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Friday, 29 August 2014

What drives patronage - speed, frequency or fares? Part 1: Rose Bay and Manly

Sydney Ferries recorded impressive patronage growth of 6.9% in 2013-14, making it the second fastest growing public transport mode in Sydney (behind light rail).

But has the commuter market grown or did last year's long dry spell bring out more leisure and other off peak travellers?

Every six months, a census is taken of all Sydney Ferry boardings and disembarkations over one week. The information is captured in detail (down to individual wharf and service) and reported by the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics www.bts.nsw.gov.au/Statistics/Ferry/default.aspx .

Leisure numbers are strongly affected by seasonal factors and weather. But commuter patronage in the AM peaks is more consistent. This makes it possible to speculate about the impact of timetable or fare changes on these services, by comparing the same week across years.

Data from the November 2013 census has just been released. Two major policy changes happened between November 2012 and 2013:

  • Rules were changed for the periodical ticket product "MyMulti". Before 1 September 2013, all ferry passengers could use a MyMulti 1 ticket. This was changed to the more expensive MyMulti 2 for Inner Harbour ferry passengers and to the highest priced MyMulti 3 for Manly ferry passengers. Bus users were not affected. 
  • Significant changes to ferry timetables, mainly affecting the Parramatta River and Eastern Suburbs, were implemented in October 2013.
MyMulti 1 tickets were popular with regular Manly Ferry commuters.  The change lifted the price of weekly MyMulti tickets for these passengers from $44 to $61, an increase of 39%.

So what happened to patronage?

For the sake of brevity, this analysis focuses on AM commuter peak passengers from Manly and Rose Bay, plus the aggregate AM peak.  A review of the Parramatta River will follow in Part 2 in three weeks time (when the author returns from a holiday).
A proxy measure for regular work commuters is the count of passengers who catch ferries terminating at the CBD terminals by 9.00 am on week-days.    

Mean daily boardings on services arriving Circular Quay at or before 9.00 am (week-days)

The Manly timetable was the same in both years, but passengers were affected by the MyMulti ticket changes. Almost 15% fewer passengers caught the Manly Ferry in the AM commuter peak in the last week of November 2013, compared to the same week in 2012. That's a drop of 254 passengers each morning, or the equivalent of six additional busloads on Military Road. 

Rose Bay figures are the big surprise. Rose Bay peak services were supplemented in the October 2013 timetable changes, moving from 30 to 20 minute headways. But the additional capacity has not been matched by increased patronage. Total AM peak numbers actually dropped almost 9%. Perhaps Rose Bay commuters who need to change modes at Circular Quay are using other transport options in response to the MyMulti ticket revamp. 

The apparent drop in AM commuter peak numbers is not limited to Rose Bay and Manly. The data shows that passengers arriving at Circular Quay and the other main destination wharves on week-days at or before 9.00 am were down 9.6% on the same week in November 2012. 
Mean daily disembarkations at main destinations at or before 9.00 am (week-days)


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Why getting names right helps public transport legibility

There was a time when Milsons Point Luna Park wharf was just called Milsons Point. It was changed about two years ago to the longer four word version, perhaps to help customers who don't know where the iconic amusement park is located.

But the change had another impact. 

There is also a Milsons Point train station, which is about five minutes walk from the ferry wharf.  A passenger catching the F4 line from Balmain East or Pyrmont Bay can change at Milsons Point to catch a train on the North Shore line. Where such transfers are possible, all modes should use the same stop name. This is because it highlights to the irregular user that a transfer is possible.

So "Milsons Point Luna Park" wharf should still be called plain "Milsons Point".

The other side of the coin is Sydney Olympic Park wharf, which is 2.8 km  from Sydney Olympic Park train station, as the crow flies - hardly a convenient walk. The wharf is actually located in the suburb of Wentworth Point and is nowhere near either the sport stadium or another transport terminal named Sydney Olympic Park.

To avoid confusion, Sydney Olympic Park wharf should be called Wentworth Point.

These issues may seem trivial for the regular user of a network who has become accustomed to its many idiosyncracies, but it can be baffling to a visitor or  infrequent user if consistent naming conventions are not followed. As highlighted by Terzis and Last (2000) in the Urban Interchange Good Practice Guide, the badging of an interchange is one of many factors which contribute to customer awareness and use of transfer opportunities.   

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Is Sydney getting best value from its wharf upgrade program?

Previous posts on this blog have highlighted the importance of well designed ferry terminals which allow passengers to quickly disembark and board.

Sydney's commuter wharves are the responsibility of Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), not the ferry operator or Transport for NSW, as many people might assume. RMS is in the middle of a major wharf upgrade program which will cost about $70 million. Five new wharves have already been built and a further seven are planned.

A major investment into transport infrastructure of this scale is normally made in the context of a detailed network plan covering the life of the new terminals and modelling of expected passenger movements at individual locations. 

The design solution should take account of the different characteristics of passenger movements at different locations. At some wharves passenger movements are mainly one directional. Crowds either board the vessel in AM peaks or disembark in PM peaks at a commuter wharf like Mosman or Thames Street Balmain, but not at the same time.

At other places, like Pyrmont Bay which mainly serves leisure passengers, large numbers can disembark and board the same vessel. It is not uncommon for more than 100 people to disembark at Pyrmont Bay while another 100 are waiting to board. For passenger safety and to minimise dwell time, it is vital that any new wharf is designed to ensure efficient egress and ingress of passengers.   

Sadly this will not happen at Pyrmont Bay. The "cookie cutter" strategy adopted by RMS in constructing previous wharves will continue at Pyrmont Bay, apparently without detailed analysis or modelling of predicted crowd movements. The recently announced wharf design shows:
  • a small pontoon, similar in size to Thames Street Balmain wharf
  • seating positioned longitudinally in the middle of the pontoon, which is likely to interfere with passenger egress and ingress
  • no indication of how passengers waiting to board a ferry will be separated from disembarking passengers.  It is probable the crowds waiting to board on a busy Sunday afternoon will extend up the ramp, blocking the exit of disembarking passengers.       

At a busy terminal like Pyrmont Bay with two directional crowd movements, dwell time can only be minimised if two gangways are used, preferably double gangways. The small size of the pontoon and the positioning of fenders and seating make it unlikely that this will be possible. This means the opportunity to fix a key systemic shortcoming in the ferry network will be lost.

It is curious and frustrating that Sydney wharf design falls well short of the standards set by many other ferry networks, including Brisbane's. Here is an example of effective separation of boarding and disembarking passengers on the ramp at the Riverside ferry terminal Brisbane.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Are Periodical Ticket Discounts Really that Great?

Monthly, quarterly and annual MyMulti Tickets will not be available for purchase from 1 September 2014. This is part of a move to a totally "pay as you go" model for Sydney's public transport under the Opal card. 

Some argue that the price of periodical tickets is too heavily discounted in Sydney. This partly stems from comparisons between the price of MyMulti Yearly and Quarterly tickets and the cost of using an Opal card. The logic seems to be "if the Quarterly and Annual ticket price is more favourable than using Opal, then the periodical ticket products must be too cheap".

But if we were to compare MyMulti prices with monthly and annual fare prices in other cities, Sydney's periodical tickets are actually very expensive.

An Annual MyMulti 1 ticket costs 530 times more than a single train trip. In London, an Annual ticket is 430 times the price of a single train trip. In European cities, the discount is even greater. Annual tickets range from 211 times the single ticket (Amsterdam) to just 115 times in Munich.

As the average resident of Munich and Zurich makes 400-500 public transport trips per year, it is not surprising why the take up of periodical tickets in those cities is so high.

Sydney's recent flight from periodical tickets goes against the tide of international practice, which is to embrace them. The international bible of public transport best practice is the Hi Trans Guide. Among the seven top measures it lists to improve public transport is to "cut fares through the provision of integrated season tickets".

The benefit of season or periodical tickets is that, once purchased, passengers have an incentive to make as many public transport trips as possible. Each additional trip comes at no extra cost. 

But in order to encourage the purchase of a periodical ticket, the customer needs to be satisfied that they will make enough trips in the future to justify purchasing it upfront. That's why European cities keep the price of periodical tickets low. 

Having an Opal card is very convenient for passengers, but it could make a much greater contribution to growing public transport use if it included periodical fare options. London's Oyster card does this. And why not make it even easier by allowing users to specify when automatic payment deductions are made, such as on their fortnightly or monthly payday?