Public Transport Strategic Planning using Levels

Public Transport Strategic Planning using Levels

I’m making a presentation at SPUR in San Francisco on January 7 on the concept of public transport network level and using it to describe the performance and future improvement of Zurich’s public transport system.

A public transport level is a specific type of service designed to serve a particular market. Service is defined as a combination of vehicles, infrastructure and operating characteristics. A “pure” level is when the service is targeted specifically to one particular market. A “hybrid” level is when a service is targeted to serve several markets. Urban travel is generally described as three markets: short, intermediate and long distance trips.

Campaign poster for Zürich S-Bahn project in 1981. Project approved.

Campaign poster for Zürich S-Bahn project in 1981. Project approved.

Consequently many cities have developed three-level public transport networks: surface buses and trams to serve short trips, rapid rail to serve intermediate trips, and regional rail to serve longer distance trips. Often, by design or for historic reasons, cities have additional levels, fewer levels and/or the levels that are not precisely matched to their markets. For example, two-level networks are often found in medium size cities. Their advantage is lower costs while their main disadvantage is a mismatch between transport mode and market that manifests itself in capacity limitations.

Using the level concept to help analyze and plan public transport service is useful because it focuses attention on matching service qualities to markets. The presentation will use this approach to analyze the success of Zurich’s public transport system and to provide a structure for planning improvements that will be needed to meet rapidly increasing public transport demand. This approach could help other cities (re)design their public transport systems to be more attractive and efficient. More specifically, the approach could show how two-level public transport networks could be a viable option for medium sized cities and large cities with dispersed settlement patterns.

My co-authors Hermann Orth and Ulrich Weidmann are also presenting the paper at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting: A Level-based Approach to Public Transport Network Planning; Session 514: Public Transportation Planning and Development: Food for Thought on Networks Design, Accessibility, and Investment Policy Tuesday, January 13, 2015 8:00AM – 9:45AM Convention Center, 149.

Here’s a link to my slides: A Level-based Approach to Public Transport Network Planning

London – Transport and Beer – March 2014

London – Transport and Beer – March 2014

The Urban Data from Fetish Object to Social Object conference in London (see previous post) was fantastic, lots of great ideas discussed by people doing really neat things with social data. Sjors Timmer did a nice post about the conference.

Camden Town Brewery London - Tour in progress.

Camden Town Brewery London – Tour in progress.

I enjoyed my trip to London, a city I have not visited for some time. Mostly I walked around and enjoyed the great weather, sunny and 20 degrees the whole time. Of course I found time to sample some traditional beers at the Churchill Pub in Kensington (great Thai food too), the Camden Town Brewery (see photo – next time I’ll plan ahead so I can go on one of the Thursday evening tours!) and the Carpenters Arms in Bloomsbury.

Bus lane in Central London

Bus lane in Central London

On Saturday I rode a double decker bus on Oxford Street … the view from the top front makes you really appreciate the skills of the bus drivers … pedestrians all over! Then on to the London Transport Museum‘s Acton Depot where there was a special open house (see photos). The Depot is where the Museum restores objects and keeps objects for which there is no room in the main Covent Garden museum building. It’s only open a couple weekends a year and I was lucky enough to be there for one!

London Transport Museum Depot in Acton

London Transport Museum Depot in Acton

My flickr photos of the London Transport Museum Depot are in my flickr photos of transport museums.

My flickr photos of London.

Paris clean city advertisment

Paris: Advertisement on side of recycling truck.

Paris: Advertisement on side of recycling truck.

I really enjoy it when city agencies are creative in their advertising. In Vienna the MA48, the people responsible for street cleaning, collecting trash and recycling etc., have a great program. Zurich’s public transport operator does a fantastic job. More on Vienna and Zurich later, but we visited Paris this week and I loved this advertisement on the side of a recycling truck (we saw it elsewhere too) … the words in the photo essentially say, “We try to do our best, but not the impossible.”

Proposed structure for understanding interactive city tools

Nash-Interactive City Tool Structure

I’ve just finished preparing a paper titled A Proposed Structure for Understanding Interactive City Tools for the upcoming TU Delft conference: Using ICT, Social Media and Mobile Technologies to Foster Self-Organisation in Urban and Neighbourhood Governance.

The paper turned out to be much harder than I thought to write because I kept getting different ideas on how to organize the different interactive city tools … by the way, I borrowed the name “Interactive City Tools” from Play the City, an organization doing really great work out of Amsterdam. It refers to a wide set of applications and information technologies that can be used to help the public get involved in improving cities.

The paper was useful for me because it gives me a structure for thinking about interactive city technologies. It’s already helped me as I prepared a proposal for developing an application designed to improve the intermodal station planning process.

The figure above is from the paper. It shows the five main elements of the proposed structure: input, analysis, support, collaboration, and output. Most applications cover several of these elements which is one reason developing the structure was difficult.


Paper: A Proposed Structure for Understanding Interactive City Tools

Presentation: Interactive City Tools – a proposed structure for understanding

Conference Papers and Presentations: Using ICT, Social Media and Mobile Technologies to Foster Self-Organisation in Urban and Neighbourhood Governance

On the minds of leaders at the world’s top mass transit agencies

I just watched a fascinating presentation “What’s on the Minds of the Leaders of the World’s Top Mass Transit Agencies?” made by Juliette Michaelson, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Regional Plan Association (New York Area) at the 2012 Meeting of the Minds conference. Here’s the introduction from the conference report:

In 2012, Regional Plan Association brought together the chief executives of publictransportation agencies from New York, Los Angeles, São Paulo, London, Hong Kong and seven other world cities for a candid, off-the-record dialogue. What strategies and technologies are transit executives adopting to improve their systems? What obstacles do they face?

Michaelson presented these ideas in terms of several innovations. Here’s my summary of her presentation with some of my own comments (indicated with AN). Links to the presentation and more information from Meeting of the Minds.

1. Analytics

There’s lots of data that can be analyzed to improve transit service. Michaelson described Singapore as an excellent example. They are using check-in/check-out fare card data for both short term operational planning and long term strategic planning. For example, trip time data can be used to identify delays; this information can be used to change service and inform customers about alternative routes. In the long term data can be used to identify the need for new rail lines etc.

According to Michaelson, many cities have this type of fare card data but not everyone is using the data as well as they could be.

(AN: Professor Nigel H.M. Wilson and his colleagues at MIT have done a lot of work in this area.)

Donostia – San Sebastian’s dBus uses both fare cards and smart phones on its system. Source: dBus

2. Fare Cards

Fare cards have lots of advantages for transit operators and so they are being adopted rapidly.

One idea discussed by the operators at the meeting was using fare cards to help improve equity (e.g., low income people pay less for public transport).

Several cities are experimenting with non proprietary fare cards: e.g., tap and go (NFC) credit or debit cards. The advantages: (1) reduced administration for transit operators; and, (2) easier for customers (no need to buy a new card for every city). London experimented with the idea during the Olympics and plans to begin introduction next year.

(AN: Lots of work is being done on using smart phones as check-in/check-out cards too. The photo is from Donostia – San Sebastian (Spain) where the local public transport operator dBus is using smart phones for payment.)

3. Open Data

Many cities have opened their data to private developers. This has led to a huge number of privately developed applications saving public transport operators time and money. Plus these applications often solve real customer problems.

Oddly some cities and agencies still refuse to open their data. Some cite security concerns although it seems strange that some of the world’s most security conscious cities (New York, Washington, London, etc.) are pretty good in terms of releasing data.

Unfortunately, what’s seems to be needed is culture change at many public transport agencies (see also 7 below).

(AN: An interesting comment from Transport for London’s Simon Reed at the ITS World Congress 2012 was that it was becoming impossible for London to keep-up with server demand needed for real time transit information, the problem was solved by providing an API for the data and allowing private developers to develop their own apps.)

4. Customer Service and Branding

Michaelson described Hong Kong as a leader in this field. The Hong Kong MTR has a very extensive advertising program (including television) and even has built “opinion zones” in main stations where customers can drink a coffee with MTR staff and discuss problems. Their goal is to develop an “emotional connection” with their customers.

She showed a great commercial where a track inspector discusses his job. It’s embedded below. Here’s another one I found on YouTube, sorry no English translation, but you’ll get the idea. Hong Kong MTR Advertisment

[jwplayer mediaid=”581″]

Many cities are looking to social networking to help in customer service and branding.

(AN: I’ve argued that we are still in the early stages of using social networking in public transport. There are far too many transit agencies that think social networking means having a lot of people “Like” you on Facebook. But real emotional involvement means more. Fostering emotional engagement is one of the goals of my project.)

Michaelson also mentioned Washington Metro which is developing a MindMixer project for improving their system.

5. Governance

The specific governance problem Michaelson mentioned was coordination of services and fares. She described the recent changes made Santiago (Chile) as a good example of how government can help improve coordination. In Santiago the government helped buy new vehicles, increase coordination and re-organize routes to be more efficient.

(AN: Public transport coordination is very difficult. Everyone agrees it needs to be done but no individual agencies want to give up any independence. My favorite example of making coordination work is in Zurich. The agencies there did not want to do it either but were forced to by a local initiative. Today it’s considered a great success story and is part of what makes Zurich’s public transport system the best in the world.

The neat idea from Zurich was to create a new agency that “buys” service from the region’s 43 different public transport operators (city bus operators, the national railway, etc.). The new agency (Zurich Verkehrsverbund) tells the local agencies what service to operate and how it wants this service coordinated. The operators and ZVV negotiate cost and service standards. Then the ZVV pays the operating agencies and receives all the fare revenues.

What I find most interesting about the Zurich system is that it allows the local transit operators to focus on operating the service rather than the high level strategic coordination and fare collection issues. These are decided on a regional level. I wrote about Zurich’s system in my report Implementation of Zurich’s Transit Priority Program for San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute.)

6. Redefining Transit Agencies as Comprehensive Mobility Agencies

According to Michaelson, many public transport agencies are redefining themselves as “comprehensive mobility providers”. She pointed to London as a good example. There TfL (Transport for London) is involved in planning all aspects of the transport system including the city’s highly innovative congestion charging system.

(AN: I believe that TfL is similar to the ZVV in the sense that it does not actually operate service, but rather is a planning and funding agency which might make taking this broader view easier (please correct me in the comments!). In my experience I think it’s hard for public transport service providers to focus on long term planning and strategy since the day-to-day operations are very demanding. Perhaps regional agencies charged with supporting comprehensive urban mobility solutions is the answer?)

7. Why not more change?

So, if there are all these good ideas out there, why aren’t they being implemented by public transport operators and cities more?

Michaelson pointed to two problems: (1) development of new transit facilities takes a long time; and (2) people are resistant to change.

She provided an equation: Innovation = Technology + People

(AN: I think this is a great equation. Without people willing to change there will be no innovation. I also think that this is a huge problem in the public transport sector. The unwillingness to embrace open data and new governance structures intended to improve regional coordination or comprehensive mobility programs are all examples of public transport’s conservative approach to business.

A good example was my being asked “Why would we want to buy a system that allowed customers to complain about our service?” when I explained my project to a public transport operator. I mean how 20th Century is that?)

8. More Information

Here are some links:

Meeting of the Minds 2012 World Transit Agencies Presentation Page – page that introduces Michaelson’s presentation with links to the presentation video and slides that were shown in the presentation.

Regional Plan Association of New York

Please add your ideas to the comments!

Liz Castro: Corollary to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

Here’s a great post from Liz Castro’s blog “Pigs Gourds and Wikis”: Corollary to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:

Yesterday in the metro on the way to pick up the kids from school, it occurred to me that there should be a corollary to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. My extremely basic memory from seventh grade of that principle is that you can’t observe a particle with absolute accuracy because the very act of observing it affects the particle and makes it do things it wouldn’t have otherwise.

But what I’m realizing is that observing not only affects the particle in question, but these days as I drown in tweets, it affects the observer (me). I need to keep track of what’s going on, but if I keep completely up-to-date, I don’t have any time to create. If I only create, I don’t have any time to keep up to date on what’s going on outside my office.

Thus, the Corollary: I can neither keep completely up-to-date, nor only create. The trick, as ever, is to find the balance.

More on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle from Abdul Aziz at …

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is a super interesting topic – although it’s something I struggled with during my early learning in physics. To help others who might be in the same boat, I’ve put together a derivation & explanation of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

You can check it out here:

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