UK and Ireland In-Person Events Yet to Come

I’m in Birmingham, UK, and will be visiting Belfast and Dublin yet on this trip.

We’ve already done four bus network redesigns in the Irish Republic.  Now, the UK is finally beginning to create the government control of public transport that makes comprehensive bus network planning possible.  So I’m there to explore the consulting possibilities as well as to promote the new edition of my book.

We have had great events already in London and Cardiff.  Here’s what is still to come:

  • Birmingham: 13 June, 12:30-14:00, sponsored by WSP, at the WSP offices in Wharfside Street.  Register here.
  • Belfast:  19 June, 17:30 at Queens University Belfast, sponsored by the university and the Transport Planning Society.  Register here.
  • Dublin:  20 June, 18:30-20:00 at the NTA offices in Harcourt Lane, sponsored by the Transport Planning Society.  Register here.



Video of My UCLA Event: Great Questions!

Last month I did an event at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles), hosted by Jacob Wasserman.  It was fun, with many excellent questions that made me think.  The video is on Youtube here.

The first 30 minutes are my presentation, and the fun part, the questions, starts at 33:40. Some highlights:

  • 35:50  Jacob asks “What did Covid change?”  (“Covid liberated the transit industry.”)
  • 39:00 Jacob asks “When should we start caring about ridership again?”
  • 43:00 Jacob asks “How can you design microtransit well?  Where can it work?” (Triggers my hardware store analogy.)
  • 48:20 Jacob asks about the importance of pricing of parking and driving, which leads into a riff lanes on bus lanes and “Bus Rapid Transit.”
  • 51:30  Jacob asks “What tips would you give for writing well in planning?)  (“Write to your grandmother.”)
  • 58:10  Juan Matute, Deputy Director of the Institute, asks about opportunites to make transit easier to understand, especially for a new rider.
  • 1:02:44  Audience question: “Have transit agencies had success influencing land use?” “You can’t expect the transit agencies to do this.” Here I make a reference to the Irish Planning Guide, which you can read about here.
  • 1:06:10 Jacob asks “What is the role of consultants? Justify yourself!”
  • 1:14:15  Josh Stevens of the California Planning and Development Report asks “How will autonomous vehicles affect transit?”
  • 1:17:20 Audience question “What kinds of incrementalism are most important to get us to the point where we can make a big push (toward sustainabile mobility)”  Thus prodded, I managed to end the event on a note of optimism.

Major US Public Transit Union Questions “Microtransit”

A dramatic report today from ATU, one of the major US transit unions, is called “The False Promise of Microtransit.”  It has four big critiques of “microtransit,” also called on-demand transit or flexible transit.

  1. Microtransit cannot efficiently scale to meet increased customer demand.

  2. It has been shown to serve a younger, more affluent, and less diverse ridership than fixed route service.

  3. Its environmental benefit is doubtful.

  4. It encourages cost cutting through privatization and the degradation of transit jobs.

The first and third points are the same point.  As I explained here, “microtransit” is so intrinsically inefficient that it can’t produce the environmental benefits that people associate with transit.  Instead, its only coherent use is as a coverage tool, useful when an agency wants to take credit for providing lifeline access to an area whose layout and street pattern are inimical to fixed routes.   The report has a striking quotation from Joshua Schank, who when he was at LA Metro was one of the biggest boosters of “microtransit”:

Admittedly, microtransit has so far proven to be more expensive on a per person basis than traditional transit. Even some of the lowest-performing bus routes in cities have lower subsidies per person than microtransit.” – Joshua Schank and Emma Huang, InfraStrategies

The ATU’s last point, that “microtransit” encourages cost cutting through privatization and the degradation of transit jobs”, is what you’d expect a union to say.  US public transit agencies are tempted to contract with private operating companies to reduce labor costs, and some agencies, especially in the sunbelt, are entirely contract operated though still mostly with union labor.  The ATU would obviously prefer to deal directly with government transit agencies, who are easier to influence than private companies.  But setting apart a union’s self-interest, there is plenty of reason to be concerned with the “gig economy” effects, both on the larger society and on the transit customer experience.  I believe that in the long run, we will get what we pay for in labor costs.   I routinely get to experience both professional transit drivers and Uber/Lyft drivers, and the contrast is very obvious.  Transit drivers are trained, and their compensation encourages them to make the work a career, not just a side hustle, so many are very experienced.  All this is good for safety and customer service.


UK and Ireland: Events Coming Up, Including Webinar 9 May

The tide of bus reform washing over the UK (and already much further advanced in the Irish Republic) has created an urgent need for UK decisionmakers to think about bus network design.  Many private companies that have provided much of the public transport in the UK are no longer viable in the wake of ridership drops since the pandemic, and meanwhile, major cities are demanding more control over their public transport so that they can integrate public transport with their other goals, including housing and redevelopment.

On Thursday 9 May at 3 pm London time I’ll be doing a webinar on Redesigning Bus Networks pitched to a UK audience, though of course anyone can attend.  It’s sponsored by the Bus Centre of Excellence a UK Government-funded educational institution.  We’ll be talking about how bus service redesign is an essential step in regaining government control of public transport, based on my long experience with similar reforms in Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

Then, coming up in June, I’ll be touring the UK and Ireland in person.  Current plans include:

  • London, an event TBD on the evening of 5 June.
  • Cardiff, an event TBD on 6 or 7 June
  • Birmingham, an event sometime in the week of 10-14 June
  • Belfast, a definite event on 19 June at Queens University, details here.
  • Dublin, an event TBD on the evening of 20 June.

Hope to see you at the webinar on 9 May, and at one of these in-person events!

Buses Should Matter to City Planners: Here’s the Tool They Need

Throughout my career as a public transit planner, I’ve dealt with city planners and developers who are quite sure that bus service of any kind is irrelevant to city building. Most city planning professionals get little training in public transit, and for years, much of that training came laced with assumptions that rail is the only public transit that really matters.

So it’s not surprising that in many developed countries, not just the US, the design of cities presents countless barriers to efficient and liberating transit service provided by buses. Some of these barriers reflect an anti-transit or at least anti-bus ideology, but in my experience, most of these barriers were created thoughtlessly, by people who were focused on something else.

I know this because I can often see how a tiny change to how something had been built, one that wouldn’t alter its nature or its economic viability, would have made good bus service possible. Most of my transit planning work, however, must deal with the built environment as it is, so I often have no choice but to present a plan that presents inferior service because that’s what the physical situation mandates.

The new edition of my book is much more forceful about these issues than the first edition was. But meanwhile, we’ve been at work on a document designed to educate and hopefully inspire the city building professions on how to take buses seriously. It’s called “Planning Cities and Towns for Successful Bus Services,” prepared by our firm (mostly written by me and my colleague Michelle Poyourow) for the National Transport Authority of Ireland (NTA). The NTA intends to use this document to educate town planners and developers on the need to consider the usefulness of bus service when doing any kind of planning task.  The document is a free PDF and you can download it here.

While the document is in an English suitable to Ireland and the UK, and focuses on problems that tend to arise in Ireland, it is perfectly readable to any English speaker and is relevant all over the world. Here is the core statement:

All decisions about how to lay out an area or design a road are decisions about public transport. In fact, they are collectively as powerful as any routing or service decisions made by a public transport operator.  [Note to North American readers: In your context, “operator” means “public transit operating company or agency”.]

This has long been well-understood in the context of railway services. A railway station is widely-understood to be a major infrastructure investment whose return depends on the surrounding built environment. For this reason, railway planning is accompanied by an intense focus on development in the areas around stations. During the planning phase, these station-area plans make a big contribution to the expected benefits of the line and help to justify its construction.

Given the scale of investment being made in Ireland’s bus services, a similar focus on the built environment is needed around bus services just as it has been provided around railway stations.

The opening chapter explains the principles of network design, and shows how networks interact with development to create access to opportunity.   The second chapter then lays out Three Essential Actions to make cities work well with buses:

  • Organise development around the Frequent Network
  • Make it easy to walk to service.
  • Make efficient and useful bus operations possible.

Each of these is explained in detail, showing exactly what city planners, transport planners, and developers need to be doing to achieve these three essentials.

The final chapter is a series of case studies looking at how the principles apply to different development types: residential, retail, medical, and so on.

North American readers will notice that we’ve included many North American examples.  While North Americans are used to feeling inferior to Europeans when it comes to transit and urbanism, there are many good ideas in North America that Europeans can benefit from.  That’s part of why our little firm is working now to develop a European practice.

This report came about after a long collaboration between our firm and the NTA on planning the redesign of urban bus networks across Ireland.  (We began with Dublin in 2016, and the improvements there are beginning to roll out.  Similar redesigns are completed and in line for implementation in Cork, Galway, and Limerick, and we are working on the last, in Waterford, now.)

A great aspect of all these projects has been the active collaboration of the most senior leaders of the NTA.  In particular, NTA’s Director of Transport Planning and Investment, Hugh Creegan, personally attended everyone one of the intensive staff workshops in which we hammered out every detail of the network designs with planners from the local government and bus operating company.  (In Dublin, for example, these workshops ran all day every day for two weeks.)  It is rare for such a senior official to delve so deeply into detail, but it meant that when we suggested this project to him, he immediately saw the need.

I hope readers all over the world will find this manual useful.  And if you would like a similar manual for your part of the world, we would love to collaborate with you on one.

Webinar Tomorrow March 21!

On March 21 is my next webinar about the new book, sponsored by the Smart Growth Network and the Maryland Dept of Planning.  This one is a little longer than some recent ones: 90 minutes, of which about half is me speaking and half is Q&A.  Hope to see you there!  Register here!

Los Angeles: Two-Day Course in Public Transit Planning, April 10-11

We used to give a two-day course in public transit planning, designed for professionals in both transit and adjacent fields, and we’re trying to get back into the practice.  This April 10-11 in Los Angeles, Access LA will sponsor one of these course, taught by me.  You can also get AICP credit (details here).  This one is free, for professionals in all of the city building professions, including transportation or land use. That’s a bargain, because usually the course costs about $500/person.  The course location is a short walk from El Monte busway station.

Registration is now open at this page.  Note that they have this set up with separate registrations for the two days, but day 1 is a prerequisite for day 2.

And if you’d like sponsor a similar course in your city, get in touch.  Click the envelope on the black bar at the top of this page to email me.