Sunday, 1 February 2015

The future of Warsaw's public transport

Although published in December, this document only caught my eye via a link on TVN Warszawa - the city's plans for the sustainable development of public transport for the capital. In case you wish to download it (a 109-page .pdf document in Polish), it is available here. I take it the city means 'sustainable' rather than 'balanced' because the word zrównoważony, as I've pointed out on this blog frequently, has come to be the Polish equivalent of 'sustainable' even though evidently in Polish it isn't.

Anyway, it is a document that deserves study - it contains much valuable detail about Our City and how it is likely to develop. It also contains lots of interesting facts and figures.

This study doesn't stop at Warsaw's city limits, but takes in the surrounding gminas, or municipalities (one administrative level down from powiat or district). It is an acknowledgement that Warsaw is no longer a city, but a metropolis, spreading far out into the surrounding countryside (the area covered by this study stretches some 70km north to south and over 60km east to west). A joined-up public transport strategy is essential if the main arteries into the capital are not to be clogged up by exurbanites desperately commuting by car for want of an alternative.

Below: towns like Góra Kalwaria are included in this survey; it is 30km south of Warsaw city centre (as the crow flies) and 15km south of the city's borders. It is lucky enough to be connected to the capital by a rail link.

The document is thorough in its demographic assessment. It makes for interesting reading - it shows how young families are moving away from the city centre to raise their youngsters away from a high density urban environment. This will create pressure on suburban bus routes as the children grow up to make their own way to schools and colleges. The city centre is depopulating and at the same time ageing. Between 2003 and 2013, Warsaw's population grew by a mere 36,000 (the bulk in new residential districts like Białołęka or Wilanów), while the surrounding gminas added an extra 112,000 registered residents.

Warsaw also has over a quarter of a million students, some 40% of whom come from outside the metropolitan area - that's a further 100,000 people needing public transport.

There is also an acknowledgment that we don't really know how many people live in Warsaw - the number of niezameldowani (people living without a meldunek or registration of residence). It was estimated at 222,000 in 2010 - a number that would push Warsaw's population to two million.

Warsaw is a rich city; its GDP per capita is three times the national average, and 181% of the EU28 average; unemployment is the lowest in Poland. Hence, the capital will continue to act as a magnet for people seeking material advancement in life. The key question is whether they will settle in the city and its immediate suburbs, or will want to live further out, in a house with garden, and commute to town.

Dividing up the area into 'urban', 'urban-rural', 'rural-urban' and 'rural' (Jeziorki is 'urban-rural', while Dawidy Bankowe across the tracks is 'rural-urban'), we see that only the outer fringes of the furthermost gminas are properly rural. It's worth pointing out that 23% of Warsaw proper is still actually farmland!

The study examines in detail the travel habits of Warsaw residents and those living outside the city limits who travel in and out each day. Fascinating nuggets emerge - Wednesday is the busiest day of the week on the Warsaw Metro - 63% of taxi users are going home - only 1.1% of journeys are made by bicycle.

Crucially, the study considers the future with a number of different scenarios. One is that of urban concentration, the other of de-concentration. Will people cluster around the city centre, or move out to the distant suburbs? This is crucial in terms of car usage.

It is discouraging to see the increase in the number of cars per 1,000 citizens rising to 580 in Warsaw and 612 in the western exurbs (the figure is 416 in Berlin and 212 in Inner London); the hope is that continued improvements in the quality, reliability, frequency and comfort of public transport will slow this growth.

Consider this - in Warsaw, more than twice as many journeys are made by public transport (69%) as by car (30%). In the outer suburbs, public transport accounts for 42% of journeys, car 46%. Where there is good public transport, people will use it.

Over the past years, the authorities have encouraged citizens to use public transport by spending a lot more on it. From 2007 to 2013, Warsaw has doubled the annual subsidy to public transport operators from 724m złotys to 1.45 billion złotys, increasing the amount of subsidy per ticket from 61% to 67%. Politicians calling for free public transport (like that chap from PiS who was beaten by Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz in last autumn's mayoral election) need to understand that this would cost the city's annual budget an extra 800m złotys or so and would lead to an inevitable deterioration of services as planned investments are shelved.

Below: investment in the bus fleet means that all Warsaw buses today are low-floor types; the old Ikaruses, once the mainstay of MZA, the city's bus operator, disappeared finally in December 2013. 

I'm heartened to read that the city is intending to restrict and even close off certain parts of the city to cars, limiting the number of parking spaces, increasing the number of pedestrian precincts and prioritising public transport. There's also a lot of good stuff about bringing stations, bus and tram stops and transport hubs up to the highest standards when it comes to accessibility, and improving frequency and punctuality of services. There's even mention of using GPS technology to monitor punctuality, and to help create more realistic timetables. Nothing, however, about extending the Metro.

Improving passenger communication with better information regarding services is also covered by the study. There's nothing worse than being kept in the dark - your bus or train is late and getting later, there's no announcement, no ability to find it via an app in your smartphone.

The report is hazy about this crucial element of customer satisfaction. While the Metro is excellent, with monitors telling you when the next train is due down to the nearest 10 seconds, and increasing number of tram stops are fitted with monitors, far-flung bus stops or railway stations offer nothing than a printed timetable. The simple - and cheap - answer is to enhance the functionality of the ZTM and Bilkom mobile apps, so that all buses, trams and trains can be tracked in real time via GPS.

Warsaw's public transport has come on tremendously over the past ten years, as EU money is invested and Western European best practice takes root. The ability to buy tickets more easily, gain better, more accurate travel information (not necessarily yet in real time), a joint ticket covering all buses, trams and suburban trains and the Metro, has made travelling around Warsaw far less stressful. Plus, the smartphone means that time travelling by public transport can be put to good use.

I would hope that in another five years, there will be new tram routes, more bus lanes, more cycle paths, an SKM line down to Piaseczno, a real-time GPS system that tells you exactly where that bus you're waiting for actually is, and that more people will give up their cars and take to public transport. It is difficult to do your 10,000 paces a day (as recommended by the World Health Organisation) if you are tied to your car, and as I wrote on the post earlier, cities where the car rules tend to be fatter and less healthy.

Do take a look at the report - it's good that the city of Warsaw is taking public transport so seriously.

This time last year:
[This winter PKP PLK has put up snowdrift fences]

This time three years ago:
(on the superiority of Polish schools to British ones)

This time five years ago:

This time six years ago:

This time seven years ago:

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