Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Free train travel pushed to tackle peak-hour overcrowding

Jacob Saulwick November 15, 2011


Sydney business leaders are backing a proposal by Infrastructure NSW for the government to offer free train travel before 7am.

The proposal, pushed by the Infrastructure NSW chief executive, Paul Broad, would aim to lessen crowding on peak-hour trains by making it more attractive to travel before the peak period.

At a transport forum last month, an Infrastructure NSW board member, Max Moore-Wilton, said the state government should be looking at introducing congestion charging across all modes of transport.

"Why on earth is it just for cars?" Mr Moore-Wilton said.

"Why don't we look at it for State Rail and State Transit? We all know that the people that come in in peak hour should principally be those people that are going to work. They have the capacity to pay," he said.

"Whenever we go and talk about that, the first thing the politicians do is what I call 'Labor disease', which has now become general," Mr Moore-Wilton said at the event, hosted by the Tourism and Transport Forum.

"They say, 'Well we don't want the average punter to pay differentially, we don't want the pensioners to pay deferentially,' and it's left to the merchant bankers to pay. Well they're not the great bulk of the people.

"You've got to tell the people, if we are going to improve peak-hour congestion, those people that need to come for their work should be prepared to pay more. Those people that don't should be encouraged, and I use the word encouraged, through lower pricing."

Mr Broad has raised the idea of free train travel before 7am with the state government. It is unclear if Infrastructure NSW has also raised the idea of higher fares for peak-hour commuters.

The acting Premier, Andrew Stoner, said this morning: "We're all interested in innovative ways to get cars off Sydney's main roads, to get more people on to public transport and Infrastructure NSW is a body that will advise the government on infrastructure, including public transport.

"So that's a proposal we'll think about. It has been trialled in part by a previous government with fairly limited success but we'll have a look at it."

Patricia Forsyth, the executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, backed the use of more so-called demand management measures

"The cost of increasing capacity on the road and rail network throughout Sydney is becoming so prohibitively expensive that we need to start looking at using what we already have in a more intelligent and efficient way," Ms Forsythe said this morning.

"Business supports the move by Infrastructure NSW to incorporate a transport demand strategy into its 20-year infrastructure plan. That is a victory for common sense and transport planning," she said.

A recent study by researchers from Southern Cross University and Douglas Economics, presented to the Australasian Transport Research Forum, found some willingness among Sydney commuters to change their travel times if offered attractive pricing.

While most commuters could not change their travel times because of work, the study, which analysed results of a 2010 survey, showed that, for a 30 per cent discount, 15 per cent of peak-hour passengers would be willing to travel 30 minutes earlier, while 4 per cent of commuters would be willing to travel an hour earlier.

Industry experts say that previous trials of free off-peak train travel have thrown up numerous problems.

One problem is that commuters tend to rush for the last train in the free period. This would mean, for example, there would be little patronage growth on a train leaving at 6.30am but huge overcrowding on a train leaving at 6.55am.

Another issue is that free early morning travel would attract to the train system people who do not currently use it. While this would be a good thing, it would also mean more people would need to pack on to crowded afternoon return trains.

Jacob Saulwick is the Herald's Transport Reporter

Monday, November 7, 2011

What if transit were free?


November 07, 2011

As sure as the arrival of the ice and snow, this time of year always brings unpleasant news about how much the city plans to jack up bus fares.

This year, Winnipeg Transit is asking for a five-cent increase to the basic fare, taking it up to $2.45 for a one-way trip. Passes and tickets will go up accordingly.

If approved, this will mean that fares have gone up about 36 per cent since Mayor Katz took office in 2004, or about two and a half times the rate of inflation over that period.

Amazingly, ridership has actually increased despite the rate hikes. While transit officials credit service improvements, it’s far more likely that rising fuel costs, rising awareness of environmental issues and changing commuting patterns are really the cause. And even with several years of growth, ridership is just now back up to what it was 20 years ago.

Politicians and policy makers like to roll out expensive plans to build rapid transit to attract even more riders, but I have to wonder why no one is talking about the one surefire way to boost transit use.

What if it were free?

Now, I can already hear drivers howling in outrage about the idea of transit users getting a “free ride.” But the reality is that drivers have been getting their own free ride for years.

This city spends tens of millions on planning, building and maintaining roads every year, primarily for the benefit of private automobile owners.

The new Transportation Master Plan calls for $2.1 billion in new roads and bridges to be built over the next 20 years. Billions more will be needed to maintain our existing crumbling streets.

But we could potentially save much of that expense if we could simply get more people out of their cars and on to transit.

It wouldn’t be cheap; we’d need more buses, more drivers and more public-operating subsidies. But the benefits are clear. It would reduce traffic congestion, speed up everyone’s commute and eliminate the need for more road capacity. It would benefit the environment, encourage more compact development and enhance mobility for people who can’t drive or afford a car.

Sure, this might be a bold (or crazy) idea, but it would be nice to see a few more of those from city hall rather than just a nickel-and-dime approach to running essential services.

– Colin Fast is a corporate communicator who blogs about life in Winnipeg at policyfrog.com.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Australia parties compete over who can provide the most free public transport

Transport on track despite $7m fare revenue cut: "Ms Palaszczuk said the government was able to offer the $6.7 million free travel benefit “through budgeting and planning” and there was no reduction in the planned rollout of new seats on network services."

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