Nuances of Public Transport Services
STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul Villarete (The Freeman) - April 30, 2019 - 12:00am

(Part 4 - Inter-modal transport)

In Part 3, we stated that public transport systems can have direct (single-trip) routes, or connected (multiple-trip) routes, requiring transfers. In general, the best citywide systems should be the one with both, letting the people have more choices. But emerging commuter preference, especially for those who use public transit in going to work each day leans towards direct, single-trip services. This is also indicated in the higher number of “bus-trips,” which are more often direct than “rail-trips,” which tend to have connections in more advanced cities, even when they have the best rail services in the world. The less transfers, or none at all, is better for most city folks.

We always hear that magical word “inter-modal.” If we search on the term “inter-modal transport,” we’ll find nine out of 10 results will almost always refer to cargo handling. In the 1990s, it was in the logistics sector when this was first developed as a solution to the difficulty in cargo handling at the interface between modes. For example, transferring cargo from air to land at airports, or handling of cargo at seaports, which often caused months of delay. That’s the reason the roll-on/roll-off (RORO) system was developed, where cargo vans simply roll off ships and proceed to their next destinations, eliminating a lot of cargo handling. From land to sea to air --different modes. Inter-modal.

Today, many people apply it to land urban transport, connecting many different modes – all types of rail and buses, as well as the lower-capacity ones - including paratransit and NMTs (non-motorized transport), and including even connections between the same mode (train transfers/bus transfers).

It has become so vogue that some even try to make it a goal in planning. It’s as if, any plan is not as good if you don’t make it inter-modal. Of course, we always aspire to have seamless connections. But something is wrong when you actively insist on it when none is required.

Inter-modality is a tool, a solution, an efficiency added to the problems of transfers and waiting when you really need to put different modes. It is not a goal or objective at the first instance, but a solution to a problem.

The first aim should be to eliminate or minimize transfer points. No matter how fast and comfortable the rides are, no one will prefer four connecting trips compared to a single direct one.

The key is to fix our goal and work around in achieving it, keeping our focus at the end. The objective is not inter-modal transport per se, the ultimate goal is mobility --reliable, dependable, environmentally-sustainable, and inclusive.

Minimizing transfers is a sub-goal, which means we introduce inter-modal as a last (not first) resort, not the governing policy. Having all direct services are difficult for big cities, of course, and where transfers are inevitable, there we provide the most convenient and seamless transfers as possible, through inter-modal connectivity. (To be continued)

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