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Public transport

Oct 18, 2011

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% of metropolitan households and jobs within 400 m of a tram/train/SmartBus stop (data from DoT)

New research by the Victorian Department of Transport (DoT) shows Melbourne’s tram system provides access to 34% of metropolitan jobs, whereas trains only give access to 15% (see first exhibit). The analysis found trams also give better access to housing – 17% of metropolitan households are located close to a tram stop compared to 8% close to a train station.

DoT calculated the proportion of metropolitan jobs and households located within 400 metres of tram, train and SmartBus stops, using 2006 Census data.

The superior accessibility of trams might seem surprising given most popular discussion about public transport is focussed on trains. Moreover, trams and trains both serve the employment-rich CBD, so the difference in access to jobs is probably higher than most expect.

The department doesn’t offer an explanation, however there are logical reasons for the superior showing of trams. These include the higher density of the tram route network, the greater frequency of stops, and the relatively high employment and housing densities in the central part of the metropolitan area served by the tram network (i.e. the inner city and inner suburbs).

In the inner eastern suburbs, for example, there are nine parallel east-west tram lines between Victoria Rd and Glenhuntly Rd, a distance of just 8 km. The tram line on High St in Prahran is paralleled by another route just 560 metres to the north on Malvern Rd and one 650 metres to the south on Dandenong Rd.

As shown in the second exhibit (under the fold), tram stops are much more closely spaced than train stations. Tram stops in the inner eastern suburbs are every 200-300 metres, whereas stations in this area are usually more than a kilometre apart.

The tram network also services an area of high job density. The inner city – the area within 5 km of Melbourne Town Hall – might only have 28% of all metropolitan jobs, but they are concentrated in a relatively small area. Likewise, 50% of all jobs in Melbourne are more than 13 km from the centre, but the 0-13 km half is necessarily at much higher density than the 14+ km half.

Compared to the tram system, the train network is relatively sparse, particularly in the middle and outer suburbs where not only the distance between the radial lines increases as a function of simple geometry, but the distance between stations also increases. The distance from Narre Warren station to Berwick station, for example, is over 4 km – the 400 metre walk radius assumed by DoT accordingly misses much more than it picks up.

Suburban rail lines don’t in any event tend to be near jobs. As I’ve pointed out before, the vast bulk of suburban jobs aren’t located within large centres, but instead are relatively dispersed. Even the minority of jobs that is located in large centres tends to be spread out over a relatively extended area rather than concentrated within a small and neat 400 metre radius.

Clayton is by far the largest concentration of jobs within Melbourne’s suburbs, yet very few of the jobs it contains are near a rail station. The second largest job concentration in the suburbs is Tullamarine, which isn’t served by rail at all. The high proportion of jobs accessible by SmartBus services signals clearly that most suburban jobs aren’t within 400 metres of a rail station.

But providing potential access to lots of jobs is not the same as actually delivering workers to them. Trams might be within 400 metres of twice as many jobs as trains, but the latter nevertheless carry well over twice as many commuters to work each day as trams. There are a number of reasons for this difference.

One is that the assumed 400 metre walk distance is harsh on rail. Commuters are prepared to walk further to their nearest stop if the overall journey is long. As rail work trips are on average much longer than tram trips, the assumed walk distance to a station is too restrictive – a distance of 800-1,000 metres would be more reasonable.

Another reason is that many more train travellers get to their train station by other motorised modes – principally by car, but also by bus and tram – than is the case for trams. In fact half as many train travellers combine motorised modes as simply take the train direct. In contrast, the number of workers who use another motorised mode to connect with a tram as their main mode is quite small.

Probably most importantly, taking a tram to work is slow. Trams stop frequently and, because they don’t have their own right of way for much of the route, get caught in peak hour traffic. Commuters who have a choice will take the train instead, either driving to the station or using a bus or tram to connect. Another factor is that many inner city and inner suburban workers are on high incomes – rather than take a slow tram, some will get a car and/or a parking space as part of their remuneration package and will elect to drive instead. 

DoT’s analysis also draws attention to a couple of other interesting points about Melbourne. One is the significant difference in the geography of the city. Trams service an increasingly more affluent inner city/inner suburban demographic than the train system. Moreover, a higher proportion of all jobs served by trams are likely to be the sorts of high-skill, high-pay jobs – especially in finance, insurance, business and property services – that cluster in the centre of the city.

Another point relates to the significantly higher share of jobs and households that can be accessed via SmartBus services compared to trains. It suggests the focus of future public transport investment needs to be widened beyond rail to consider more flexible systems which can be tightly integrated with existing track-based networks and thereby “multiply” their reach.

Finally, since trams give access to such a large number of jobs and households – and hence have potential to increase patronage significantly – improving speeds should be a high priority of policy-makers

Trams routes and stops (grey) compared with train routes and stations (red)
Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

The Urbanist is edited by Dr Alan Davies, a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Consulting.

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21 thoughts on “Do trams provide better accessiblity than trains?

  1. gwiz

    I take tram 86 to work everday and don’t mind the longer journey over the train, I’m not stuck to a timetable, the frequency is like a tube train in London every 5 – 7min, I just turn up to the stop and use tram tracker and work out when it is coming, there is a different sort of intimacy on the tram, people almost seem less upset about their commute than on the train, appreciate this is a matter of opinion.

    The super stops are being put in Northcote this will be interesting to see if the trams get caught up in more delays from longer queues of cars at traffic lights or if speeds will come down, motorists might look for an alternative route to take. It seems part of the success of the tram is getting priority on the road like no. 96 where it is not impacted by queues of traffic.

    If we can somehow get greater priority for trams city bound during morning peak times say 8-9 this would hopefully reduce travel times of tram journeys. So often you see a packed tram and wonder how long a line of single occupant vehicles those numbers would transpire too and why isn’t greater priority given to the trams over the cars. I think such public education was attempted many years ago with television commericals calling for more respect from drivers towards right of way for trams.

    Greater priority could be given for the 86 along High St in Northcote and Westgarth and the 112 down Brunswick St before it crosses Alexander Parade, this would allow trams to pass queuing vehicles and hopefully make this mode of transport more attractive to people who would otherwise use a vehicle to commute to work, school or leisure.

  2. Alan A. Parker

    Cycling rather than walking increases the number of homes with access to stations by around a factor of 10. The pedelec increases the number of homes with access to public transport by at least a factor of 25 over walking. The limitation of radiating rail lines going to the CBD for commuting is largely eliminated by the pedelec which makes cross suburban travel very much easier. Rail and bus stations, modal interchanges need to become a highly visible focal point of surrounding bike networks. The use of pedelecs could become a means of local transport and to access outer urban rail stations or express bus routes, well beyond walking distance, as it is Japan and the Netherlands (Parker 1999).

    Assuming walking and bicycling rail station catchments require the same physical effort of 75 watts for 7.5 minutes See DoT data ? but pedelec riding with 25 watts effort for 20 minutes within a rectangular street layout similar to that which exists in much of Metropolitan Melbourne would reach many more patrons. Our capital cities have sprawled In the hilly parts of Australia and 250 watts pedelecs would enable able-bodied people to cycle much more than they do now which is an important safety consideration because of the need to ride up hills without weaving (Parker 2011) (Dobson and Sipe 2005).

    Eight bicycles or pedelecs can be parked in one car parking space and use space not suitable for car parking. They should replace some existing car parking spaces at the entrance to rail stations or on the platforms when space permits. The Victorian, NSW, Qld and SA policy of giving priority to car parking in the past 20 years and ignoring the provision of secure bicycle parking at most stations has been a costly waste of funds due to the bigger vehicles needing paving and drainage as well as far more space (Parker 2011).

    The problem with DoT and predecessors that have not never had a clue about making melbourne more accessible in a sustainable way. Never did they Alan.

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