Further Cause for Canadian Triumphalism

Yesterday I posted some data we were playing with, suggesting that Canadian cities have consistently higher transit ridership than similar US ones.  Commenter Matt pointed me to his own charts on the subject, which are based on Paul Mees’s database.  One of Matt’s charts makes use of citywide average density, a stat to which I’m allergic for reasons explained here and here.  But here’s the other one.   Continue Reading →

Sydney: The Transport Inquiry’s Final Report

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Indepent Public Inquiry on Transport published its final report yesterday.  I had a major role in the preliminary report, which I discussed here, but not in the final.

DSCN2721 The Herald’s coverage today focused on the big controversy about what the next rail project should be, and also on the dangers of spread-out job growth.   But in my view, the Inquiry’s most important work was the discovery, through public surveying and financial analysis, that a comprehensive network of improvements — extending the old commuter rail network and also upgrading it to offer the frequencies of an urban metro — could be funded with a package of sources that a majority were willing to support.  All of these sources are politically radioactive if you just propose them in a vacuum:  Congestion charges!  Higher fuel taxes!  Higher property taxes!  Higher fares!  But if you package them carefully with the transformative improvements that they buy, you could win a referendum. Continue Reading →

Willingness to Pay for Transit Improvements

Los angeles frequency survey Do your city’s political leaders understand what funding sources people would support if they knew what they were buying?  A few weeks ago, the Source (a blog by the Los Angeles transit agency Metro) reported on a survey showing that current riders would pay 50c more in fares for a doubling of their frequency of service.  This isn’t as encouraging as it sounds, because a doubling of frequency, even with significant ridership increases as a result, will cost a lot more than 50 cents per new rider.  But it’s a useful soundbite.  These questions, broadly called “willingness to pay” questions, need to be asked more, and more probingly. Continue Reading →

Sydney: Grid Networks for Gridless Cities

Whenever I talk about the value of grid networks, as I did here, someone always says: But my city isn’t a grid.  For example, Sydney, where I live now, is about as ungridlike a city as you’ll encounter.  In fact, there’s no large system of order in Sydney’s road network at all.  Some roads follow what were once Aboriginal tracks, but mostly it just grew, one bit at a time, an accretion of millions of short-term decisions.

Syd inner basenao Continue Reading →

The Power and Pleasure of Grids

Why do transit planners love grids?  Now and then you’ll even hear one muttering about “grid integrity” or “completing the grid.”  What are they talking about?

Suppose you’re designing an ideal transit system for a fairly dense city where there are many activity centers, not just one big downtown.  In fact, you don’t want to give preferential treatment to any point in the city.  Instead, you want people to be able to travel from literally anywhere to anywhere else by a reasonably direct path, at a high frequency.  Everybody would really like a frequent service from their home to everywhere they ever go, which is pretty much what a private car is.  But money isn’t infinite, so the system has to deliver its outcome efficiently, with the minimum possible cost per rider. What would such a system look like? Continue Reading →

Sydney: Driverless Metro Postponed?

I’m keenly aware of the irony of having praised Vancouver’s driverless metro on the very day that Sydney’s driverless metro proposal was declared dead by the city’s main newspaper.  I’m also aware that as part of the team that authored the Independent Inquiry (now widely called the Christie Report) which recommends postponing Sydney’s metro project, I could be misunderstood as saying that what’s good enough for Vancouver isn’t good enough for Sydney.  Continue Reading →

Transit Advertising and Transit Self-Esteem




This Air New Zealand ad, on a bus shelter in Sydney, raises the issue of transit self-esteem.   “$100 says the bus won’t be late,” it says, then, in much smaller print: “Looks like you win.”

Should transit agencies accept advertising that demeans their service?

Advertisers are often tempted to do exactly that, especially when selling vacations or other forms of escape from the everyday.  The bus is both a profitable site of advertising and an irresistible metaphor for the tedious life.  If you imagine your transport mode as a romantic partner, the bus in mixed traffic is the worst of both worlds: neither sexy nor capable of commitment.  When advertising on a bus, it’s not surprising that advertisers find ways to play on that. Continue Reading →