Frequent, Fast, Reliable Transit Depends on Congestion-Free Service
Frequent, fast, reliable transit service is the goal of a new transportation planning concept that is gaining traction in Auckland, New Zealand.
The concept of “congestion-free transit”, developed by the advocacy group Greater Auckland and adopted by the current opposition party in the New Zealand parliament, delivers on “the most important thing that makes transit reliable: its protection from congestion caused by single-occupant cars,” international transit policy consultant Jarrett Walker writes on the CityLab blog. “It helps people see an interlinked system of frequent services that can be counted on to run reliably, regardless of whether they’re on rails or tires (or water).”
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In most communities, rail services are protected from car traffic, but buses aren’t, Walker notes. “But being stuck in traffic has nothing to do with whether you’re on rails or tires. Many old streetcar lines (and most new ones in the U.S.) are mixed with car traffic and suffer frequent disruption as a result. Meanwhile, buses can be highly reliable where they are protected from traffic, as in the best Bus Rapid Transit systems.”
The concept does have its limitations in crowded urban areas. “Not all frequent services can be protected from congestion unless the streets are entirely closed to cars: Some streets, after all, are just too narrow for that,” he concedes. “But the congestion-free network does succeed in promoting the reasons why we protect transit from traffic, and what we achieve by doing that continuously, all across a network, regardless of the transit technology used. If you just want to get there, or if you want to have access to as much of your city as possible, the distinction between rail, bus, and ferry matters less than you may think.”
An example of congestion relief through transit improvements is taking shape in Los Angeles, where a new light rail line along the notoriously gridlocked Interstate 10 is drawing far more ridership than transportation planners expected, the Washington Post reports. The US$2.43-billion Expo Line opened last year after decades of controversy, and now makes the trip from downtown LA to Santa Monica in about 45 minutes.
The line “received rave reviews from the start, and recent ridership data attests that its popularity is more than novelty. As of June, estimated ridership on the Expo Line increased 40%, from 45,876 passengers last year to more than 64,000 this year—a target it wasn’t expected to reach until 2030,” the Post notes, citing local news coverage.
“Surveys also show that many of its riders have switched from cars to mass transit. Nearly 70% had not been regular users of mass transit before the line opened, according to a survey by Metro, the city’s transportation agency.”
Meanwhile, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reports that LA and Chicago are making car-sharing services more widely available to low-income neighbourhoods, while more than a dozen municipalities expand bike-sharing programs to underserved communities.
“Ensuring that low-income communities have access to new, affordable, and more efficient mobility options connects these households to key job centres and services,” notes ACEEE Senior Advisor Shruti Vaidyanathan. “It also reduces the overall transportation energy cost burden on already financially strained families and improves the overall efficiency of transportation systems in urban areas.”