Archive for the ‘Reducing our emissions’ Category

The Mosman Rider is under threat!

April 5, 2013

Picture1At the last Council meeting of 2012, Councillor Bendall was successful in getting the numbers for a resolution instigating a thoroughgoing review of the Council’s free bus service, the Mosman Rider. The Mosman Rider was an initiative of the previous Council and Mayor Abelson and Cr Bendall have made many public statements questioning the value of the service, so this motion comes as no surprise. Supporters of the service see it as the beginning of the end. Cost benefit analyses are a convenient way of justifying ideologically driven decisions. Any desired result can be achieved, depending on how the dollar figure for benefits is calculated. The fundamental problem is that while the costs are very clear and carried by Council, the benefits are distributed across multiple stakeholders over a long period of time and are very difficult to measure.

It is of course absolutely reasonable for the new Council to review whether the Mosman Rider is achieving its objectives in the most cost effective manner. It is also reasonable to ask whether the objectives themselves are worthy, have the support of the community and represent a better option than lower rates or spending on something else.

As one of the councillors who invested a lot of time and passion in getting the service established I am clearly going to be just as biased in favour of the Mosman Rider as Cr’s Abelson and Bendall are against it. This is the response that I would give to in response to Cr Bendall’s request for a review of the service. [The actual report prepared by Council staff is on the agenda for the April meeting. Council staff have done an excellent job comprehensively addressing each of the points in Councillor Bendall’s resolution with extensive data to back up their claims].

What are the objectives of the service

The primary objective has always been to provide a basic minimum level of mobility for Mosman residents who for whatever reason are mobility impaired. Specifically to provide a means of getting from home to the shops, to transport nodes and to foreshore recreation areas for those without a driving licence who and live in parts of Mosman not well served by public transport.

A secondary objective has been to encourage all Mosman residents to use public transport for local trips, since every car left in the garage means less pressure on parking, less congestion, less air pollution, less accidents and less greenhouse gas emissions.

At the time the service was introduced, there was a third objective – that of keeping access to the beach free. In the same way that the London congestion tax was used to subsidise public transport, revenue from parking meters paid for the Mosman Rider. Non-residents could park for free anywhere along the route and thus access the beach for nothing,

Are these legitimate aims

They are aims being very strongly promoted at all levels of government, in Australia and across the world. It is not hard to see why. Very few of us are getting the required 30 minutes of exercise we need a day to stay healthy. All the research shows that incidental exercise, the sort that we get when we use public transport rather than door to door transport in our own car, is the best way of sustaining the required level of physical activity and if the population is healthy the public purse outlays on health are much reduced. The Heart Foundation has published much on the topic. The NSW government through the Premiers Council on Active Living is urging local government to provide incentives and remove barriers to active travel. At the federal level the Department of Infrastructure has just released a discussion paper: ‘Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport’ and the American Public Health Association is continuously building on the already overwhelming evidence that providing people with an alternative to driving pays
for itself many times over in reduced health care costs, reduced congestion and reduced need for parking infrastructure.

Other areas of government stress the economic value of providing services that allow people to remain independent and living in their own homes as they age. Others again stress the importance of reducing social isolation and ensuring that the elderly can get to medical appointments. Having the independence to meet up with friends where and when you want is highly valued by youth.

I would assume that the current Council agrees with these objectives, but are less convinced about how effectively the current service is achieving them. So let’s look at that.

To what extent is the service achieving its stated objectives

You only need to go for a ride on the Mosman Rider to observe that a lot of elderly people who one suspects are beyond driving use the service. Surveying this demographic of the clientele would show the extent to which having the service was a factor in keeping them independent,

It is also clear that a lot of young people use the service to meet up with each other or go to the beach. Many families with young children use the service to go to the shops, beach or Zoo. Children love it.

There are many regulars: travelling on the bus is quite a social experience, aided by the very friendly drivers. It is not just young people who use the bus for meeting friends for a coffee

So can it be said that each person who uses the bus represents mobility being provided to someone who would otherwise be mobility deprived or a trip that would otherwise be made by car? Certainly some of the passengers do and thus they provide evidence that the service is achieving its objectives. Some do not. For example they may use the bus when otherwise they would have walked or used the services provided by Sydney Buses.

So the question we must now explore is can the benefit of the service be expanded by attracting more passengers who, had it not been for the service, would have used their car or not made the trip at all.

How big is the pool of potential passengers?

The current route of the Mosman Rider was designed so that a large proportion of the population of Mosman is less than a ten minute walk away from the route. What limits its use is that either people don’t know about it, or the service frequency is too low (once per hour) or the journey time is too long (one hour for a complete circuit of Mosman). It is these two latter factors that make the service uncompetitive with driving yourself, even taking into account the hassle of finding a parking spot. Another factor maybe the presumed unreliability – we all know the bus gets delayed in traffic so often it is running well behind its timetable, and who wants to wait at the stop with a suspicion that the bus has already passed through? In fact reliability is not a problem for those in the know, as the mobile phone bus locator system largely overcomes that problem.

Clearly a higher frequency service with a shorter journey time would increase the pool of potential passengers, but it would also cost a lot more to run. Two buses would be needed to provide a half hour service on two different half hour loops.

I believe there is still considerable scope for increasing passenger numbers with the existing service. Mosman has a growing number of both children and retired people. Both groups are under less time pressure than their working counterparts and once you rule out time as an issue there is a lot of attraction in being chauffeured, enjoying the social experience, being dropped at the door, being able to drink and not having to find a parking spot. The Mosman Rider and Sydney Buses services taken in conjunction actually allow you to get from anywhere to anywhere in Mosman and back again with not too much waiting time, particularly, if the mobile phone location services are used and you start your trip only when the bus is due.

Passenger numbers have risen steadily since the service was first introduced. People typically learn about the service from friends. Once they have experienced how convenient it is, it enters their mindset and they become repeat customers. Even without any further promotion passenger numbers and hence the community benefit will grow over time as the message spreads by word of mouth. The benefit to cost ratio will consequently grow. By promoting the service the benefits would grow even faster. A short video of current clients saying how they use the service and why they like it along with details of the route and timing, screened at the Hayden Orpheum would reach the right demographic. It could be also be screened at Council and at Bridgepoint and in local schools.

Other ways to promote the service would be to letterbox drop houses adjacent to the route with timing information for their locality – when the bus passes through their area and how long it takes to get to each key destination. New residents should be taken on a guided tour of Mosman on the Rider once they have been on it and seen how it works it won’t be such a leap of faith to use it for a real trip.

Another potential benefit of the service would be to map out ‘a day in Mosman’ for international tourists staying in the city. It would involve a ferry ride to Taronga Zoo (with or without a Zoo visit), the 238 to Balmoral Beach for lunch, the Mosman Rider for a tour around Balmoral Heights and Beauty Point, a visit to the Art Gallery followed by a stroll down the shopping strip, then a 230 to Mosman Wharf and home on the ferry. Many other itineraries could be invented. The Mosman Rider passes no less than 20 places to have a coffee.

Could the cost of the service be reduced without compromising its quality?

The benefit to cost ratio can be increased by either increasing benefits or lowering costs. In this section I examine various options for reducing the cost while maintaining the same level of service ie an hourly service from most parts of Mosman to the Mosman shopping strip and a half hourly service from the shopping strip to the beach.

Let’s start with the route. The route was painstakingly worked out to meet the following criteria. It needed to be within easy reach of the majority of the Mosman population, it needed to pass close to all of Mosman’s key destinations, it should complement and add value to Sydney Buses services, it should be impacted minimally by congestion, it needed to pass the same spot at the same time each hour, it needed to get people quickly to the beach and shops, but if they stayed on the bus, deliver them to any of Mosman’s key destinations. The route chosen needed to be negotiable by the bus and have plenty of safe places to pick up and drop off passengers.

The route finally arrived at was a figure of eight loop crossing over at Balmoral. By using loops rather than a star pattern duplication of Sydney Buses services is minimised.

An argument has been made that the original mobility objectives could be achieved by expanding community transport – for example providing for the eligible elderly a fixed number of taxi vouchers. Or more ambitiously replacing the Mosman Rider with a computer based bus despatching system that would respond to calls from potential passengers, optimising its route to pick up each passenger and deliver them to their destination. Leaving aside the loss of independence (having to ask for help rather than simply using a service) and the unpredictability of your arrival time with such a service, the major disadvantage is that such services are not scalable, costs rise in proportion to passengers. For the Mosman Rider, benefits increase with passenger numbers, while costs are held constant. There is thus no financial impediment to promoting the service, and consequently reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing demand on parking, reducing congestion

The Mosman Rider, now that it is established and growing in popularity has so much potential. It could become very Mosman to do the social and environmental right thing and get around Mosman by a combination of walking cycling, Mosman Rider and Sydney Buses – excepting of course when the weather was bad, or you had lots to carry, or you were short of time. The State government in its Transport Master Plan has argued that Sydney bus services should be restricted to trunk routes with feeder buses providing for micro mobility. Mosman and Manly will be well placed to negotiate a deal with the State government when this happens, having developed experience in running their own services

Another way of reducing the costs would be to charge for the service. This would add to operational costs and also be a disincentive. It would also be unfair as the chief beneficiaries are not the passengers but the community. They benefit from having one less car on the road. In the long term, when the service is fully established with two buses providing a 30 minute service it would be appropriate to charge a fare, provided that at that time the OPAL card is in use across all transport in Sydney, including the Mosman Rider. In the short term sponsorship, or on bus advertising could be considered.

Wouldn’t it be better to scrap the service and lower rates?

This is a matter for political judgement by the councillors. Every Council service could be scrapped and the rates dropped ever lower. The Mosman Rider first, then perhaps the Library, then the sporting venues. Where do you draw the line? I think that the Mosman community is quite comfortable with the mix of services they get in return for their rates, and are generous enough to accept that they are paying for some services that they personally don’t use but are vital for others.. As the population ages, more people live here and fuel prices increase support for the Mosman Rider will grow ever more stronger. Scrapping or even significantly changing the service now would be to squander a four year build-up of passenger good will and three years of fine tuning to optimise the service. It would put a lot of cars back on the road and make a lot of people seriously question whether they could continue independent living. It would make a lot of children who get so excited about riding the ‘Whale Bus’, very sad. It would make me sad too, seeing a great initiative by one Council destroyed by the next. But I guess that is how politics is played these days.

Mosman’s Pedestrian Plan

February 9, 2012

This week Mosman’s Pedestrian and Mobility Access Plan (PAMP) goes on public exhibition. This is a very welcome development. Over the years much attention has been paid to meeting the needs of drivers but this is the first time Council has attempted to systematically address the needs of pedestrians in Mosman. The fact that Mosman consists of a number of ridges that fall way to foreshores mean that most pedestrian traffic will either be along the ridges (where the majority of ‘trip attractors’ are) or from ridge to theforeshore.

The PAMP rightly focuses on the three ridge routes with greatest pedestrian traffic – Spit Rd from Parriwi Junction to Spit Junction, Mosman Junction to Spit Junction and Cremorne Junction to Spit Junction. Investment in these routes will give the maximum return in terms of increased amenity. These routes are not only the easiest ways for most people to get to the shops and they also provide access to the majority of Mosman’s bus services.

The idea is to make these routes comfortable and connected. Comfort will be achieved by paying attention to flatness, width, shade and freedom from obstacles. Connectivity will be enhanced by providing continuity across side streets via raised thresholds or wide kerb ramps and generous build-outs and refuges. Sections of Chappel St in Melbourne are not unlike Military Rd and provide an example of what could be achieved. It will be quite a challenge as the space between the kerb and the property boundary is highly contested. But even if a straight path is impossible given the utility clutter, a meandering path of constant width (wide enough to accommodate passing prams or mobility scooters) should be achievable.

The PAMP has also identified a number of laneways around Spit Junction that could be developed to expand the very successful Myahgah Mews pedestrian zone into a fully interconnected network – useful input for the ‘Peoples Junction’ planning exercise. A similar network is proposed for Mosman Junction.

One thing the PAMP makes clear is that when the current contract comes to an end Mosman’s advertising supported bus shelters are going to need to be replaced by slimmer models moved back close to the property boundary. The advertising, instead of being on side panels visible to motorists will need to be restricted to the back panels. This is the norm for shelters just about everywhere in the world where footpath space is scarce.

You can download the PAMP and make a comment until March 30 here. Once the final version is adopted by Council the recommended works will be folded into MOSPLAN and undertaken at whatever rate funding allows. Most Mosman addresses have a good walkability score. Getting the ridge routes of a high pedestrian quality and then connecting these with the many pedestrian step paths down to the foreshores will enhance that score even further. A high walkability score is something that prospective home buyers are increasingly seeking.

I am taking a great interest in pedestrian facilities in other municipalities. Here you can view my photo gallery of crossing treatments, unobstructed footpaths and bus shelters. If you want to check out your own favourite route for walkability you can download a walkability checklist from the National Heart Foundation website.

And I am trying to find out just what powers councils have in terms of ‘development’ in the area between kerb and property boundary. I am particularly alarmed at the spread of green electricity stubs.

Solar PV and Australia’s Renewable Energy Future

June 17, 2011

Australia’s electricity supply will be progressively decarbonised over the next several decades. Base load solar thermal and remote wind generation will be augmented by on-site solar PV. As a result, the economics of the supply industry will be radically changed. Fuel costs will tend to zero so the primary cost driver will be the percentage utilisation of the power generation and distribution plant – a major challenge given the non-continuity of solar or wind resources.

Australia’s roof tops represent a valuable resource in the transition to renewable fuels. The unsubsidised cost of solar PV will very soon have reached the point of grid parity (the diagram below explains this term – courtesy Mosman resident Chris Lee). Despite the fact that solar PV capital costs are higher than those of other forms of renewable energy, good returns are obtained since transmission costs and retailer profit margin are eliminated. The falling price trajectory of solar PV coupled with the rising prices of grid power will make solar PV an increasingly attractive investment.

Government subsidies have, up until now, resulted in small systems – typically 1.5 kW. Once the current feed-in tariffs end in 2016, there will be no obligation on retailers to pay anything for exported power. This makes installing larger systems unattractive as it is only substituted power that will then give a return. This obstacle to the growth of the solar PV sector needs be eliminated. It can be eliminated by legislation, ideally at the national level, that ensures that electricity retailers pay a fair price for power exported to the grid.

Solar PV systems on enough commercial, industrial and residential rooftops across the country could conceivably meet daytime demand, but only when the sun was shining. The fact that an area could swing from being self sufficient in power one day to being totally dependent on the grid the next is a major problem for the supply industry and the reason for their unwillingness to pay for exported power under present arrangements. Cutting back on the days of peak demand simply reduces the utilisation of the infrastructure, making it more expensive per kWh delivered.

In order to align the interests of solar PV investors and the electricity supply industry, a new approach is required and this must be underpinned by legislation, ideally at the national level. The new approach must greatly enhance the value to retailers of rooftop solar power exported to the grid. (more…)

BRT in Bogota

May 19, 2011

A station on the Bogota BRT

SHOROC’s comprehensive solution to our transport woes includes as one of its components a Bus Rapid Transit system which will run along the Spit Road Military Road corridor. So I was very interested to hear Professor Juan Pablo Bocarejo talk on the Bogota BRT, delivered recently as part of the City of Sydney’s City Conversation Program. I can recommend watching the video of the system. For Bogata, a city of 7 million, BRT was a much more attractive option than a metro in the sense that it has one tenth of the cost yet can move the same volume of people with the same average speed. The buses have their own right of way and stop at “stations” with raised platforms. The buses themselves have doors along the entire side so loading and unloading is very fast. The red BRT buses serve the trunk routes but free green buses circulate in the local neighbourhood of each station to feed passengers into the BRT. As well as using buses as feeders, citizens of Bogota are encouraged to walk and ride their bicycles to the stations. Extensive, free secure bicycle parking is provided at each station. (more…)

A response to Bjorn Lomborg

March 11, 2011

Bjorn Lomborg gave a key note address at the Planet Ark 18th birthday party held last night at The Mint in Sydney. I was surprised that a respected organisation like Planet Ark would invite such a controversial speaker so I went along to hear what he had to say.

I have been following the debate about Lomborg’s first book, the Skeptical Environmentalist for years, but it was not until I heard him speak that I was able to pin down exactly where Lomborg’s starting assumptions are different to mine, and hence why we come to such different conclusions. (more…)

The Biggest Wake Up Call in History

February 4, 2011

This is a book that I have been waiting for, for a very long time. At last someone (Richard Slaughter) has done some thinking on why it is that the warnings from scientists and environmentalists since the Club of Rome days in the 1960’s have been ignored by our politicians, business leaders and those that put them in power.

Slaughter has spent a lifetime in future studies so is well placed to comment on what is going on and to sketch out what might happen next. It is a very satisfying book to read as Slaughter first describes what has happened, then offers a very deeply thought through explanation of what is going on, then evaluates a comprehensive array of responses/predictions represented by movements such as Transition Towns and publications such as the Stern and Garnaut reports, against his explanatory theory. If you are convinced about the Science, and agree that we need to make far reaching changes to how we live and what we value, but haven’t yet heard any way forward that makes sense, this is the book for you. Be warned, it is not a light read, but a very rewarding one. (more…)

Floods, the ethics of climate change and why we need a price on carbon

January 14, 2011

I accept the advice being given by the Royal Society and Australian Academy of Sciences that
• global warming is occurring
• that the primary cause is fossil fuel burning
• that business as usual is not an option

This advice is unequivocal. There is however uncertainty about how much the temperature will increase, over what period and with what precise consequences

I do not believe that these uncertainties detract from the fact that urgent action needs to be taken now to mitigate the risk of increased frequency of severe weather events and of species extinction, and the risk of compromising global food and water supplies. The Victorian bushfires and Queensland floods bring this point home.

The warning issued by the peak bodies representing the scientific community has changed the way I view my own use on fossil fuels. Decisions about electricity use, transport, food and what I choose to buy, now have moral implications. (more…)

Dealing with Sea Level Rise

December 6, 2010

I am the Mosman Council delegate to the Sydney Councils Coastal Group (SCCG), and last weekend I attended my fifth meeting. SCCG is an example of what can be achieved when councils work together. The group facilitates the process of writing research briefs and then commissioning, monitoring and reporting on the resultant research on matters of common concern to all coastal councils. Technical meetings, where council environmental staff share information and identify common issues are held monthly, and ordinary meetings, attended by councillor delegates are held three times a year. At these meetings, as well as resolving matters requiring a decision, there are presentations describing the outcome of the SCCG research projects. I find the meetings invaluable as a means of hearing what is going on across Sydney councils and highly informative given the quality of the research that has been commissioned. (more…)

It can happen!

November 3, 2010

One of the satisfactions I get from travel, is going to distant lands and finding actually in place and working well something that I would like to see in Mosman. This is especially the case when I have contemplating fighting for some of these things on Council but have been told by all and sundry that it could never work and even if it could there would be insurmountable political barriers.

I have collected a set of captioned photos to illustrate.

Churches that are leading the way in renewable energy; street lights that are extinguished between 1 and 5 am; a locality with no garages or on-street parking; traffic undergrounded to create a magnificent boulevard for bikes and pedestrians (now there is an idea for Spit Junction); bus shelters that don’t impede bicycles sharing the verge with pedestrians; big-box shopping centres seamlessly integrated into heritage towns (food for thought here when considering how Spit Junction might be developed); Naked streets where heavy trucks and small children “negotiate” shared space; senior citizens preferring to go shopping on a bike (with walking stick attached): young mums preferring to use the bike to take themselves and two toddlers to the shops; cycling infrastructure so good that kids can ride to school; new footpaths that are wider than the old to make life easier for pedestrians, despite the increased cost; electronic bollards to restrict access while allowing buses and resident through; demand management being used to control congestion; what happens when hedge heights are unregulated; bikes on buses; stealing traffic lanes to make cycleways; volunteer drivers for community buses; reclaiming the streets for people; alternative ways of achieving medium density; elegant bridges.

Making Mosman Cycle Friendly – 1

September 16, 2010

Up until now, what little attention has been given to the needs of cyclists in Mosman has focussed on commuters. But if we are ever to get to the point where most people, whatever their age, fitness and experience are to feel confident about using the bike for local trips, then we need to turn our attention to providing routes that are safe and “feel” safe. On my recent trip I spent a lot of time in cities that have recognised the enormous health and environmental benefits of cycling and have been successful in pushing up the percentage of local trips made by cycle to respectable levels. Each city is of course unique in terms of its topography, history, culture and built environment, but an approach taken across the board to encourage cycling has been to engineer and environment where there is a network of quiet streets, permeable to bikes but not to cars. Complementing this network, of course, are special provisions for cyclists on the unavoidable busy streets which inevitably need to negotiated in getting from A to B.

In this post I want to report on what I learned about how in other places these networks of quiet streets have been established. In most places I visited, and it also applies to Mosman, the desire by residents to eliminate through traffic from their streets had provided an excellent foundation. The standard methods used to eliminate, discourage, or at the very least, slow down traffic in residential streets such as road closures, one way sections, chicanes, speed bumps and road narrowing also serve to provide streets that are both stress free for cyclists and attractive for pedestrians.
From a cyclists perspective, the best ride of all is along a flat smooth surface of a street that is a dead end for cars but permeable by bike. The total absence of through motor traffic is what makes the street so attractive. Second best is a street where if there is through traffic, it is one way (but contra flow cycling is permitted. If two way motor traffic is unavoidable then the layout of the street should signal to drivers that they need to negotiate their way through rather than that they have priority. I saw many interesting examples of how this can be achieved. The entrances and exits to the streets are narrowed using kerb build-outs often combined with roundabouts. In Vancouver very attractive gardens are established on the kerb build-outs and roundabouts, each one in the care of a named resident. In Konstanz where the streets are in any case narrow, parking on alternate sides of the road introduces a natural chicane. In Berlin, where the streets are as wide as Mosman streets the trafficable proportion has been reduced by changing he parking on one side of the street to 90 degree angle parking. (more…)