One particularly interesting element of the NZTA Research Report into creating better public transport networks that has been the focus of a few posts recently is the comparison made between Auckland and Vancouver. While Vancouver is a larger city than Auckland, with a population of over 2 million, as the graph below shows there are a number of similarities in terms of its urban density and the strength of its CBD (in terms of its regional share of employment) that would show it to be a good test case for looking at what Auckland ‘could’ be. On the two “urban form” measures, it could well be argued that Auckland is more suitable for public transport than Vancouver – as it has higher densities and a stronger urban core. But if we look at the statistics we find that Vancouver hugely outperforms Auckland on all measures. Public transport modeshare for commuting trips is 16.5% against Auckland’s 7%, while boarding per capita per year are over three times as high in Vancouver as they are in Auckland – indicating that public transport is much more popular for off-peak travel there than it is here.
So what’s the difference here? Well for a start Vancouver avoided building masses of motorways, and in particular didn’t build any motorways within close proximity to its CBD. That is clearly shown in the map below: What the map above also shows is that Vancouver’s rail system (the red lines) is not particularly extensive either. So it’s not as though they have managed to achieve such results through massive investment in a world-class 20-line subway system. The “West Coast Express” commuter train is actually somewhat irrelevant in the above map, as it only does a few runs each day and is used by even fewer people than Auckland’s rail lines – which means that until recently Vancouver only really had one and a half railway lines serving the whole city. Even now, while the SkyTrain is extremely popular, the vast majority of public transport users in Vancouver ride the bus.
So how on earth has Vancouver got such excellent public transport statistics out of what seems to be such little investment in expensive infrastructure like underground railway lines? And how come it seems to emerge near the top of every “quality of life” survey when logic tells us it should be choking in traffic congestion due to there being so few major transport corridors – roads or rail? The answer is in its superbly organised public transport system as a whole, but particularly in the structure of its bus system. Here’s a map showing the bus routes throughout a fairly central part of Vancouver: This is an almost perfect example of the network effect that I have talked about so much recently. The bus routes form a grid, enabling “anywhere to anywhere” travel throughout this part of the city, while express high-frequency “B-Line” services (sound familiar?) supplement the base network to provide access along particularly high patronage corridors.
Here’s what the NZTA research paper has to say about the comparison between the two cities:
Vancouver outperformed Auckland in public transport’s share of work trips, and by an even greater margin when per-capita trip-making was analysed. Interestingly, Vancouver’s much larger patronage was carried on a network that consisted of fewer bus and rail lines (routes) than were provided in Auckland (see figure 3.2). Vancouver had a relatively ‘sparse’ network made up of heavily trafficked lines; Auckland had a very dense and complex network consisting of many, mainly low-volume, lines. For example, Vancouver’s #98 B-Line express bus route carried more than 20,000 passengers a day, while Auckland’s ‘Northern Express’ busway service carried about the same number per week (2004 figures, from Translink 2005). Vancouver’s busiest B-Line service was route #99B, an inner-city crosssuburban route serving the University of British Columbia, with 31,000 passengers per day.
It gives us a hint of what the benefits of applying a network based system in Auckland might be. Clearly low urban densities and a weak CBD are not a barrier to far higher public transport statistics, and does not mean you have to build motorways like crazy for your city to work. Vancouver has done it, why not Auckland?