Route Choice – Public Transport

I have recently found myself frequently discussing and giving advice to travellers in London, as well as planning my own journeys in a range of circumstances, primarily focussing on travel to or from all of London’s airports. This has brought to my attention the range of factors which contribute to the choice of journey we make and the challenge of catering to our needs in most journey planners, from the good old fashioned tube map, through TfL, National Rail, Google or even Citymapper, which is my go-to travel app.

I would like to argue that whether or not you’re travelling in a hurry or not, with or without a suitcase, on a familiar or unfamiliar system, can potentially have a huge impact on what is the optimal route you may wish to take. Let’s start with the obvious…

Time & Money

In general, time is considered the primary and most obvious factor in deciding route choice and indeed journey planners now often tell you at what time you need to leave to arrive at your destination by your desired time, even giving live departure times for buses and trains. You can get across most of London on a bus, but taking the tube is likely to be faster or even, if you happen to be on the right route, jumping on a train. The other side of the story, however, is cost. Getting the Gatwick Express can be only 2 minutes faster than taking the ‘normal’ train, yet cost twice as much, while the Heathrow Express might be worth it if you’re travelling to Paddington, but less so if you’re going somewhere else on the tube network (especially if you can just sit tight on the Piccadilly line for an hour). The most frugal travellers may choose to walk or cycle, of course, but as soon as public transport comes into play, so does cost. The difference between a single bus journey (£1.50) and tube (£2.40) may not be much, but over a week of commuting, it’s 90p x 10 = £9! But time is not always equal to money…


Whether or not you have heavy luggage can potentially have a huge impact on the route you take. Let’s take two hypothetical ways to get to the airport… route A: overground + tube + train, travel time = 45 mins; route B: bus + train, travel time = 60 mins. Route B is takes over 33% more time (15 mins), however route A requires you to carry a heavy suitcase up and down several flights of stairs, as some tube stations don’t have lifts. Since you’re presumably leaving with enough leeway to get to the airport, adding an extra fifteen minutes might well we worth the convenience! Similar factors apply to travellers with mobility difficulties, be it an elderly traveller, someone in a wheelchair or with a buggy.

Knowledge of the network

In this instance, ‘knowledge’ can be understood in a number of ways, depending on experience and exposure to the network, as well as the ‘savviness’ of the traveller. London is famous for its tube network and many visitors are still planning their route using a faithful tube map. For many tourists, a bus journey could be preferable – but I am yet to meet someone who thinks that deciphering London’s bus network is easy. Awareness of the entire network may not come readily, even looking at TfL’s website. If you’re travelling from West Hampstead to St Paul’s Cathedral, should you take the Jubilee and Central lines? No! Hop on a train and get off at City Thameslink – it’s faster and there are no changes required. A further element of this is the capability to extend beyond the public transport offering into the fringes of MaaS. Perhaps the quickest way is neither bus nor tube, but hopping on a Boris bike, an ofo or a mobike?


Whilst we might prefer to have the simplest/cleanest solution (“just get me from A to B”), knowing the context of the journey might be really beneficial despite our inherent defensiveness about apps or services knowing too much about us. Wouldn’t it be handy having a personalised guide who can differentiate between when we just need to get to a meeting as quickly as possible, or whether we have time to take a more comfortable journey with two heavy suitcases, as well as when we might save money from altering our trip by walking an extra 5 minutes to catch a bus?

Photo by Janis Oppliger on Unsplash

A4 Great West Road Consultation Exercise

It seems to be consultation season. Or maybe it’s just autumn; the days are getting darker and I have more time to give my views on consultations, particularly those regarding cycling. Last week, I answered the rather long consultation on CS9 (Cycle Superhighway 9 from Kensington Olympia to Brentford) and spotted a smaller consultation on “proposed changes to cycling facilities on the A4 Great West Road between Syon Lane and Boston Manor Road” – so small, in fact, that TfL only accept responses directly via email, rather than the usual forms for comments. But I digress. Here are my thoughts on the proposals…

Strategic Cycling Analysis Figure 1.2

The stretch between Syon Lane and Boston Manor Road is only a 1 km part of the local 44 route, which runs the full length of the Great West Road from Hounslow to Hammersmith over 12 km. As there is not really an apparent alternative route and the existing infrastructure provides suitable width on the side of the carriageway, I believe that this route could be a viable candidate for high quality superhighway-standard cycle infrastructure, depending on cycle demand and taking into consideration the busy nature of the Great West Road. In fact, the TfL Strategic Cycle Analysis (SCA) identifies the road as having top 20% potential cycle flows (SCA, Figure 1.2).

I generally approve of the idea of improving facilities for cyclists and pedestrians on the A4, however I note that this is a very busy road with high traffic speeds, therefore the infrastructure must provide safety for vulnerable road users along the full length of the route, or an alternative route should be suggested.

Build-outs and raised tables

My specific concerns over the proposed plans are the number of locations where the cycle path is converted to a shared pedestrian and cycle path. To maintain the continuity of the cycle route, I would suggest that a separated footway is preferable to a shared use footway. See right for the descriptions from the London Cycle Design Standards, Chapter 4.

Shared use footways (LCDS)

Some additional separation from the adjacent fast-moving traffic, over and above the kerb would be beneficial as the kerb is relatively low over long stretches of the route, giving cyclists little perception of segregation, as can be seen in the street view above. I very much approve of proposed build-outs to reduce vehicle turning radii, however these should be implemented at every side road, not just some, and be accompanied by raised tables throughout.

As mentioned above, the stretch under consultation is only part of a much longer route which would benefit from improvement and as such, a greater view should be taken of the corridor, to ensure both continuity along the route and connectivity with the surrounding area. I hope to see further consultations which build on feedback received to date.


Have you responded to this consultation or similar ones? What is the key thing which struck you about the proposal, either positive or negative?

Melville Crescent Consultation Exercise

The City of Edinburgh council periodically releases consultations about various aspects of the city. This one caught my eye, in which they “are seeking [citizens’] views on proposals to improve Melville Crescent to make it a more pleasant environment for local residents, staff and people passing through by foot and bike“. Here’s what I thought:

Option B Melville CrescentOption B is my preferred option, however it requires some enhancements, as there does not appear to be adequate visible pedestrian crossing facilities. If traffic volumes are low, then a zebra crossing is not necessary, however there does not appear to be a clear provision for north-south movements across Melville St. The east-west CCWEL (that’s the City Centre West-East Link cycle route which they refer to only as an acronym) alignment appears to be the safest, provided the cycle route is clearly visible – for example through a different surface treatment. I imagine that due to the location in Edinburgh’s New Town, restrictions on materials will be in place to maintain the historic feel, but appropriate sett paving (the subject of another recent consultation) can be used to good effect.

This option appears to have the largest amount of public realm which should serve to make the area more attractive and a place where people will want to dwell. As far as I know of the area, it is primarily residential and offices therefore it would present a great opportunity for a café, bookshop or other similar commercial venture to enhance the appeal and ‘sense of place’ for the location.

In summary, I believe it is most important to ensure pedestrian and cyclist provision is prioritised over vehicular traffic to improve the public realm and make the area more pleasant and inviting. What are your thoughts? Did you complete this consultation?

Copenhagen: More bikes than cars

In the news today: bikes outnumber cars for the first time in Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, which I had to pleasure of visiting in May, the balance has finally tipped so that more bicycles (265,700) have been counted than cars (252,600) in the city centre. The figures are a daily number, though it’s not clear whether this is a yearly, monthly, or other average.

Cycle Counter in Copenhagen
Cycle Counter in Copenhagen

Key Facts:

City: Copenhagen

Population: 600,000

Investment in cycling infrastructure: £115m (1bn DKK) since 2005

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Route Choice – Cycling

On this sunny Sunday morning, I decided to cycle along my current favourite route, heading south out of Birmingham towards Worcester. The first few miles are along the Birmingham & Worcester Canal towpath, recently refurbished through the Birmingham Cycle Revolution. I then switch to the NCN5, which initially follows quiet paths along the Rea River Valley, before moving onto residential streets in a suburban area. Moving further away from the city, the route takes less-used and narrow back roads out towards the countryside and continues in this manner into Worcestershire.

For a leisurely weekend ride, such routes are undoubtedly the best: quiet, scenic and above all traffic-free. They have their downsides though: cycling through a park requires a certain degree of skill to avoid dogs and children running across your path for a start and you will likely not be taking the shortest route to your destination. Sunday: fine; Monday, heading to work: not so fine. For the purposes of commuting, cyclists prefer a shorter, more direct, even if busier and more dangerous route.Continue reading

Free Public Transport

Have you ever been tempted not to pay a fare? I imagine this will largely depend on the nature of the transport system you are using. In Paris, the barriers to enter the Metro are full height, so no chance of dodging them. In London, Underground barriers are about chest height, so probably too high to get over. In Warsaw, on the other hand, the barrier is only a turnstile, which I have seen jumped over (or slipped under) many times. Would a simple solution such as broader barrier stop this from happening? I’m pretty sure!

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What makes a successful transport system?

This evening, I attended a presentation of the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority’s new WM Strategic Transport Plan entitled “Movement for Growth”.

After a presentation of the long term approach to transport in Birmingham over a 20 year period, a discussion ensued with unsurprising comments either applauding the plans, questioning them or criticising them for taking so long to come to fruition. Not much to write home about. What I did find notable, however, was one gentleman’s comments answering the question of “What are the characteristics of a highly successful transport system?” He mentioned 5 things:

  1. Legible
  2. Through ticketing
  3. Easily interchangeable
  4. High frequency
  5. Run on electrified rail

According to him, the combination of the above make cities easy to use. I found this list to be a great summary, in line with my personal experience of using transport systems in a range of cities, countries and continents. Furthermore, he pointed out that the way in which a transport system is characterised is the same for both a newcomer to a city and a long-time resident of the city, be they a new or experienced user. Granted, an ‘old’ resident may know that the 41 bus runs past their house and takes them to work or to the city centre, but if they have to go somewhere new, the above list of items will ensure that the transport system is easy to adapt to their circumstance. Needless to say that such as system is necessary to encourage sustainable travel and decrease the reliance on cars.


What is your opinion on what makes a successful transport system? Do you agree with the above list? Are there any key characteristics which have been missed out?

China’s High Speed Rail

A few days before China opened the new 1300-mile (2000km) High Speed Rail line between the capital Beijing in the north and Guangzhou in the south, I was fortunate to travel along the 800-mile (1300 km) Shanghai-Beijing line. Travelling at top speeds of 300km/h, the train makes the journey in a mere 5 hours, at an average speed of 260km/h. The distance is comparable to Paris-Madrid (1300km) in Europe, where the fastest journey by French TGV [Train à Grande Vitesse] and Spanish AVE [Alta Velocidad Española] takes 10 hours – twice the time! Now, in even less time, here is a summary of what I thought of it.

Departure: From the city centre, Shanghai Hongqaio Railway Station is conveniently linked by two metro lines (and four more are planned!) though it might require some less favourable changes from other lines. Rising a few levels to the vast departures hall (pictured), the station begins to feel a little like an airport terminal: passing through baggage scanners and metal detectors, then proceeding to an area of departure gates.

Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station – Departures Hall

Journey: The analogy with aircraft ends as the train carriage begins, but that is a good thing: the amount of space, particularly leg-room available was the first thing I noticed upon entering economy class. Considering the height of the average Chinese, this is even more surprising, but perhaps it serves a second purpose as room to store luggage when the overhead shelves are full. Despite travelling in the low season, my carriage at least appeared full, but not packed.

China HSR carriage
China HSR – empty carriage

Arrival: Slightly disappointingly, the train pulled into Beijing South Railway Station some 15 minutes late which, while not dramatic, is still 5% on top of the timetabled 5-hour journey time. Luckily, the subway was still running so no harm was done. A one-way ticket price of 555 RMB (£55) might only be affordable for a small percentage of the population, but considering the relative comfort and convenience of travel when compared with flying, in my opinion, rail travel now beats air travel at an ever-increasing range of distances.

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How to catch a train?

I found an interesting question on one of the Linkedin groups I belong to and felt compelled to write an answer. As it turned out to be a pretty complete response, I deemed it worthy of its own blog entry, so here it is.

How can we get more rail passengers to arrive at the station by bike, bus or on foot?

This is a great question which I have pondered somewhat in the past, so it’s great to try and put these thoughts in writing. The methods with the most potential in my opinion are buses and bikes. As to how to encourage walking to a station? Presumably only by deterring driving by car!

In situations where walking or cycling is not suitable, be it due to weather, distance or convenience, buses seem like the obvious answer, provided that they have an advantage over taking the car. In simple monetary terms, a return journey to the station by bus must be cheaper than a day’s parking ticket at the station. More importantly though, the bus timetable must be suitably synchronised with the train one to ensure convenient connections. This should be relatively simple to arrange in a sleepy commuter village.

As to cycling, the answer is relatively straight-forward – ensuring that the bike which is left at the station remains safe. Although cycle boxes may be an attractive idea, they take up far too much space to be an effective solution anywhere with more than 50 bikes. There are in my opinion two key criteria to meet for someone to leave their bike at the station: ensuring it is protected from thiefs and the elements. The latter is ensured by bike shelters closed in on as many sides as possible. The former, by installing CCTV cameras and optionally having ‘guards’ patrol the racks, as well as by encouraging cyclist to register their bikes. The solution feels simple enough to me.

My experience spans reaching train stations semi-regularly in three very different cities. In Oxford, I lived too far from the station to walk so, as a poor student, cycling (there and everywhere else) was the only option. However, the bike racks were perhaps the most crammed I have seen anywhere. In the commuter town of Harpenden (Herts), there was a vast car park alongside the track which caused endless traffic jams on the main Station Road leading into the centre. Walking or cycling past the long queue of frustrated drivers was therefore very satisfying. Finally, in Edinburgh, I commute out of town at 8am – the 20min bus journey drops me off outside the station with a slightly excessive 15 mins to buy my ticket and board a train for a 20min train journey, which is followed by another 20min walk (or a 5 min cycle ride on the rare occasion the weather is clement – at least going ‘against the flow’ means there’s always space for my bike).

To summarise, what will encourage walking, cycling or using public transport to catch the train? A smoother and friendlier journey than getting there by car – something well within reach if it is planned properly.

What stops a train?

My train journey to work this morning took 20 minutes. On the way back, I was on the train for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The extra hour, spent waiting between two stations was due to something the British have a love/hate relationship with, something uncontrollable, but not insurmountable, something which surely shouldn’t bring a nation to a grinding halt, yet it does, over and over again… rain. But can blaming everything on the rain possibly be acceptable? I doubt it.

The train was approaching Edinburgh Haymarket on its way to its final destination of Edinburgh Waverley when it stopped for a few minutes due to “congestion around Haymarket”. When it stopped at Haymarket station, I had a brief thought of getting off the train, but dismissed the thought, as I knew I could get a convenient bus which would take me to my doorstep if I just waited a few more minutes until we got to Waverley. This turned out to have been the biggest mistake of not following a gut feeling in quite a while, as my patience began to be sorely tested within a minute of leaving Haymarket. At first, I thought we would just be stopped briefly, waiting for the signal to proceed on to Waverley. But it was not to be.

Fairly quickly, the train conductor announced that we were held due to flooding on the tracks between Haymarket and Waverley, however he was unable to provide an estimated time when the train would be on the move again. Whether he knew how long the train would be held and simply preferred not to inform his passengers, perhaps successfully preventing a riot, I will probably never know. His message of apology at the inconvenience caused came at frequent intervals throughout the hour long wait, pointlessly repeating that we are stopped due to flooding on the tracks, bla, bla, bla, as though some passengers might have missed the message the first, second and fifth time around. This, as well the fact I would miss the end of the Murray v Ferrer match coverage, was probably the most frustrating thing about the whole wait. Unsurprisingly, other passengers seemed to keep their cool, though perhaps they were, like me, considering finding the emergency door release and simply walking back along the track to Haymarket.

In the end, having seen only a couple of trains pass at a walking pace in the other direction, my train advanced at a 5mph speed through Princess Street Gardens, where it finally reached a terminal packed with sodden and undoubtedly disgruntled passengers with over an hour’s delay. What mistakes were made? I’ve come up with a few…

  1. The flooding situation wasn’t quite so sudden that it only became apparent after the train left Haymarket. Therefore, passengers should have been advised of the potential delay when the train arrived at Haymarket, giving them an opportunity to disembark and alter their journey to Waverley or their final destination.
  2. Even after the train had ‘got stuck’ a little way out of Haymarket, again anticipating the time it would remain ‘stuck’, it should have been reversed back to Haymarket.
  3. All trains bound for Waverley should have terminated at Haymarket and a ‘shuttle’ train should have run across the affected section of track. This is of course only a solution for regional services which only go to or from Edinburgh, rather than longer-distance services having to pass through the whole city. But it would have still alleviated the congestion on the flooded track.
  4. This is perhaps obvious, but in a city which is used to heavy rainfall, an arterial railway line should probably be designed to cope with rain a little better than it did!

The only redeeming feature of this whole episode was that the snacks trolley was circulated through the carriages and a complimentary tea or coffee was offered. As to the other facts, I would be keen to find out how this surely-not-infrequent event could have been managed so poorly.

PS: This was the first time I did this commute and I can’t say it has left me looking forward to repeating it next week.