Friday, December 30, 2011

Public transport - Let's get our priorities right!

(Sorry 'bout the long break ....too much eating, drinking, walks and craic... and all the other good things of Christmas...alas a few unexpected nasty earthquakes too!)

A few months ago I tried to put together a more or less hierarchical listing of the functions and roles of public transport, listed - roughly- from the most important [in most cases] role downwards, through secondary or subsidiary roles

It helps to have a generic template of what is sought, even if unique circumstances and locations cause variations from the basic. For example in towns and small cities easily accessible by car and where life for a working age person would be difficult without a car the foremost priority I identified - transporting people to work and study - might actually come in behind "social roles" of transport  for older and disabled people.

But having a priority ranking also can make the small town organising authority say "Wait a minute - maybe there are people in our community needing transport to work whose needs we could meet that we are failing to see? Are we overlooking concentrated residential areas or work locations - such as a hospital - where a well scheduled bus service could attract workers as well as casual visitors? Or (even better) is there a way we might piggyback a bus service offering work access for 9am-start office staff (often women, younger women without cars) from a reasonably populous outlying area or adjacent settlement and integrate it with existing school bus currently arriving at the local High School 8.35am? A case of weaving together a basic service by virtue of identifying and meeting needs of diverse user groups at every stop or in the pattern of the schedules.

A few weeks back professional transport planner, blogster and most recently published author Jarrett Walker described a similar but very different sort of list, what motivates or detracts people from using public transport.

Jarrett Walker's  list is also roughly, generically, hierarchical .. the primary factors (in most cases) first with secondary factors last

Here is how Jarrett put it in the specific posting on his blog  "Human Transit" (with my unnecessary bolding! )

In a recent blog In Chapter 2 of  Human Transit, I argue that useful transit can be understood as involving seven dimensions or elements.

1.    “It takes me where I want to go.”

2.    “It takes me when I want to go.”

3.    “It’s a good use of my time.”

4.    “It’s a good use of my money.”

5.    “It respects me.”

6.    “I can trust it.”

7.    “It gives me freedom to change my plan

What a marvellous system it would be if every route or schedule,  or integration of schedules, or even bus stop location tried to meet these consumer goals!!!

I suggest read Jarrett's full posting

or buying   or borrowing his book for more insight. 

I personally experienced much of the meaning of Jarrett's comments in his blog posting, about "endearing transport" with the heritage trams in heart wanted to use them, even bought an annual resident's pass allowing unlimited trips.

But for all the enchantment and good intention to use the trams as part of my regular transport around that area of the city, once was enough! It was impossibly slow, cumbersome, the commentary to a local (and especially to  former sight seeing bus driver) was well known and predictable, the service filled no role as a short hop quick-trip transport. For all my intentions to come back and use it again, the system did not meet my needs in any dimension and no amount of "well wishing" was enough to use it again.

I can imagine that any Light Rail link from the university might get an opening boost, lots of new patrons, but driving to a car-park in Ilam, then waiting 5 or 10 minutes for a stop-start journey into central Christchurch along congested Riccarton Road -  taking twice as long as a direct trip by would soon lose its thrill to most people in nearby Avonhead, or Yaldhurst let alone be of any use to those living  far away in Belfast, Cashmere Rolleston, Aranui or Parklands!

Habit is about honing life's short cuts, the easiest and fastest, the least stressful...farting around going out of one's way just to ride light rail to get to work  is not likely to be widely adopted or is so only for so long.

To say "we need light rail" or "Buses don't work" etc is vague, amateurish sounding and ultimately absurd, a very unsophisticated call - we need public transport that directly addresses the complex needs of people.

Let's get our priorities right!

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