Posts Tagged ‘Vancouver’

2013-07-15 STA bus time lapse

Visualisation of STA buses in Sydney at 9:01AM on a typical weekday. The bright vertical line in the middle is the Harbour Bridge. (Source: Flink Labs)

Some interesting time lapse visualisations of commuter transport from around the world. All of these show vehicle movements (trains, buses, etc), as opposed to passengers movements, unless otherwise stated.

Sydney

This first video is STA buses only. That means the government Sydney Buses, as well as the Parramatta-Liverpool T-Way buses. Despite the limitations of its data, and that it is now a few years old, it’s also quite clear and easy to watch.

Major corridors like Anzac Parade, Oxford Street, Parramatta Road, Victoria Road, and Military Road stand out quite well. They are the brightest during the day, and the only ones still operating late into the night. By showing busier corridors as brighter, you really get a good idea of what frequent services look like, as opposed to a bus map where all lines look the same.

This is another video of Sydney. It is more recent, includes all modes of public transport, and goes out as far as Newcastle and Wollongong. Trains are shown in the same colour as the line they operate on. It’s also a bit crowded, and harder to follow than the previous video, so it’s recommended that you watch it directly on Youtube with the settings set to 720p(HD) for better quality if it doesn’t do so automatically here.

Melbourne

A similar video to the earlier Sydney bus video, but this time from Melbourne for trains. Blue is for city bound, while yellow are outbound.

Auckland

This video was created by Chris McDowall, but the blog post associated with it no longer appears to be working. So instead, here is a short piece about it from Human Transit, in which the vehicles are described as “tadpoles”.

London

This video is from an article over at the Atlantic Cities, which is worth a read for some background. This shows passenger movements via the collection of Oyster smartcard data. Inbetween the morning and evening commute, passangers are shown as a red dot while at work.

New York City

This video of New York City includes the subway and bus system, as well as some longer distance commuter rail trains (these are most noticeable in Long Island on the right hand side of the map which is otherwise mostly blank). New York has one of the few transport systems in the Western world that runs 24/7 at decent frequencies, with most subway lines running at 20 minute frequencies all night. You can see this in the video, as unlike other cities here where transport is almost non-existant between 2AM to 5AM, because at no point do the dots stop moving around. New York really is the city that never sleeps!

As with before, best seen on Youtube with 720p(HD) settings.

Washington DC

The Washington Metro trains are shown as the colour of their line, while buses are the white dots. Long distance commuter trains (mostly to the North of Washington) are large dots with a while tail. Once again, if it doesn’t show up well here, then try it on Youtube with the maximum 720p(HD) settings.

More videos

If you’re interested in seeing more, the second Sydney video, as well as the New York and Washington videos are from a group called STL Transit, and their Youtube page is full of many other videos. And for a more detailed description of their Vancouver video, make sure to check out the Human Transit post on that particular video.

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NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian confirmed earlier today that the North West Rail Link will have driverless trains. The new line will be run independently from the rest of the network by a private operator, featuring screen doors and completely automated rolling stock.

Driverless trains are a massive game changer, and have many potential benefits. The most significant is the reduced marginal cost of operating an additional train service. It’s the marginal costs that matter, because it indicates the cost of providing an additional train or savings from cutting one. With lower marginal costs, a much lower level of patronage is needed to maintain a reasonable level of cost recovery via fares. Anecdotal evidence from Vancouver’s Sky Train driverless network (where you never have to wait more than 8 minutes for the next train, even late at night) shows that driverless trains there resulted in marginal cost of $11 per hour.

But there a also reliability and safety benefits. An automated train never calls in sick, or turns up to work late. Meanwhile, human error was responsible for both the Waterfall and Glenbrook disasters, both of which resulted in fatalities.

The transport union has decided to oppose this move, which is unfortunate. Their suggestions that driverless trains will be less safe flies in the face of the Waterfall and Glenbrook examples previously mentioned. It also overlooks the fact that modern aircraft run on autopilot all the time, despite being massive flying machines, where there are many more chances for something to go wrong than a train on a fixed guideway. They probably also fear job losses, but the benefit of driverless trains means that limited resources can be better allocated, to have more station staff or more staff roving trains (something which neither drivers nor guards on trains currently do).

Other concerns have been raised. Advocacy group Action for Public Transport raises the issue of assisting passengers on a train that breaks down between stations on the NWRL, which can be up to 6km apart.

Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe suggests that this represents a broken promise, given that the government had previously said it had no plans to introduce driverless trains. That criticism boils down to how much you consider weasel words to be a broken promise.

Ultimately the decision to go with driverless trains is a good one. It will benefit passengers, and has been proven to work well in many other cities around the world.

A report in the Australian Financial Review and Ten News yesterday suggests that Transport for NSW wants the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) built with the potential for driverless trains to run on the line. Such a system exists in many parts of the world, such as Vancouver, London or Dubai.

The main advantage of this is the low cost, as you no longer have to pay a driver to operate the train. This benefit would be seen most clearly during the off-peak, where you can maintain frequent services thanks to the lower variable costs (most costs are up front and fixed: track, stations and trains). Jarrett Walker describes how on the Vancouver driverless metro: the SkyTrain (portions of which are driverless) you never have to wait more than 8 minutes for a train, no matter what time of the day or week it is, helping to maintain high patronage all day rather than just during peak hour. The reason it can do this is the efficiency that comes from the low operational cost.

Vancouver Sky Train

The SkyTrain in Vancouver is a driverless metro with frequencies that mean you never wait more than 8 minutes for a train. (Source: Jeffery Simpson)

The news piece from Ten News presents 2 arguments against driverless trains: cost and safety.

The first is by Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe, who says that this is just a cost cutting exercise. That is correct and is simple economics – the lower the variable cost of running one train, the more trains you can run for the same amount of funding. You could argue that the government should just increase funding to achieve this, but then you could have increased services even more. Either way, lower cost is a good thing, not a bad thing.

The second is by Bob Nanva of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, who is concerned about the safety of not having a driver on the train. He cites the case of a driverless train on the London Underground that went 6km before it was stopped, almost hitting another passenger train in the process. There are 2 problems with this assertion. First, human error has been responsible for 14 deaths in Sydney in the last 15 years due to the train accidents at Waterfall and Glenbrook, neither of which may have happened with an automated system that takes human error out of the equation. Second, the driverless train was actually an engineering carriage without a driver that was being towed by another train when the coupling between them broke. Despite the towing train having a driver,which under this argument should have detected the incident and dealt with it, this was not noticed until signallers detected it and resolved the potential disaster. In other words, it was the driverless controls in place that prevented any escalation of the situation, not the presence of a driver. I would therefore argue that a driverless system is actually more safe, not less safe, than one with drivers.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that Premier Barry O’Farrell’s response to questions on this led to him responding that “it’s not a prospect that’s been put to me” and that Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian stated that they “are planning for the trains on this important rail link to have drivers”, suggesting that this is just Transport for NSW making sure that the NWRL is future-proofed for driverless trains should a NSW Government ever choose to go down that path in the future. But it leaves the option open to that, rather than being the start of a process to make it happen.

Realistically, the government would first have to remove guards from trains, arguing that one person should now be capable of performing the duties of driver and guard, before making the move to trains that are no longer staffed on a permanent basis. And this itself would be a huge fight with the union. When and if it does that, then we can start speculating on whether driverless trains might become a reality.