Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Greens policy to encourage public transport use - subsidised ACTION tickets and bicycles

Today the media report that the ACT Greens have announced that they would like to see ACTION bus tickets and bicycles included in public servant salary packages. These comments seem to have support from the ACT Government, and the Liberals think that it is an idea worth investigating.

However,  as I have learnt from listening to ACT ALP politicians - its not what they say - it is what is delivered. They say all sorts of warm hug me sounding words. Rarely do they follow through.

My advice to the Greens is to not get too excited until they see actual legislative changes to make the proposed policy a reality. It is a good policy - and would lead to a percentage point or two of extra public transport usage. As parking in Civic decreases or shifts to paid parking, and becomes more expensive, this idea could gain some traction. I encourage the ACT public servants union, the CPSU, to get behind this idea in the next round of certified agreement negotiations.

The difficulties for delivery of the policy are twofold:

  • The ACT ALP have no real incentive to actually do anything.
  • There may be federal fringe benefits tax complications.

So a little bit of work from the legal department is in order to ensure aspiration meets reality.

The policy conforms with my general belief that to move people from their private cars to public transport for commuting, you must make public transport comfortable, reliable and frequent. You cannot punish people into using it.

Transport policy for the ACT Greens can be found here. For all their rhetoric on sustainable and green transport, disturbingly the ACT Greens remain welded to the ACTION bus model for public transport in the ACT. Their policy is bus focussed. I understand that they are working with the tools at hand (the existing ACTION bus network) but it is disturbing that they do not have a policy of exploring better mass transit options - such as light rail. This is something that I have gained from talking to Green MLA's as well, not just from looking at their policy.

To achieve the goal that they are asking for, public transport patronage to increase by at least 5% per year between 2008 - 2012 (their policy), they must abandon the idea that ACTION buses can deliver that result. While the bus ticket proposal may eventuate and increase public transport by a percentage point, it will not offer the large scale increase in public transport patronage that a light rail system can deliver.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

REDEX - the Bus Rapid Transit you have when you're not having Bus Rapid Transit

Every time the ACT Government conduct a review of transport they have a predictable outcome - a recommendation to improve bus services (in lieu of really offering proper mass transit like light rail). Opponents of light rail say that buses offer the same service that light rail can. This of course is totally false, as the major limiting factor is passenger capacity and reliability of route service.

In the ACT, the government monopoly bus company ACTION have been struggling for years to offer a service that will get people out of their cars and onto public transport. The major problem with ACTION is that it is trying to do two things with the same bus. It trys to offer local services delivering people to transport hubs, or bus interchanges, and it also offers town centre to town centre services. You would think that this would make commuting in Canberra relatively easy and quick. Wrong.

The local service buses meander all over several suburbs in a counter intuitive fashion, with service frequencies of around an hour. Occasionally, they just dont turn up at all. So people drive their car.

The intertown service buses do not run as express services, but service all stops along the way between interchanges. They also share the roads with regular traffic, and are subject to slow traffic, congestion and delays. This impacts frequency and scheduling severely. in peak times, full buses sail past people waiting for them.

Earlier this year, the ACT Transport Minister announced a trial of REDEX Buses . Ostensibly, this is an intertown express service offering increased frequency, and servicing less stops, focussing on major stops where large volumes of people work or live. Bus Rapid Transit 'lite'.

Late last month, the Transport Minister updated the REDEX plans, announcing a delay to the trial and significant alterations. His media release is here.

Am I the only person who finds the use of the word 'improved' in the media release facile ? Slashing the service by 75% of its previously publicised scope, is NOT an improvement.

When announced in May, the service was to service all town centres, Civic and the Parliamentary Triangle. All major service areas, with significant passenger volume needing to be shifted with few stops (or none) along the way. A commendable aim, and one which I supported at the time. If it worked, it would be a demonstrable way to show those who commute by car that their travel times on public transport would drop, and service would be guaranteed to be frequent in peak hours.

The key to attracting people to public transport is to offer reliable, attractive and frequent service to the places people want to go. The REDEX announcement goes partway to satisfying the problem with buses, in that they would be a more direct express service than existing buses.

The 'improved REDEX service' waters down the much publicised trial to a single town centre, Gungahlin.

I was told that Tim Swift would be addressing the Gungahlin Community Council to discuss the REDEX trial, and decided to attend. Mr Swift and ACTIONS Business Manager, Jenny Bowler, attended and showed the audience a large map of the new service route.

The 'improved' REDEX 'trial' will now run from Gungahlin Town Centre, to Mitchell, Dickson and Civic along Northbourne Avenue, then Barton and Kingston terminating at the Kingston Railway Station. The return route is the same, just in reverse. The service aims to offer a frequency of 15 minutes in peak times.

It is disappointing that the Government and ACTION have slashed the REDEX trial to just one town centre. It is positive that they are trialling a bus express service.

There are a few things that ACTION could do to improve the success of the trial. I offered these suggestions to Mr Swift and Ms Bowler:
  • ACTION need to differentiate REDEX services from regular buses. I suggested large coloured panels in the front window, which could be removed when the bus ends REDEX duty and returns to other services. These would also promote REDEX services. 
  • Handling cash and providing change delays services. I suggested that REDEX services not accept cash, making REDEX a bus card only service. 
  • Coordinate the proposed REDEX brochure drop, with a free ticket to be used on REDEX only. This would attract an initial boost in service ridership, which if the service proved viable, would remain. 
  • Enable traffic light coordination so REDEX travels express down Northbourne and other traffic light infested roads. 
These suggestions if implemented could see the REDEX trial become a success. The 'Expresso' services seem to be popular as they do the things that people need public transport to do - offer reliable, attractive and frequent service to the places people want to go. REDEX, if implemented and promoted properly could boost public transport patronage in a similar fashion.

How can this trial fail ?
  • Two weeks out from the beginning of the service there are no timetables, routes or maps on ACTIONS website.
  • Only one bus will run every 15 minutes from Gungahlin town centre. If this bus reaches capacity, it will sail past people waiting at the special REDEX stops (a sign on a pole) and the person will have to wait for another bus.
  • The REDEX trial will use regular buses, not the new high capacity steerable rear axle buses.
  • There is no differentiation between a REDEX and regular service bus. No paint colour, sticker, nothing. Just the number in the bus route display window.
  • REDEX buses will travel on the same roads as Joe Commuter in his Camry. Stop at the same traffic lights and be delayed by the same road congestion. 
Essentially, ACTION are adopting elements of Bus Rapid Transit and grafting them to the ACTION tree. Other elements, those that cost money, are not being adopted. As I have said before - a sign on a pole is not transport infrastructure.

I am hopeful that this REDEX trial will be successful, but hope is not a business plan - REDEX needs to be funded, staffed and promoted properly by ACTION and government. It needs to use buses with increased capacity and provide a point of difference between REDEX and regular buses. Do this properly and attract regular increased patronage, and the need for increased road construction and increased parking spaces will alleviate.

The first step in creating a sustainable transport system is providing a functional transport system.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Electric Vehicle Festival 2009

The Canberra branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association organised a very successful display of past, present and future technology associated with electric vehicles on Sunday 4 October 2009, on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra. Being a car nut I would have gone anyway, but in my role as Chair of the ACT Light Rail Coalition, a public transport lobby group, I was manning a stall promoting light rail in the Capital region. This meant that I spent most of the day handing out leaflets and saying ‘yes’ a thousand times when asked if I really thought light rail would be built in Canberra.

There was an eclectic mix of people with an association with electric vehicles. This ranged from a gentleman who imported a Tesla, with plans to sell them locally, to homebuilt electric cars converted from internal combustion engined cars, brand new hybrids from Toyota and Honda, some vintage electric cars, and electric bicycles. There was even a Segway – and a homebuilt Segway replica. The full spectrum of the electric automotive world.

The crowds were quite strong all day. Although I was inside a tent talking up light rail for Canberra most of the time, when I did escape to wander it was obvious that several thousand Canberrans had come out to look at electric vehicles. I saw several local politicians and the media covered the event as well, although just film footage as the journos don’t work weekends in Canberra.


The homebuilt converted cars were fascinating. They were all ‘small’ cars and the conversions looked very neat. I was impressed with the Daihatsu that had a generator hanging on a sled at the rear of the car. This car was driven from Melbourne to Canberra, so it makes sense that a battery charging solution was required.

The engineering on these cars was outstanding. I was impressed that clear plastic was placed across the engine bays on some of them. The voltage and amps required to run the cars is significant – and dangerous. 

I find it fascinating that instead of waiting for mainstream car companies to deliver electric cars, some people are creating their own solutions. Electric hot rods.

One of the other things that impresses me about electric cars is the lack of moving parts. By removing the heavy metal engine and replacing it with much lighter components, and far fewer of them, significant weight savings are made. This makes it easier for the electric engine to move a lighter load. It was interesting to compare the simplicity of the converted electric cars, to the complexity of the commercially sold hybrids.


There are very few Segways in Canberra, I believe there are regulations restricting their use on public streets. This hasn’t stopped one person making a homebuilt Segway. I wonder what it’s called.


This is a growing segment of the bike market. Most of the electric bikes on display were commercially manufactured, with a few modified from non-electric with a conversion kit. A conversion kit was on sale at around $900. When you factor in parking at around $35 a week in Canberra, this would pay for itself if you lived 10-15 km from your work place. I often see a rather tubby gent on an electric scooter zipping along William Slim Drive coming from Belconnen and heading towards Gungahlin, so I imagine the batteries are good enough for a 10-15 km round trip.


This is an impressive car. A private import, it is on a permit that does not allow driving on public roads or registration. A problem with ADR’s I believe. This car was the hit of the day, and was closely investigated by everyone who visited the EV festival.

Tesla engine bay

Interior (note left hand drive)

Tesla trunk/storage area/battery.

Tesla extension cord

With the road closed to the public, the Tesla made a few runs and it certainly had impressive acceleration. These runs were very popular as well.

Goy Motor Company

David Goy has a dream - to build an electric sports car in Australia. He has been working on this design for three years and is seeking capital to build a prototype. The car is impressively rendered, and looks great. It is a slightly cooler looking Australian version of the Tesla concept.

Although I have my doubts that the Australian market can support a dedicated electric sports car, the Goy Motor Company certainly present a compelling product. I would like to see the technology and design focus placed on a four door car and a commercial vehicle, as that is what would make his company profitable, but you cant deny how cool looking the sports car is.

As David and Anya manned the stall next the Light Rail table, I chatted to them several times during the day. He has an engineering background and boundless enthusiasm. I believe he will get his car built.


The commercially available hybrids were on show and actively marketed by sales people during the day. As the link between internal combustion engine vehicles and what comes next, hybrids work very well in solving the big problem with electric vehicles – battery power limiting vehicle range. As an engineering solution it is neat, using the advantages of both technologies to limit the disadvantages of both technologies. Hybrid technology can only get better. When I was in the states a few months back, I saw many hybrid taxis in New York. 

Better Place

Another engineering solution to tackle the range issue is the Better Place model. Better Place proposes building a network of recharging and battery exchange stations. These are the equivalent of today’s petrol stations. This would mean that the gent that drove his electric Daihatsu from Melbourne would not need to have a generator on board; he could drive into a Better Place station and exchange his depleted battery pack for a fully charged pack. 

This seems like a good idea if the car is designed to have quick changeover battery packs. I would be concerned if the technology became proprietary requiring the use of a specific type of battery pack. The disadvantage here is that the electric vehicle industry may lock itself into a technology that is difficult to upgrade or evolve. Of course industry standards also bring advantages, knowing you can drive from Sydney to Melbourne without waiting 8 hours to recharge your batteries several times along the way could make the trade-off acceptable.

I discussed the proposed business model with Ben Keneally, from Better Place. The model would certainly work if you managed fleets of vehicles, and apparently the ACT Government has signed an agreement with Better Place and recharging points will be installed in the ACT.

Vintage Cars

Two amazing cars were on display - Detroit Electric cars from 1914 and 1917. These were registered and running, and gave some demonstration runs on the closed road. They attracted a great deal of interest from the crowds.

Imagine if the same level of technological refinement had occurred on electric cars over the last 100 years, that has been applied to internal combustion engined cars.

Light rail promotion

I attended the EV Festival representing ACT Light Rail, a public transport-lobbying group. Also manning the stall were Jon Reynolds and Ian Ruecroft. A few of the committee members did pop in during the day to say hello. We had maps of the ACT Governments proposed rapid routes, and brochures with information on light rail for the Capital region.

We also had a poster of a proposed light rail vehicle, designed by Ivo Ostyn of Strine Design . We received a very positive reaction from almost everyone who stopped to look at our material and talk to us.

Of the several thousand people that stopped by our stall, there were probably only three or four naysayers. Most people asked us if we thought we could actually achieve our aim. Overwhelmingly people were very supportive of light rail as a public transport alternative to buses in Canberra. By 3.30 we had exhausted our supply of brochures.

I enjoyed the EV Festival, and it was a very good way to promote electric vehicles and sustainable transport. I am glad that ACT Light Rail was associated with the event, and thank the organisers for inviting us to attend. We will be there next year.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2009 Queanbeyan Swap Meet treasures

On the morning of the AFL Grand Final I went out to the Queanbeyan Swap Meet/All Ford Day. I try to get to this event every year, it runs over two days and usually has the American Car Show on the Sunday. It is a great source of car parts, tools, car junk and car photos. It is great to wander around and look at and occasionally buy, other peoples trash and treasure. I am also on the lookout for P76 or Falcon parts I might need.

This year the weather was abysmal. I arrived just before 9 AM and it alternated hail and rain for the next hour. This meant that most vendors had their stalls covered. I was lucky in the covered hall though – diecast cars on sale! There were six or seven vendors of diecast cars in the hall, and they had their miniature wares on display. Thousands of the things! Prices varied from table to table, but unlike Ebay, you can see a price and haggle. Some older scarce models were quite pricey. 

I specifically seek out Dinkum Classic 1/43 scale Leyland P76’s at these events. I asked each vendor, but no one had any. One did have some Dinkums, and some later Paradise Garage models but no P76’s. I’m also collecting info on Dinkum and had a good conversation with one of the vendors on the Dinkum company and founder.

Cars both full size and scale model built since 1988 don’t really hold much interest for me, but I did see Biante 1/43 BA XR8 Falcons on special for $10 each. I decided to buy two, one for myself and one for the Falcon Doctor in California. I also saw that the same vendor had a Caldecott Miniatures XY Falcon Ute on sale for $25, so after a quick discussion, I departed with three 1/43 cars for $40. I then headed back out into the rain.

After enduring yet more hail and alternating rain, I decided to call it a day and head back to the car. I needed to get back home before 12.30 as I was hosting a Grand Final BBQ. I spotted a stall with some crappy old US numberplates, and specifically a Centennial Colorado numberplate. I had been in Centennial a few months earlier, so it appealed to me. What made me buy it was that it was a 1976 numberplate. A Bicentennial, Centennial numberplate. Cost - $5. 

Lets look at the Biante Falcons. One of them was quite difficult to remove from the base plate, so instead of damaging the model, I’ve left it on the base plate. They are nicely rendered and seem quite accurate.

The Caldecott Miniatures Falcon was very difficult to get out of its box without damaging or tearing the cardboard flaps. The model itself is a little more primitive than the Biante XR 8 Falcon, especially around the grill. The aerial in 1:1 scale could be a half inch pipe!

The tarp on the load area is nicely rendered. The wheels seem a little oversized for the car, but they are ‘Bathurst’ Globes, and look better than regular 14x6 steel wheels. 

The rear wheels need to be raised a few millimeters. Unless it comes with a load of engine blocks under the tarp. 

Biante and Caldecott cars together. Biante cars clearly feature cleaner casting and more accurate wheels.

The white Falcon is heading off to the States next week, so I hope the Falcon Doctor enjoys it.

This year I spent less than $70 dollars at the Swap Meet – 3 model cars, a numberplate, a pile of 1970’s car magazines and a Dagwood dog. I hope that next year the weather is better at the Queanbeyan Swap Meet. As I walked to my car at 10.30 with my treasures I saw a few Falcons assembling on the showground, but I was soaked, cold and cranky. The rain was so bad at this years event, that I didn’t even take any photos as my camera isn’t waterproof! 

ACT Light Rail submit to the STAP

One of my hats is Chairman of the ACT Light Rail Coalition. Over the last few weeks I have been working on a submission to the ACT Government, in response to their recent Sustainable Transport Action Plan. While I would prefer public transport in the ACT to be functional as well as sustainable, I think the consultants report (while bus centric) does map out some mass transit routes which are ideal for use as light rail routes. 

Sadly, despite the best efforts of the consultant, Jarrett Walker, I believe that ACT Government tinkering will see the forward looking vision elements of the STAP put forward by the consultant, ignored. Already the 'Rapid' bus proposals have been watered down. The consultation process was farcical and managed by facilitators to an extent where it was difficult to provide feedback in a meaningful way. This has been covered on ACT Light Rails website so I wont bore you with the details here.

Even though I have doubts about the ability of Canberra residents to contribute feedback which will be considered by the government (not that Im suggesting they have already made up their minds) I think that involvement in public policy is important. You cant complain about the issue if you sit on your arse and do nothing about it. 

The ACT Government STAP can be found here.

ACT Light Rails submission can be found here in PDF form. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Binalong time since our last club run

Last Sunday on the coldest September day in 40 years, four members of the Canberra and District Leyland P76 club, set off on a run from Canberra to the Binalong Motor Museum. The plan was meet, travel to Binalong, visit the Museum, have a picnic lunch, then return to Canberra.

We met at the NSW/ACT Border at 11 AM and then headed off in convoy along the Barton Highway, to Yass, where we turned left towards Gundagai, and travelled along the Hume until the turnoff to Binalong. Alex and family, Col, Bryce and Myself arrived. Geoff was unable to come due to his cars air conditioner failing. The weather was not warm, so he probably could have attended and not been concerned about remaining cool in his car. It was raining before we met, rained while we assembled, and rained all the way to Binalong.

Alex was the first to arrive at the carpark, and when I arrived he was warmly ensconced in his car with the junior Shoemakers and the missus. He joked about my car smelling of coolant (my radiator hose exploded on last years run to Jugiong…) and then didn’t believe me when I pointed out there was a small pool of green coolant under his engine bay. You can see it in the photos.

The trip along the Barton was rather slower than usual due to a flock of mopeds and scooters who left the carpark on the border just before we did. Although after they turned off to a vineyard, egress was still slowed by a Daihatsu travelling on a two-way road posted at 100km, at 80kmh.

Once through Murrumbateman, the convoy travelled to the Yass Junction service station, where I refuelled and Alex checked his coolant, which seems to be leaking from a pinhole in a NOS water pump. Then despite the best efforts of a Commodore to ram Alexs P76 as we left Yass Junction, the convoy then headed off to Binalong and arrived just after 12 PM – to a sign that said closed 12 to 1PM. 

We then circled around Binalong, a charming rural locale, before stopping at a public park adjacent to a swimming pool. We produced our picnic lunches and stood there shivering and chomping, while Alex’s kids climbed all over the playground equipment.

I noticed an electric BBQ, and decided I would fire it up and see if I could warm myself, as I had no chops to burn. This idea was scorned at first, then followed by people warming themselves on the electric BBQ. Thanks Binalong town council.

As 1 o’clock approached we were about to drive back to the now hopefully open museum, when a couple in a Valiant stopped to talk to us. The gent used to work as a detailer in a Leyland dealership, and when they closed he received a set of Leyland numberplates and one Marina numberplate. These are the promotional numberplates fitted in the dealerships on display cars and are fairly scarce. I have set of these blue P76 numberplates, but have never seen a Marina one. He was pleased as punch o have some Leyland people to show his plates to. 

It turns out that many years ago, Alex had heard of this gent and these numberplates through a mutual friend. He was keen to buy them until the buyer changed his mind. He is still fond of them and has no plans to sell them. They were keen to show them to Leyland fanciers who might be interested though.

We then drove to the museum. It was now open for visitors. Five dollars gained us entry and in the first area was a Bugatti undergoing restoration, and another vintage car with an overly complex chain drive set-up, also undergoing restoration. In the entrance area was a very scarce rotary powered Norton motorcycle. Its an odd setup, like a giant backyard garage with incredibly valuable vintage cars in various stages of repair. You can wander freely, but are asked not to touch. 

 1991 Norton F1

This is a 1991 repro of the 1989 Isle of Man winner, done up in John Player Special (ahh the cool refreshing taste of burning tobacco) colours. 

1927 Bugatti Type 43

This car has a 2.3 litre supercharged engine, good for 110 MPH – in 1927!

 1908 Malicet Et Blin

1990 Binalong Special
Based on a 1961 Jensen chassis, with Jaguar front and rear independent suspension and a supercharged 5.3 litre V12 jaguar engine. Impressively it has a 100 litre fuel tank, a spare tire and room for luggage. This was my favourite car. 

1924 Amilcar

A proper basket case…. 

There was also a pair of Bolwell Nagaris – running 351 Clevelands. They are damn attractive cars, I think I prefer the hardtop. The interior looks comfortable, and the lines are not dated, while still clearly 1970’s in design. These cars would really move. Sadly ADR's killed further production and after the Ilinga project, Bolwell abandoned car production and returned to its core business of fiberglass pools, spas and truck bodies. 

Bolwell Nagaris

After the short museum tour ended, we headed back to our warm cars and drove back to Canberra. It was a very successful club run, even though it rained from Canberra to Binalong and stayed below 8 degrees all day. The museum is very interesting, but only has a small collection of cars. There were a few Ferraris and 1920's American cars, and some cutaway engines on display also, as well as a replica of Bleriots monoplane hanging from the ceiling. A rather odd and eclectic personal museum. Perhaps its being run as a giant tax dodge ? 

I don’t know of I would make a special trip to the museum unless I was a mad keen Bugatti aficionado, but if I was on my way to Coota or Temora it would be worth dropping in. Its only a few minutes off the Hume, so this could be a nice diversion to break up that long Melbourne to Sydney drive.