Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for August 23rd, 2011

“Metro Vancouver transit users to get smartphone tools”

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Kelly Sinoski in the Vancouver Sun says that Translink will release an app for real time information on bus service on September 6. “The first phase of the program will allow transit [users] to access a map that pinpoints the location of every Coast Mountain bus and community shuttle in real time”…”the second phase, which will predict a bus’s arrival at a particular stop, [will be released] early next year.”

Obviously this second phase will be a great deal more useful. Schedule information in a system where the bus is mostly at the mercy of traffic is not very much use at all. The fact that there is supposed to be a bus in five minutes is not helpful if the bus is running early or missing entirely – and neither circumstance is at all unusual. Of course, with rising passenger numbers and the lack of adequate funding, there is also absolutely no guarantee that you will actually be able to board the bus when it does arrive.

In a book review on the Spacing blog John Calimente has some interesting comments to make about Zurich, and why their system works so well even in their low density outer suburbs. He talks about timetables, transfers and frequency. In my comment after that, I point to the difference in political culture. The Swiss have never dropped their commitment to decent public services. Once they got railways and streetcars – and into some very challenging terrain – they ensured that it was not only usable but attractive. Of course they also have autobahns and high car ownership – but not instead of good public transport – as well as. Underlying much of what is wrong in many systems is the notion that somehow the people who use public services are not as important or as good as those who drive themselves. Mrs Thatcher’s famous remark about any man over thirty on a bus being a failure might be apocryphal but it certainly rings true in many ears. And many politicians at all levels seem to have bought into the notion that if a system benefits major corporations like General Motors or Exxon then it must be good for all of us. Certainly the corporations themselves have spent much on convincing all of us that should be the case. It isn’t. It never was.

Zurich Bicycles

Zurich Bicycles by Alex Minza, on Flickr

Transit is not a stand alone issue. We should be pursuing greater density anyway. It is simply a better, more efficient system all round. The fad of low density auto mobility is – or ought to be – over. It did not work as advertised, and under present circumstances cannot be allowed to continue. Urban areas with separated land uses and great distances between origins and destinations are hugely wasteful of resources – and created much social anomie. In this region we had appeared to recognize that, and congratulated ourselves on stopping one inner city freeway. But that was about all we did. Yes, SkyTrain was a significant decision. But we focus far too much on big projects and gee whiz technologies. Most of what Zurich has achieved is because they stuck to what they knew worked, and concentrated on making it work better. We can emulate that – but first of all we have to come up with what they had all along, which is a level headed approach to public service provision supported by taxation.

by ponte1112, on Flickr”]Triebwagen

Written by Stephen Rees

August 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm