Thursday, October 6, 2011

Electric Car-Sharing in Paris, Zonkas in Christchurch

Tranzwatching Autolib in Paris, France; dreaming of Zonkas in Christchurch

Public transport is often defined relatively narrowly in people's minds, buses, trams or trains. But for people to live effectively without a car there needs to be a much broader raft of systems. Indeed this is really a major strength of combining active modes and public transport usage - one is not confined to using one type of vehicle, however inappropriate, for all trips which is pretty much the effect that occurs once one has invested heavily in owning a car.  If one lives car free but can join a car-share system, especially one as overseas with a range of vehicle options then one can hire a rough as guts (appearance) land rover for a day fishing trip; pick up mum frm the airport in a beamer, use a bicycle lane to visit friends a couple of suburbs away; take up only one seat in a bus or train in rush-hour; and get a cab home at midnight after one drink too many. A well organised and integrated public transport system will have all these options clearly accessible, on phone in or internet etc.

Curiously in a world that is always pushing consumer options, the idea of choosing transport modes by the moment, for best fit or best economy or mix of both has yet to enter public planning or thinking, so addictive is the hold of the privately owned car upon consciousness.

Recently I have been promoting a commuter rail network for Christchurch - slightly absurd for such a small city but one way of protecting corridors for now and the future. I am also aware modern busways could probably do the job better, faster and more frequently but most people can not get this in their mind and only some form of rail will woo them away from cars. My theory is if we create a basic commuter rail network, to some extent a peripheral ring with longer distant spurs, then direct fast bus services from the city can also terminate or run past suburban rail stations, This essentially would foster much greater bus use with several en route hubs eg  central city - mall - suburban rail station - outer suburb.

I am also a fan of Zonkas - well that is what I have come to call them - short for Zone Cabs.

These might be based at every major bus transfer point or suburban rail station and would be set fare cabs operating only within a declared radius (under 2.5km? - map provided). Perhaps they would be a separate stream of the taxi industry. Or perhaps they would be conventional cabs with a roof light showing Zonka Avonhead or Zonka 12 or whatever the local radial area is called.  Or maybe the passenger just asks for a Zonka fare.  Basis of fares could be per adult, say $6 with a Metrocard (and Metro subsidy to the cabby of a further $1). The basis of hire is cab driver has right to pick up multiple fares, if these are available, subject to a separate row of seats per fare group.  Ideally if only working within a 2.5 radius, Zonka drivers would get a very astute idea of getting around their patch very fast and expect to make 4-5 hub-destination trips per hour, some multiples (especially if using a van). Much of the work would be linked to picking up people who have come off buses or trains and done their supermarket shopping for the week, and now want a door to door service.

This short trip, multiple passenger,  pay per adult head system would be structured to create an costs/income ratio equivalent to conventional cabs whilst at the same time bringing down the cost of cabs as an intermediate step between bus use and conventional cabs for local uses and bus and train connections.

The theory behind the Metrocard is (a) allows ridership patterns to be monitored and responded to
(b) it essentially keeps the cheaper fare a local advantage (c) a dollar subsidy per trip - transferred in monthly aggregates to the cab owner - would increase income whilst recognising Zonkas are in part public transport and add flexibility which increases overall use of buses and trains (and to what extent can be monitored via Metrocard computerised records too!)

There may be (or not) structural reasons why this would work but I definitely think it should be on the table for investigation if we wish to create a full and sophisticated public transport system.

Actually this posting was really meant to about plug-in electric share cars in Paris but it got hi-jacked by the catchiness of the name Zonka for a concept that has long interested me!

(I believe in the marketing magic of the right name or word!)

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