November for a one cent in the dollar sales tax (capped at $50) to fund light rail and complimentary transit improvements. Tampa Bay is a bit like the Gold Coast. And for them, it comes down to:

  • Jobs
  • Urban renewal
  • Attracting business
  • A good way for the community to get around

Businesses need to get their employees to work on time, and need to find a workforce. And that workforce will probably want to live in a city with a good quality of life, amenities and services.This is where good transit comes into the picture.

Nobody wants to live in a city where living and commuting is an ordeal, affordable houses are at far-flung places on the city fringe, everything is far and hard to get to, rising petrol prices and ever longer commutes eat your wages, family and leisure time, and public transport options are poor.

Many US Light Rail systems were funded with the help of voter-approved taxes where the community voted to tax itself so the project got built and operating. It’s a pity this ballot approach isn’t done in Australia because a direct ballot would unambiguously and firmly reveal what the people want and were willing to pay for.

Light Rail may cost more, but one must also remember that while you are paying more buck, you are also getting more bang. Light Rail stimulates development, strengthens communities and can increase property values. It’s also cheaper, faster to install and more flexible than a metro.

Let’s look at some ways to help pay for Light rail:

  • Developers can pitch in to help pay for the system
  • Higher property values means increased revenue because rates are calculated from property values
  • There are more people to collect rates from because more people will move into the area to live next to the light rail line

Newer track technologies such as “cut and paste” track could also significantly lower the start-up costs and installation time for Light Rail. The whole life-cycle cost, not just start-up costs, should be taken into account.  To use an analogy, we all are familiar with buying the cheap printer that turns out be hugely expensive to run because the ink to keep it running is sold at high prices. The Gold Coast Light Rail project found that when comparing LRT with BRT the costs were roughly similar over the life-cycle.

Interestingly, Hillsborough county does not seem to have suffered from the “Bus vs Light Rail” debate, and actually their plan includes many complimentary Bus Rapid Transit lines as well. This is a very sound approach. One sometimes gets the feeling in Brisbane that there is a “the answer is more bus, now what was the question again?” approach; When we really should be looking at how Brisbane’s transit is going to move forward to the next stage, especially on the heavily loaded routes.

At one cent in the dollar for good transit, it sounds like a good deal.

The Ballot measure that will allow residents to tax themselves to help fund Light Rail, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), bikeways and some road improvements. Image used with kind permission of Moving Hillsborough Forward. Click for URL.

* A county can be thought of as like a local government or council area.

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