NZ in Tranzit blogger David Welch believes buses can become the most effective, sophisticated, public transport system of the 21st century !
The concept of LIGHT BUS NETWORK takes what is already exists and is clearly evolving a further logical step.
The concept of LIGHT BUS NETWORK recognises modern technologies have opened the door to operating urban bus systems in a manner similar to a railway network, yet with all the advantages of traditional bus. Not least this includes the ability to deeply access all areas, to travel in multiple directions, require minimal policing and passenger hosting staff and to offer a greater degree of friendly personal service.
In particular modern technologies allow bus movements to be tracked by GPS, and the speed of any particular service modified with-in safe parameters calling upon any of about a dozen immediate and long term strategies and devices. Where supported by uninterrupted lane priority this ensures a smooth and reliable flow of bus services, with each route interwoven with others. Routes with common or overlapping functions are designed to flow through common corridors and transfers points in an adequate and user-friendly alternating pattern. A range of other technical devices support passenger comfort and information.
L-I-G-H-T spells the essential elements of Light Bus Network
Recognises with modern day congestion it is obsolete technology for buses to be using conventional traffic lanes or queuing with other traffic. For a small percentile of the cost of one light rail or commuter rail line, dozens of key areas can be adapted to give buses maximum free passage, a faster journey and (important for LBN) a consistent reliable journey times. This can include no lanes at all in quieter suburban streets but more typically includes part-time painted only lanes, full-time painted only lanes, kerb segregated full time bus lanes, queue jumper lanes at traffic lights, segregated roading for buses, segregated "cut through" corridors for buses only or buses, cyclists and pedestrian modes [skating etc] only; underpasses, overpasses, tunnels, motorway ramps etc.
In effect buses are given the same status as Rail in public thinking and city planning. Every route is planned with the goal of maximum speed and minimum journey time, avoiding or minimising conflict (with other traffic in the moment; with entrenched interest groups in the design itself); each route is also planned in terms of adjacent or overlapping routes.
- also known as NICERide - (Network Integration and Co-ordination Enhanced Ride)
Bus schedules are not worked out on a route by route basis but on a matrix of how one service interacts with another. In particular service, the ideal matrix ensures bus services serving the same functions (eg access tofro shopping malls, secondary and tertiary education institutions, city centres or major employment zones) traveling on the same route corridor, or through adjacent areas or intersect at key points travel in an alternating pattern to ensure maximum option of departure time, maximum opportunity for transfer time (6-10 minutes minimum-maximum between alternating services at major transfer points). Those equidistant from two two different routes (typically, living between routes) are compensated for greater walking distance by alternating choice of access route.
Typical LBN schedule patterns operate to a consistent underlying pattern every hour, after 9am through to 7pm Mon to Sat and a second, reduced service level pattern 7pm -11pm Mon to Sat and 9am - 9pm Sunday. Services are consistently offered "within 5 minutes of departure time shown" allowing operator schedules some elasticity, coupled with monitored advice (dashboard indicator light) if bus driver is traveling to fast for GPS identified loading conditions.
Specific peak hour morning or weekend trips before 9am, or after 11pm Mon-Sat, 9pm Sunday, may express same each hour pattern or not, but integrated system as a whole (all listed services operating) does not.
Additional trips may be woven into underlying pattern, at evening peak hours, or at special times or seasonally (extra services to beach in summer period etc) but the underlying patterns do not change, except when advertised system adjustments are made. Despite the seeming rigidity the ability of transit authorities or operators to add or remove extra services "on top" of a core underlying matrix gives considerable flexibility. Non-core services are always distinguished (by bolding or back shading) from core services in written timetable format, to foster understanding, trust and memorability of the core pattern.
Underlying all this is scheduling finely tuned to the environment, with utmost care in design to ensure services depart key traffic generating facilities at appropriate times. (eg do not arrive and depart a major employment zone a 27 and 57 past the hour!).
Light bus network recognise that tram and light rail and rail lines typically are very focused on city centres, the single biggest employment and activity centre in most cities. This is necessary to maximise patronage and recover some part of the huge costs typically involved in these linear systems. This said central cities now typically represent less than a third of employment and economic activity in any given area.
Light bus network is based on intensive research identifying where people work and study and shop and creating a series of identified hub points (approximately one hub point for every ten thousand residents to give an idea of intensity - in Christchurch NZ about 40 hubs). Wherever possible - without putting too much strain upon local residential streets or creating awkward bus route deviations - buses through these points travel through a consistent stretch of road/transfer station to create "hop off-hop on" transfers at the same point. From each bus routes will travel in 4-10 different directions, with each route also evaluated for its services to areas and facilities on that specific route.
The aim of Light Bus Network is to create maximum options for travelers, and a far closer approximation of the flexibility of direction and access offered by a private car, whilst still offering the benefits of one route for those who only need one route for normal journeys. The system relies on good info intelligently presented and the assumption that people intelligent enough to work modern devices such as cell phones and DVD players can also develop understanding of mosaic patterns in bus services (if I go at 05 and 35 via route A it is a five minute walk to home, if I go at 20 and 50 past the hour via route B it is a 7 minute walk - from the opposite direction - to home).
Typically a light bus network will work on a matrix base of 30 minute or 20 minute services. In smaller cities (below a million) most suited to LBN it would be rare to have a specific route operating more often than every 20 minutes, a busy corridor requiring buses tofro the city (for example) every 10 or 5 minutes would consist of two or four interwoven routes.
Generally because light bus network aims to be multi-directional, all current corridors of cities served by frequent services would be redesigned to offer multi-directional travel from that corridor. The effect is to use the current number of bus services, or only a slightly increased percentage (less than 10%) to achieve a greater mosaic of frequency and choice, spread in an even, regular and consistent manner across the whole city, rather than over-bussed corridors approaching and around the city centre and a sparsity of frequency and directional option in outer areas.
High frequency for the consumer is achieved by not constantly increasing the number of buses but by more astute (and monitored) application of multiple interactive routes marketed in an easy to access information way. It recognises too that most people live between routes and by alternating patterns and accessible information can benefit from more than one route - those most equidistant from two or more routes (and least likely to use buses) gaining the compensatory advantage of greatest frequency.
Unlike a railway system, the collapse of any particular technical system would not grind Light Bus Network to a halt. LBN is based on a pattern similar to a clockwork motor, in which each cog has a prescribed interaction with other cogs, where buses are anyway scheduled to run reasonably well with or without high tech support systems. However much of the fine tuning that makes the "went like clockwork" system particularly attractive and reliable is based on fine tuning only possible with technologies most notably computerised systems. This will include existing technologies that assist faster loading such as low floor buses, smart card payment etc but dozens of others also can be brought into play. At larger transfer stations and hub points pre-pay at machines (smart card or cash) is made on entering the waiting area - a free waiting area for those chatting with non-traveling friends might also exist - ensuring secure air conditioned facilities are only used by bona fide travelers and when buses arrive they can load at all doors.
The intensity of fare paymennts and loadings at these points would continuously feed into a central data base, allowing a centralised control system to identify passenger traffic density on specific routes and system wide and fine tune bus speeds accordingly. Indicator lights on bus dash boards (green, orange, red) would receive GPS messages to adjust speeds within safe parameters accordingly. Where buses show on a screen as significantly delayed, support services buses at key points would intervene to re-establish timetable currency, and regular delays would be addressed at a planning level.
Messages via social media and Twitter etc and Real Time Signage (also with Green, orange, red delay indicators) would ensure every traveler was up to the minute with current services, and if one service is delayed be offered alternative connections where this is possible, these being built into information supply data bases. Systems on line, at press button booths, via dial up or text enquiry would show a next fastest journey pattern (by any route/transfer station combination, including counter-intuitive route patterns such as doubling back to save a 10 or 15 minute wait) and also show "All options" between A and B if requested. The fact that all core services operate on the same time pattern every hour makes this sort multi-choice solution consistently possible and ultimately retained in memory.
It is often said that the product itself is the single biggest marketing device. In public transport what is being sold is not a service in general but thousands of specific trips, departing this point or that point within a p precise window of time. For people to buy this product they have to know it exists, constant, reliable, memorable. And that every hour it connects to multiple other options at points A, B, C along its journey, constant, reliable, memrable.
The current higgedly piggedly patterns of service delivery have barely begun to address this issue, albeit some services run to a consistent hourly pattern for some of the time.
Creating the conditions for "same journey time every trip" needs a range of strategies, but mostly commitment to lane support of the greatest degree by local authorities. Once this is established - or to the extent it is established - light bus network systems are possible.
Then there is a truly sophisticated product available for sale.