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Good interchange - the basis for integrated transport

Independent Transport Consultant D.Scott Hellewell recently chaired a Working Party of the Chartered Institute of Transport (CIT) which examined the whole question of design and operation of passenger interchanges. Its Report has now been published and is already proving to be influential with government. Scott puts Tramways & Urban Transit readers in the picture:

First choice for passengers is direct services, but better interchange, formal and informal is the key to developing integrated transport

The mission of the Working Party was to establish principles and develop guidelines for the design and operation of passenger interchanges and we were expected to show particular regard to timetable co-ordination, the location of interchanges, their layout and design and the facilities provided, passenger information and signs, through fares and ticketing arrangements and the management and operation of interchanges.

Membership of the Working Party drew widely on a cross-section of organisations involved in passenger interchanges including bus and rail operators, Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs) and local authorities. The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) was also represented and information was fed from the Working Party into the Department’s guidance on the preparation of Local Transport Plans (LTP’s), published on November 12th. DETR has supported the CIT’s work and is now issuing the Report to all local authorities and operators. Thus the first objective of raising awareness of the importance of passenger interchange in an integrated transport policy has been achieved. This article summarises this work.

Work has now commenced jointly between CIT and DETR on the second stage of the work to promote best practice, to develop checklists and lines of audit for local authorities and operators to use in their own activities and in the development of LTP’s, first drafts of which have to be submitted to DETR in July 1999. The object is to identify interchange where it currently exists, to propose improvements and to identify where interchange could be developed.

It is quite clear that, wherever possible, the heaviest point-to-point passenger flows should be carried by through services. This may be facilitated by linking or extending existing services. Extending or modifying existing services can also increase their potential for interchange. These actions will help to ‘open up’ existing public transport networks to the more diffuse travel patterns that have developed with increasing car-dependence. The development of such integrated networks should be complemented by through-ticketing schemes thus enabling passengers to avoid the annoyance, cost and time penalties of buying new tickets for each leg of the journey.

Most interchange is ‘informal’, i.e. taking place away from the purpose-built interchange locations. Passengers find their own arrangements for their regular journey. Under an integrated and market-led system, passengers would be encouraged to make better use of existing facilities. Market opportunities for making greater use of the networks would be highlighted. The introduction of through-ticketing schemes enables passengers to choose their preferred route patterns and interchange points, which may vary from day-to-day.

In Britain there is little presumption of interchange or integration between individual operators, let alone between different modes. Indeed the provision of Britain’s public transport has been fragmented over the last twelve years (since bus deregulation outside London). One of the White Paper’s definitions of interchange is to enable people to make easy connections within and between the different modes of transport. Another aspect of integration referred to is that between transport and land-use planning to support more sustainable travel choices.

The Report gives an overview of the subject of passenger interchanges identifying two quite distinct reasons for them. One is when there is no direct, convenient through service or route for the journey. The other reason is when a passenger decides to take advantage of the superior speed, comfort or convenience of a particular mode (e.g. light rail) for part of the journey. In the first case the passenger has little choice, whereas choice is being exercised in the second case. This clearly affects a passenger’s perception of public transport in general, and of interchange in particular. A major factor in interchanging relates to the reason for the journey.

Although most interchange is ‘informal’, it is clear that a great deal can be done by individual operators being aware of other operators and modes and the services provided by these. Similar remarks apply to local authorities. Wherever bus services or buses and trains are adjacent to each other, there is the opportunity of passengers interchanging. Reference to each other’s timetables and the physical arrangements between them will often highlight the potential for interchange. Improved kerb, shelter facilities and road crossings by the local authority maybe all that is needed to improve an existing ‘informal’ interchange or to create a new opportunity. If no changes are required to the bus or rail timetables these additional passengers will bring extra revenue to the operators involved, as well as reducing car dependence.

Interchange is the potential weak link in an integrated journey which raises many questions in a passenger’s mind, above all: “Will my connection be made and if not will there be an alternative?” The network structure, route planning, timetable co-ordination, through fares and ticketing arrangements and passenger information issues are considered in detail. Having ‘planned’ a connection, operational and management arrangements must ensure that it is achieved. In the event of a failure to connect, back-up must be available. Integrated timetables raise a number of issues in an operator’s mind: there may be a loss of independence or a dependence on another operator or mode. These issues are compounded when changing between services of different frequencies.

An essential feature of interchange relates to the need for the through fares and ticketing arrangements. Unfortunately passenger requirements and operator’s needs tend to be divergent, yet such arrangements are crucial to the development of successful integrated transport networks. Passenger wish to avoid the time and financial penalty and inconvenience of having to buy separate tickets for each part of their journeys. An operator, dependent upon fare income, wants to ensure he gets full payment for the service he has provided. Another important matter relates to the provision of information before and during a journey. Whilst this issue relates to public transport as a whole, it takes on added importance when interchange is involved.

To many people the kernel of integration is timetable co-ordination and considerable regard was paid to the matter with particular attention being given to the hierarchy of interchange (that is to say, which of several inter-connecting services is the lynch-pin around which the others are organised). Other key issues are the interlinking of timetables, timetable planning arrangements, service frequencies, reliability of services and delivery of connections.

Existing, often informal, interchange can generally be improved and made more attractive and use-friendly by quite minor matters such as signing, painting, lighting and improved information. However, in other cases physical works require to be undertaken, particularly important factors being the location and scale of provision, its layout and design, the range and type of facilities and amenities provided, information and signing, a safe and secure environment and competent management & operation.

Steps to increase opportunities for further interchange need not be complex or expensive, furthermore most of the ideas considered can be achieved within existing legislation. The White Paper on Integrated Transport set out the direction in which the government wishes to go. This first Report has drawn together the practical issues to be addressed in achieving the government’s aims.

It would be naive to think, as some people no doubt do, that the integration of public transport can be achieved without the expenditure of any money and the Report considers both the financial and policy issues which need addressing. By definition an interchange involves more than one operator mode. Ownership & operation may not be in the same hands, responsibilities need to be agreed. Ownership may be by a single entity or by a consortium. This may reflect the financing of the project and the interests of the parties. Some interchange facilities are owned and/or operated by public sector bodies (such as PTEs or local councils), whilst others are owned and/or operated by private sector organisations (such as Railtrack or train or bus operators). The funding involved may come from private sources (within companies) or from the public sector (local transport plans, European Union) or, a combination where a project is a public and private partnership.

It is to these organisations that one would look for the improvement of existing, often informal, interchange as well as for the promotion of improved and purpose-built interchanges. One of the objects of the government’s integrated transport policy is to reduce car-dependence and to get more people to use public transport. The Working Party believes that interchange plays a key role, possibly the key role in such a policy.

The CIT’s Report makes some 64 recommendations. Three of them are:

  1. Interchange should form part of highway authorities’ Traffic Management Programmes, improving access to, and the circulation of, public transport services.
  2. Train Operating Companies could be encouraged to assess their stations to establish their potential for bus interchange.
  3. Bus operators should re-appraise their bus routes and terminal points to determine if potential exists for integrating their services better with rail or other bus operation.

If these recommendations are implemented by local authorities, train and bus operators, individually and collectively, a prioritised programme of improvement could be developed and implemented quite quickly. More ambitious developments could follow as confidence builds up and legislation and money permits.

(Copies of the CIT Report entitled: “Passenger Interchanges: A practical way of achieving passenger transport integration” are available from the Chartered Institute of Transport).

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