For many, public transport is now a private hell
WHEN Angela Plows heads to the bus stop - to go to the doctor, to the shops or to catch a train to visit her family on the central coast - she first slings a backpack over her shoulder, heavy with the weight of an emergency nebuliser for her asthma.
The bus used to be convenient for Ms Plows, 67. When she moved to her home in Shalvey, north-west of Mountt Druitt, in 1973, there was a bus stop one street away. Later there was a stop outside her house.
But about four years ago the weekday buses changed routes and weekend buses were slashed. The stop on her street vanished.
Valda Leate (left) is very happy where she lives, with one exception - public transport. Photo: Wolter Peeters
These days getting to a bus stop means a walk of at least 25 minutes, backpack on, through an unlit park, or a route around a school, or a paddock where Ms Plows is sometimes attacked by a dog.
''We've gone backwards, we've gone absolutely backwards,'' says Ms Plows, who has an eye condition and is unable to drive.
Her experience is unfortunate but not atypical.
Areas well served by public transport are highlighted in red. Zoom in to see more detail on your suburb.
According to maps developed by Kurt Iveson and Laurence Troy at the University of Sydney for an advocacy group, the Sydney Alliance, vast stretches of Sydney are without regular public transport services.
In some areas, particularly those with frequent services in the morning and afternoon peak, the maps might look overly harsh.
But in many places - from Penrith to Palm Beach, from Condell Park to Caringbah South - as soon as you get away from a main road and into the windy streets of low-density suburbia, the frequency of services and the accessibility of public transport falls away sharply.
In demonstrating this, the maps fit the alliance's agenda. That agenda is to promote public transport within 400 metres of every point across the city, running at a frequency of every 15 minutes.
To derive the maps, bus, train and ferry frequencies were averaged across a period from 5am to midnight.
''Most regions of Sydney, including outer suburban areas, actually have some patches of good, frequent services,'' says Dr Iveson, a senior lecturer in urban geography.
''But with the exception of the inner city, most regions also have significant gaps.
''For instance, around Fairfield and Liverpool, some train stations and main roads offer frequent public transport services. But if you live in some of the suburbs in between these stations and roads, your public transport options are far more limited and don't meet the 400/15 minimum standard.''
Ms Plows's transport options were reduced when bus runs around her Shalvey home began to be concentrated on main roads about three years ago.
This meant that the main roads received a more frequent service at the expense of streets such as hers.
''They don't do loops of suburbs now, they just go down the main road,'' says Ms Plows, who raised seven of her own children and took in several foster children.
''That's no good, you know, for elderly people or people with kids.''
Amanda Tattersall, director at the Sydney Alliance, says the gaps show what happens when ordinary people are left out of the development of transport policy.
''People are left in the lurch without access to transport that is reliable and usable, and therefore are left to suffer in congested traffic jams and forced to spend hours in parking lots on the M4 and M5 rather than with their family,'' she says.
Jacob Saulwick writes: A number of people have pointed out that the map appears to be overly harsh on some areas. Some railway lines with good service, for instance, are not shaded red. As are some major roads with regular bus services. The researchers who developed the input behind the map - Laurence Troy and Kurt Iveson at the University of Sydney - have confidence in them, but are also keen to hear about any errors.
Having said that, a big reason the map looks harsh is that it has averaged 15 minute frequencies across a period from 5am to midnight on a weekday. So some train stations or bus stops that have 10 minute frequencies in peak hour, are not shaded red because they do not meet the 15 minute average across the whole day. This might be an ambitious target for public transport frequency. But the researchers believe it is something to aim for: more people are working part-time, more people are working split shifts; more people are working at all hours of the day.
Below are some explanatory notes written by Laurence and Kurt.
How did we make the map?
- The web map here is based on maps made by Laurence Troy and Kurt Iveson at the University of Sydney using Geographic Information Software networking tools. Using this software, we combined three key kinds of digital information: the road network; public transport service points (train stations, bus, ferry and light rail stops), and average frequencies of services at each point between 5am and midnight on a weekday. We then generated a map that shows which parts of the city are within 400 metres walking distance of a public transport service point, where a service comes at least every fifteen minutes on average across the day.
- The road network data we initially used was provided by the NSW Department of Lands. The data about public transport service points and frequencies was provided by the Transport Data Exchange Program. The web maps produced by George Wright for this feature use Google maps.
Why did we make the map?
- The map was produced as part of our work in the Sydney Alliance's Transport Research-Action Team. Based on our research into successful public transport systems around the world, we believe that the minimum walking distance to make door-to-door public transport a reality for Sydneysiders is 400 metres. The minimum service frequency to help make public transport a viable alternative to the car is 15 minutes.
- Of course, distance and frequency are not the only factors that influence the accessibility and quality of public transport. Other factors are important, such as integrated and affordable ticketing across all modes of public transport, safety, the physical accessibility of transport infrastructure, and the quality of public transport environments. These factors are combined in the Alliance's formula for public transport in Sydney: 400:15:1 SCA2. To find out more about this formula, visit: www.sydneyalliance.org.au
What do the maps tell us?
- The maps identify gaps in the existing network at the metropolitan and neighbourhood scale. Plugging up these gaps should be prioritised in public transport planning in the years to come. In particular, we will be using these maps in our work to show how existing transport resources and infrastructure could be re-organised to improve service coverage and frequency. The maps could also help to inform decisions about the provision and prioritisation of expensive new infrastructure.
- The map calculates distance to public transport as walking distance along the road, not 'as the crow flies', because as we all know, we often have to walk around houses, buildings and other objects to get to a bus or train stop.
- The map is not focused only on peak hour frequencies, but on frequencies across the entire day. That's important, because most of our travel is not commuting to work. In 2009-10, commuting accounted for 28% of the distance we travel and 16% of the trips we take in the city (source: NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics). And of course, even some of that commuting takes place outside peak hours for shift workers, hospitality workers, etc.
What are the limitations of the maps?
- The method for calculating frequency of service has some limitations, and actually makes service frequencies look better than they are in some places. For each service point, we have calculated average frequencies from 5am to midnight by dividing those 1140 minutes by the total number of services that stop at that point. But an average frequency of 10 minutes at a bus stop might be achieved by three different bus routes stopping at that stop twice per hour. If you are dependent on one of those bus routes for your travel, your actual service frequency is 30 minutes, not 10 minutes.
- The method for calculating walking distance also has some limitations, which might make the area accessible to public transport look smaller or larger than it actually is. This is because for most of the city, we are using the road network to calculate walking distance. However, in some places pedestrians can use footpaths that offer short cuts, and right now we do not have most of those paths on our map. In other places, pedestrians may not be able to walk along roads.
- When the software is matching bus/train/ferry stop locations with the nearest bit of road, it searches within 50 metres around the stop. Sometimes a bit of road might be 60 metres across some grass, which pedestrians can walk across, but our system hasn’t recognised this.
Help us improve the map
- The road network and the transport network are very large, and trying to model accessibility for the whole metropolitan area is a big job. We use Geographic Information Software to automate the process which sometimes creates errors and checking every single bus and train stop for its accuracy is not possible. We are continuing to develop our understanding of the geography of public transport over the coming months. If you find any errors or anomalies in a part of the city you know well, get in touch and let us know!
Kurt Iveson and Laurence Troy, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney