Thursday, July 15, 2010

Buses emerging as local leader in New York transit?

"But the shift in balance should not be to increase bus speed slightly; the shift needs to turn buses into a substitute for rail, with rail-like speeds and rail-like reliability"  - Brian Kavanagh Assemblyman New York

Generally I am not such a fan of carrying news about large cities, a million plus, because the dynamics of public transport are so closely and exponentially related to metropolitan population and density, and by implication also the taxpayer base. In New South Wales about 5% of tax goes to subsidizing Sydney's suburban train network - about $1.8 billion a year. Fares meet only about 25% of the operating cost. Obviously when a city gets to the size of Sydney there is no way hundreds of thousands of extra commuter's cars can be crammed into the city centre and busy areas each year, so taxpayers are more inclined to accept this. Christchurch is 10% the population of greater Sydney but I can't imagine Christchurch ratepayers happy to fork out (pro rata) $180 million per year to operate a rail system!

Likewise London public transport at 8 million population carries about 3.4 billion passengers a year on its buses, trains, trams and subways - does that mean in New Zealand, with a total population size of 4 million carries 50% of London's systems? In fact total urban public passenger trips in New Zealand barely get above 100 million - one eighteenth the level of patronage of London.

The one exception I really make is bus rapid transit technology. Obviously Christchurch can't afford exotic busways, ramped above the city, as in Xiamen or travelling across the top of a hospital as third floor level, as in Brisbane, but the concept of giving buses the clear run, and quick loading capacity of railway systems remains the same. Even Ashburton could curb off a bit of street and create a segregated busway. Unlike any form of rail the investment level can operate at anywhere across the spectrum, and on projects of any size. Select Bus service in New York is hardly top order bus rapid transit - even the lanes are not curb separated - but its success has led to several new projects and rethinking the whole concept of buses.

Tonight I came across this article "Subway in the Street"  by feature writer Robert Sullivan in a recent issue of  "New York" Magazine online. Part of the byline reads "The MTA [Metropolitan Transit Authority]  has a simple, not very expensive ticket for improving how the city gets around: Revolutionize the bus". 

Quite so.

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