Saturday, 23 June 2012

Foxes and Buses

Yesterday it rained. A lot. It rained pretty much solidly for 24 hours. The city had about 35mm of rain. Other parts of the State had much more. It rained again today.

When it rains here, the number of people commuting by bike generally decreases. As a rule, our bikes do not have mudguards. Even if they did, riding along in the dark, when it's raining, with cars speeding past you is not everyone's cup of tea. It feels dangerous and it probably is.

Instead of riding, people either take the bus or, more likely, take the car. Hence the increase in traffic whenever storm clouds appear.

People don't take the bus as a rule because the prevailing view seems to be that the service leaves a little to be desired. Our poor beleaguered Transport Minister, Chloe Fox, apparently gets about 350 complaints a day. The numbers of people taking the bus is dropping.

Minister Fox says, "we are trying our best".

And so she is. The timetables have been revised, buses have been fitted with GPS equipment and, according to the Minister, "I think we should also consider increased bus lanes in and around the city." On top of that, some of the contractors running the services have been fined for consistent lateness.

Changing timetables is all very well but a timetable is only as good as the driver's ability to follow it. On our roads there are all sorts of things that get in the way of timetables. Such as other traffic. A big problem we have in Adelaide is that a bus full of 80 people is treated with the same priority as a car with a single occupant. They all sit in the same traffic jams. I don't know about you but faced with the choice of sitting or standing on a crowded bus or sitting by yourself in your own car in the same traffic jam, a lot of people go with the latter. It's not really a huge hassle taking the car into the city because there is abundant cheap car-parking.

Rather than just consider priority lanes around the city, the Minister should seriously consider them around the entire metropolitan area. The GPS should help with that because they will show those places where buses are getting stuck in traffic and where, as a consequence, lanes are needed. If not a whole lane, then at least slip lanes and priority at traffic lights should make a big difference.

Moving people by bus, train and tram is very efficient compared to everyone sitting in cars. It is also much cheaper. Fewer money and resources need to be spent on upkeep and the money people save not having to spend on driving a car quite so much can be spent on local businesses. Plus there are the health aspects that we have heard time and time again.

If you want people to choose the bus, the service needs to be good enough for them to want to choose it. It musn't be late. You shouldn't have to wait a long unpredictable time (I once stood at a bus stop for 40 minutes wondering when the bus might appear over the horizon). You shouldn't have to be stuck in traffic if at all possible.

Avoiding traffic is easy. You make lanes for buses only where it is possible (and it is on most of Adelaide's main roads) and at intersections you have priority passing lanes for buses with traffic lights that allow them to go first. Instead of worrying about timetables, you just have buses coming every 10 or 15 minutes at the same time throughout the day. Rather than a timetable, you just have four numbers printed on the bus stop, eg: 5, 20, 35, 50. They are the minutes past the hour the bus arrives at that stop.

There is a great video (a couple of years old now) on the BBC website about how the town of Lund in Sweden does it. The buses are regular and predictable and, surprise surprise, people use them. The BBC don't allow embedding so it's a case of clicking on the link and watching it after the advert:

I found this picture of Lund here. Hope it's ok to use.


  1. An interesting post. I did not know that Adelaide's bus service was in such a poor state. I used Google to find out a bit more and "Adelaide bus service complaints" is in the top four searches. Buses in Perth have right-of-way when re-entering the traffic lane after stopping to pick up passengers. Drivers of vehicles must stop behind any bus that is indicating to move away from a bus stop. It is a small point but I think it helps to keep the system running to time. I wondered if Adelaide has the same rule?

  2. It does have the same rule. Buses even have a sign on them reminding drivers but there are still lots of people who are unaware of it. I think another problem is that when the buses pull out they so often pull out into a long line of traffic. If we could move the buses into their own lane in that situation I think the drivers' job would be made much easier.