Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Transport Simulator “Cities in Motion” Released Today

with 8 comments

It is not often I get inspired by Press Releases. This one is different. This is not serious planning software. This is a computer game that allows the user to “develop and operate their own public transport company building a travel network across Vienna, Berlin, Helsinki and Amsterdam using more than 30 different modes of transport including buses, trams, subway trains and water buses. As each city develops and grows the player must continue to meet the ever changing transport needs of its commuters, while at the same time ensuring it remains as profitable as possible.”

Now that is where I begin to wonder about the utility of this thing. I think the words “profitable” and “Public transport” need to be kept well apart. Britain saw extensive deregulation of its buses and trains and the results were not pretty. Services to people in rural areas who were dependent on pubic transport almost disappeared. Profitability was also an issue as instead of lots of small companies competing – as was anticipated – a few large very profitable groups emerged and now control most of the services. A lot of small companies went bust – and continue to do so. Breaking into the market is now a very expensive operation even with so called “open access” imposed by the EU.

Moreover, the game is just about pubic transport. The land use – and, presumably, other modes, are built in based on the 100 year history of the cities involved. There is a “sand box” mode but I would be very surprised indeed if the population actually responded to the provision of new services as they do in the real world in this type of time frame. Of course, as I have often complained here, real transport models as used in this region don’t do that either.

I have also got over an early fascination with this type of simulation, and I have played a few in my time. I would like there to be a video of what the Arbutus Line would look like with Brussels streetcars, for instance, if only to be able to show that it would not nearly be as disruptive as the locals think. But then they are much more concerned about change in their neighbourhood  – and people from outside it travelling through it – than they are about transit technology. And no amount of simulation will change that.

Actually, change in every neighbourhood is inevitable. The people are coming here and there is nothing we can do to stop them. They will be accommodated. The only question is how pro-active do we wish to be in shaping that growth. The current sudden fuss about the new regional plan – after many, many soporific meetings and consultation sessions where not a word of dissent was heard – is a good illustration that it is only when we feel under attack do we respond. Most people south of the Fraser actually thought widening Highway #1 and the Port Mann was a Good Idea. And that is now almost done and the consequences will follow. The SFPR and the NFPR seem a little less certain for now, but no doubt the uncertainty will be dispelled soon after the new BC Liberal Party leader is selected.

There is a video but I can’t embed it as WordPress only likes Google or You Tube.

As a parting shot I must also add that there does not appear to be anything in the game about pedestrians – and every transit trip is an interrupted walk  – or bicycles. But then we do know that these places do look after such things properly.


Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2011 at 10:49 am

Posted in computers, transit

8 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephen Rees and Landon, Brandon Yan. Brandon Yan said: RT @stephen_rees: Transport Simulator "Cities in Motion" Released Today […]

  2. Last week I ran a simulation all of my own… I left my home in Mt. Pleasant at 3:30 p.m. to meet up with my family & family car—already in the White Rock area—at a time to be specified (we had cell phones).

    I bought my ticket at VCC at 3:30 p.m. and got off on the platform at King George about 30 minutes later (I stopped for a snack at a neighbourhood grub on Commercial & Broadway, so this trip time is not exact).

    What hit me next was that the station designers for King George had not bothered to give me a pedestrian walk over the highway to the south-bound lanes where I would wait for the 321 (savvy travellers probably have left Skytrain at Surrey Central and spent the waiting time in the bus rather than leaning against a pylon of the elevated guideway).

    The first 321 was the wrong 321. It only went as far as Newton (possible BC Electric Interurban transfer point). If I wanted to go to Surrey City Hall—where the family rendezvous had now been set—I would have to wait longer.

    The 321 that I would ride lumbered into view about a quarter of an hour later. Roughly the time it took to go from Commercial to King George. And what a milk run it turned out to be!

    Without signal activation, it seemed like the bus hit every red light. I was the only person in the bus with a brief case, making the case that this is not a service that is used “for business”. Furthermore, the location of the bus stops was surrealistic… Where did people come from to stand in these shelters? There was hardly any residential in sight along the King George to suppose they were coming from home. I am wily enough to know that the employment density along the King George retail strip is just not there to support service.

    As an example, as the bus moved past Costco, my thoughts were: “No one that shops at Costco will ever use this service”. What a huge lost opportunity, multiplied by any number of destinations along the strip.

    Here is the question for readers in this blog to answer: If we take R.O.W.s the size of the King George Highway, then would not giving buses HOV priority (as B-lines or BRTs) improve service to the point that it would be a new kind of service? A reliable and efficient level of service that would attract usage from the brief case carrying crowd, for example? The present ridership would remain intact. The point of improving the level and quality of service would be to attract new ridership.

    Let’s run a simulation on that.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    February 22, 2011 at 10:39 pm

  3. Time of arrival at Surrey City Hall? 5:30 p.m.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    February 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm

  4. […] On All Building Permits By 2013 [Tech Crunch] More low-down on tall buildings [New Urban Network] Transport Simulator “Cities in Motion” Released Today [Stephen Rees's […]

    re:place Magazine

    February 23, 2011 at 8:31 am

  5. @LNV, did you use TL’s trip-planner?

    if you travelled on a weekday, i would have taken the canada line to bridgeport and take a yellow coach to white rock (assuming you were meeting at ~ 16th and 152nd). If traffic was non-rush, expo line to KG station and the local stop 345 also is faster, but timing is key, frequency is still lacking on weekdays.

    I also would have not changed the meeting point to surrey city hall. this is where land-use planning is transit planning; city hall currently is in an area that is low density, off major arterials aside from hwy 10 and transit unfriendly.

    that being said, although transit sof has improved geatly since ~ 2008, frequency needs improvement still, and don’t even try to catch a timely bus on weekends.


    February 23, 2011 at 10:21 am

  6. How about a post that is actually on topic?

    I played the pre-release beta of the game. It was a blast!

    The game plays basically like a puzzle game I think. You get the feeling playing each city that there is a ideal transit set up, and it is your job to figure out what it is. For a transit nerd like myself, it is very addicting. Only $20 on Steam. Thumbs up from me!


    February 23, 2011 at 10:41 am

  7. Alex 2000, How did your simulation look like compared to the actual transit system? I haven’t been to Vienna but have been to the other cities and their transit is quite adequate…especially in Berlin..

    I used TransLink trip simulator a couple of times after I moved to Coquitlam. Their suggested route–within Coquitlam–made me use 3 different buses and lasted 1 1/2 hr when one could use only 1 bus and be at the destination in 30 minutes, including waiting for the bus.

    Red frog

    February 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm

  8. Sorry to be off topic, sort of. Isn’t simulation trying weigh these problems?

    Mezz, I did not use TL trip planner. I had been waiting a while for an opportunity to try out the bus service on the King George during rush hour peak, and this seemed to be it.

    I see that arterial as typical in our region presenting most of the challenges we face in one site. We chose City Hall because it was close to the YMCA on #10 & 152nd, and because we knew the lay of the land. The neighbourhood around the YMCA was a poster child for “new urbanism” in our region, as is the spur of Skytrain to Surrey Central.

    The question I ask is whether or not BRTs would redeploy the bus fleets in these low density areas and produce different results?

    The other density we have to keep our eye on is traffic volume. How much of the problem is the unwillingness to give up space on the R.O.W. to dedicated bus lanes? That’s an issue about what paradigm is still in use. Car culture or urbanism?

    Lewis N. Villegas

    February 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

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