For several years I worked on a Strategic Public Transport Network Plan for Australia’s national capital, Canberra, so I’m happy to report that the plan has now been released for public comment.
The concise Executive Summary pulls together a number of key ideas about long-term transit planning that I’ve found useful in many cities, so even if you don’t know or care about Canberra you might find it interesting.
- Where should the Frequent Network be? We’ve drafted a network based on current and planned patterns of density, and we’re asking if the proposed network is in the right places. But this question comes with a warning: the Frequent Network a necessary conditions for increased urban density. If you live in a low-density suburb and you really don’t want more density there, you probably DON’T want the Frequent Network!
- How much should be spent on service to low-density suburbs where ridership will always be low? Such service meets a different set of goals based on the severity of needs met, rather than the number of people who need it. These “social inclusion goals,” such as basic mobility for senior, disabled, and low-income persons who live in these low-density areas, are prominent in the community but expensive to serve given the low ridership those services achieve. (A professional paper of mine on this crucial topic is here.) So we need some direction on how much should be spent on those services, because that spending meets social goals but not environmental ones. (You could also ask this question the opposite way: “What percentage of our services should be devoted totally to the goal of high ridership?”)
- How much should service grow overall? The draft plan increases service by about 50% per citizen over 20 years. We’re asking whether that sounds like too much or not enough, because ultimately, the subsidy for that growth will need to come from the government, and thus from the public.
What I’m trying to do in constructing these questions is separate technical thinking from value judgments. The three questions above have no technical answer because they are questions about what the community wants and values. As a planner my role is to ask those questions but not express my own values on them, and I recommend that the local transit staff take the same view. However, the questions are technically framed; I’ve constructed them so that when the community answers them through its elected officials, that answer can actually be implemented.