PARK AND RIDE ‐ Why it offers one of Hobart's best alternatives for the daily commute.
Unsurprisingly, in discussions regarding the future transportation needs of Greater Hobart, some common themes often emerge. They focus on what appears to be the ever increasing number of vehicles on the roads, the inability of public transport to meet the needs and desires of the general public and the lack of real firm [long-term?] solutions offered by politicians. It's certainly true that, as with many expanding urban centres, the Greater Hobart area is reaching a point where its desire to grow, economically as well as physically, must also address how such an expansion can be matched by its ability to meet the future transportation needs of its social and business community. Implementation of infrastructure is notoriously long in timescales, expensive and often politically highly charged. Very quickly things are perceived as reaching a crisis point and the inability to meet transportation needs hinder economic investment. Long-term planning is therefore essential.
Hobart, however, is both blessed and cursed when it comes to transportation. Despite the regular hold ups at well-known certain times and at certain pressure points within the road network, anyone who has lived and worked in other similar sized cities around the globe would contest that in comparison, Hobart has little in the way of high traffic congestion. It is still relatively easy to drive to anywhere within the city, find a parking spot and escape afterwards along one of the cities surprisingly wide roads and boulevards. When car journeys are so relatively easy, why seek to change things?
Of course, anyone stuck on Sandy Bay Road at 8.30am on a Monday morning during term time, trying to cross Macquarie and Davey streets might think differently. These major artery roads, which run through and link the city to the surrounding suburbs towns and the wider State, are indeed beginning to struggle under the added traffic load. Like culverts, they are designed to deal with the flash flood of the rush hour. At other times however, they can be relatively free of traffic. Unfortunately, the ability to increase road capacity during these peak periods is difficult, potentially costly and highly likely to render the urban environment through which they run both highly unpleasant and an ever greater barrier to pedestrian movement. And as the surrounding towns and suburbs expand and attract ever more residents, the situation is only going to get worse.
So what to do?
There has been a long and heated debate about how such a problem might be addressed, ranging from doing nothing, creating a bypass through the mountain, removing barriers to traffic flow within the CBD by way of pedestrian bridges and underpasses, or seeking a solution through a better range of public transport. Other, more imaginative tactics, like encouraging car sharing schemes, staggering school start times, providing tax breaks to companies actively engaging in traffic reduction or more punitive planning measures such as limits on car parking spaces within new city centre development appear to lack political support. In terms of public transport, it seems that the immediate reaction by some is to accuse advocates of being anti‐car and to point out that it would be impossible for them to rely upon such transportation due to their own personal circumstances. Not an altogether unreasonable argument. Indeed, it must be stressed that in a city the size and as topographically challenging as Hobart, it simply does not have the population or infrastructure to attempt to provide an overarching system of public transport that could cater for the majority of journeys for its citizens. However, by attempting to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road by only a small amount year after year enables the current road network to cope with an increase in the wider population, and should not be viewed as unreasonable or unattainable.
Primary amongst the suggestions for improved public transport (and certainly the one that catches the public’s imagination), is that of a Light Rail link to the northern suburbs. Such rail links are considered to be highly desirable in the consciousness of the general public as offering a modern, clean, universal and efficient method of commuting. However, although the use of such a system has some very obvious potential, when considering such a proposal to the wider greater Hobart area, it comes up against some serious problems.
First, despite the existing rail line running along the Derwent, the costs involved in the creation and operation of such a system would be extremely high when measured against the potential number of passengers likely to use such a system. As has often been pointed out, the line itself largely skirts the major residential areas of north Hobart, Moonah and Glenorchy, with limited land available to create new stations and associated car parking. It would only serve one part of the greater Hobart area and lastly, any such passenger service would deposit its passengers outside of the CBD at Macquarie Point. As such, it is considered highly likely that even with full occupation on individual journeys during peak hours, the overall service would operate at a significant loss. Close, as they say, but no cigar!
In contrast, there has been far less fanfare or interest in the concept of creating a fully operating Park and Ride Bus Scheme. To those who have not come across Park and Ride Schemes before, the concept is relatively simple. Imagine the scenario: you are a resident of one of greater Hobart’s satellite communities, Kingston, Sorell, Bellerive, or Glenorchy. Each day you travel into your place of work in the centre of Hobart. To do this, you hop in the car (or bike) and first make a short trip to a free car park located nearby on the edge of your community. After parking, you walk over to a collection of covered bus stops and note from the automated display that the next ‘every five minutes’ service is due in three minutes. Exactly three minutes later, a modern, clean and spacious bus pulls into the empty bay. After picking up the waiting customers (most of whom are making use of the convenient pre‐paid swipe card ticketing), the bus departs and soon after travels along a dedicated bus lane on one of the major routes into the city on which there are no additional stops until you reach the CBD. There is no waiting in traffic. No vagaries of the school run during term time. It is quick, efficient, convenient and most importantly, it’s cheaper than long term parking in the city. At the end of each day, you climb aboard the same service for the return journey to your waiting vehicle for the short drive back home.
It is a system just like this that operates in many cities of comparable size to Hobart around the globe. In the UK alone, by 2007, there were already some 130 schemes in operation, providing an estimated 46 million passenger journeys and generating 40 million pounds of revenue. Cities like Oxford, Edinburgh, Stockholm and Prague have all benefitted from reductions in city centre congestion since the introduction of Park and Ride Schemes. Certainly, according to the size of the bus in what could be a varied fleet, each and every bus journey has the capability of taking upwards of 70 cars out of the morning and afternoon commuter traffic alone. Park and Ride Schemes should therefore be viewed as being a relatively cheap method of providing specific mass transport solutions along key routes to help reduce congestion.
So what’s not to like?
Surprisingly, despite the vary many advocates and municipal operators of Park and Ride Schemes throughout the developed world, there is little in the way of solid figures to judge the cost effectiveness and actual ability to decrease congestion. It would be entirely wrong to suggest that the introduction of a far wider Park and Ride Scheme than the limited service currently run by Metro would automatically be cost effective, or at least not in its initial years of operation. Car parks even when no more than gravel patches of land on the outskirts of communities are still expensive to purchase and produce; then there would be the high cost of the associated improvements to the surrounding road network to deal with additional traffic flows. And there would be the associated cost of improvements and alterations to the road network along which such a service might run. The provision of dedicated bus lanes would only really be feasible if operated on existing road lanes or ‘hard shoulders’ during peak hours, requiring new traffic management signaling and infrastructure. Lastly, of course, there would be the extremely high cost of a new bus fleet capable of meeting the comfort needs of a wide range of commuters.
When it is acknowledged that such a service, even if operating to the high standard depicted above, would only run at full capacity during the short peak hours of the working day, it is clear that such a scheme would only be provided with significant State and Federal financial support.
Of equal importance to enable such a scheme to operate at peak potential, would require a reduction of lane capacity for other traffic at certain times, leading to the possibility that congestion could increase in these outlaying communities. It assumes car ownership, and those commuters not able to get to a Park and Ride Car Park, might feel that users are receiving preferential and subsidised treatment. Lastly, such a scheme might actually also lead to an increase in traffic, again in around the car park sites, as previous users of existing public transport start using the scheme instead, essentially moving and increasing the overall traffic movements from outside the city to the local communities instead. Such resentment by those not using the service would no doubt lead to the potential for backlash among commuters.
Despite these concerns, a well designed Bus Park and Ride scheme is still considered the best alternative for implementing a relatively effective way to address growing congestion at a relatively low cost in comparison to other methods of public transport; or at least providing the bones of a traffic reduction system until such time as a metropolitan area reaches such a critical mass of population that other more costly methods become financially viable. It offers the ability to introduce test schemes at very little cost and also provides new opportunities for commercial activity to occur within or close to these car parking sites, whilst also allowing local authorities to accumulate parcels of land to act as land banks should costs need to be recuperated at a later date. As with everything, good design and best practice would go a significant way to achieving a successful scheme. Nonetheless, the introduction of a Bus Park and Ride Scheme to the greater Hobart area appears to be the easiest and cheapest option in providing the city and the surrounding communities a real chance to grow and elicit a change of attitudes of what the Hobart commute might appear like.
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