Transit Oriented Developments: They Just Make Sense in a Post Covid World

There is a reason why Japan’s transit returns a 113% Farebox Recovery Ratio, and we only return 43%

As it says above: there is a reason why Japan’s transit system returns a Farebox Recovery of 113% (aka it makes a profit) while Auckland, and even the Australia cities only produce a Farebox Recovery of less than 50% (making a loss, thus requiring public subsidies). And the reason is epitomised by this picture and tweet below:

What we have here is a heavy rail station with a transit line to Melbourne City Centre. Apparently it has lots of car parks and some kind of feeder bus service into it.

As a highlight we have another example of another Melbourne Station with Park and Ride here:

An upcoming Melbourne Station with Park and Ride. Source: Rob Mayo

To make this one a laugh they have attempted to green-wash the park and ride by providing it a green roof. But as Rob points out:

This project officially announced in late October 2020, does not take into account the significant changes already happening in ongoing travel patterns as a result of Covid-19 and the ‘New Normal’ in a post-lockdown world. The project doesn’t take into account that there is no supermarket within a 3-5km radius here, let alone a significant medical care facility.  It doesn’t factor in the already-embedded new culture of working from home regularly – at least several times in a working month. Only 300 jobs will be ‘created’ as a result of this $69 million dollar project and there is no mention at all of any ongoing wealth creation nor the granular-level benefits the surrounding communities will derive from the project – communities which through this facility design will likely become even more car-dependant and environmentally / socially ‘severed’ than they are now.  This project doesn’t acknowledge that our world has already changed – our role as public transport service providers already has a new set of user, community and societal priorities and expectations to meet. This project is building for a demographic and for a world that is no longer ‘there’.

The dynamics of this new station as provided by Human Experience Engineer – Rob Mayo

Both stations would fail the 15 minute City model currently being touted around the world. The stations would also be money black holes costing the transit authority and the city itself not just money but also opportunity cost, and the externality cost associated with driving (compared to over modes). As Rob also pointed out there is no amenities in close proximity to the stations either which means you are condemned to drive everywhere for those most basic of amenities.

In the 21st Century this “Doing Wrong – Better” is unacceptable from authorities and Melbourne is certainly not alone (looking at you Auckland).

Where is our City at today Source: Toderian UrbanWorks

But the good news is, it need not be this way.

Enter Transit Oriented Developments

The first station however, is a prime example of what we can do to not only make the station more effective but also allowing the transit authority to earn some revenue as well.

The above is Tarneit Station west of Melbourne City. You can see it is in the middle of nowhere but nearby to existing developments. So on this Melbourne is doing better than Auckland in building a decent station ahead of major urban development touted for the area. However, it has fallen into the same trap as Auckland – particularly Drury in having a massive park and ride and not having decent transit or active mode infrastructure set up. Again the TOD goes begging as well given the nearby urban area is mainly single use residential – low density residential with very few amenities in the area (apart from one mall and a community centre). This is a very common problem in Melbourne’s outer suburbs often leading to excessive super commutes.

Zooming in we can see the station is surrounded by blank land and is connected to two arterial roads (one that heads to Route 35 and the ship yards). This allows expansion of the initial TOD into the urban form in a straight forward manner. The mall and community centre is at the bottom of this picture so forming a seamless connection would be easy enough as the area gets more population (and stage 2 of the TOD is done). The road on the bottom would be perfect for Bus Rapid Transit heading east along Route 35 to the M1 and then the shipyards at Port Philip. Remember Stage 1 is the TOD on the Station itself, Stage 2 is going south and connection up to the mall and the construction of the bus rapid transit heading east. Note: Owing to the existing urban form the eight storey cap at the station would not be out of scale as it would trigger intensification south of the area.

And this is the area I will be starting with.

So took out my A3 pads and graphics gear and did some mock ups on paper what that station could actually house. Working within the station park and ride, assuming no air rights above the tracks apart for air bridges, and no more than eight storeys maximum I was able to draw up a fully semi-self contained Town Centre for the following:

  • Up to 5,000 residents (across between 1,667 – 2,500 dwellings depending on bedroom configurations).
  • Up to 2,000 jobs in commercial services and office (including general stores, medical centre, co-share working spaces, hospitality and retail
  • Civic and Green Infrastructure (green spaces on roofs, library and community centre. A school would be across the road)
  • Bus or Light Rail interchange
  • Parking drastically reduced by 90% with whatever is left reserved for mobility riders, kiss and ride, car-share and cycle parking as first priority. If a resident would like a car park they could purchase one at cost of the park.

Yes it will be an urban island initially unless the State Government was up for Stage 2 being built at the same time connecting the station to the mall. If so then we go from 5,000 residents to 15,000 residents and 5,000 jobs plus civic and green infrastructure. The Busway would also have to start as well.

The entire complex would be owned by the Transit Authority itself meaning it gains revenue through rents, leases, percentage of gross sales from retail which can be used to further fund transit infrastructure operations. As the Transit Authority owns the land and complexes it also means it can control the urban design and spatial form of the that complex. And the good news is this scheme can be repeated in a standardised fashion across any heavy rail, light rail or bus station.

Does the above sound familiar or has it been done somewhere with great effect? Yes – in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore – and they are called Transit Oriented Developments. The best bit using those three examples? all have Farebox Recovery Ratios between 103%- 113% – meaning they turn over a profit. How? While money is made from fares, the real money is made from rents, leases and retail sale takings by the complexes in and around the station owned by the respective Transit Authorities.

We win as we get Town Centres right above or next to a rapid transit station that comes with all our basic amenities (meaning we do not need to travel five kilometres to a supermarket for bread and milk). The Transit Authority wins by having a cluster of population right next to their stations thus more than likely to use the station. The Transit Authority also wins from a diversified revenue stream that is not solely fares or subsidies. The City wins through reduce demand for sprawl, reduced demand for using a cars, and encouragement for using transit to criss-cross the City.

Also a reminder how much sprawl costs versed intensification. Park and Rides encourage sprawl.

So it might be time for our authorities to stop Doing Wrong – Better, and do the Right Thing – First Time – Every Time!

Transport Budget Source: Brent Toderian

2 thoughts on “Transit Oriented Developments: They Just Make Sense in a Post Covid World

  1. The question unanswered is, “Why the need to drive, or take a train into the city anyway?”

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