Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bicycle Rapid Transit for Riga

Most of modern cities currently try to sustain and upgrade booth mass transit systems and cycling infrastructure to attract people to sustainable modes of transport. On the other hand bicycling and public transport are actually competitors in several areas:
1. Users. The latest priority in several cities - cycling usually fight for passengers from public transport as being cheaper and often faster than the conventional busses and trams. Cycling infrastructure is usually aimed to reduce car trips but it may turn out to reduce mass transit trips.
2. Street space. Many cities have narrow streets so putting booth dedicated public transport and cycling lanes may be impossible.
3. Public funds. Public transport and cycling need funds for expansion and operation so sustaining booth modes puts bigger pressure on the city budget.

In Riga all these three arguments are often used to advocate focusing on conventional public transport and not support extensive upgrades in bike infrastructure. And the forth and biggest argument in favor of public transport is the seasonality of bicycling – there is no real way how to make people cycle in -10 degrees Celsius, during snowfalls or rainy days – so the year-round public transport must be supported. Really? Here is my question – why to prefer exactly weather-protected public transport instead of weather-protected cycling infrastructure? And it turns out that the cycling can be put ahead of mass transit even in cities with bad weather.

My idea is that cities can build dedicated cycling highways (see proposal for Toronto) with complete grade separation, high operating speed (>20km/h) between the districts. The system may be considered similar to existing undergrounds – a user arrives to the nearest station, pays for ride and heads to a station closest to his destination. Yet – unlike in a metro – user brings (or rents) his own vehicle, don’t wait for train in first and transfer stations and even don’t stop at unnecessary stations on his way and route himself to the exit station (similar of using a highway network). Altogether the result would be similar to the concept of Personal Rapid Transit system - with the difference of being slower on operation, requirement of user to drive and own (or rent) the vehicle yet with a big advantage of using the same vehicle for origin-to-station and station-to-destination movements.

An adequate riding climate is crucial for Bicycle Rapid transit – the users must be protected from precipitation, extreme temperatures, ice on pavement and direct sunlight, also good lighting is a must. As in practice the bikeways would be located in some type of tunnels – provision of artificial tailwinds may also be considered. Similar to using the conventional public transport – users are exposed to all types of weather while arriving/departing from station (in case of ground transportation passengers are often even forced to wait in bad weather), the controlled climate is provided only when entering the station or car.

New infrastructure required
The biggest challenge in this concept is provision of necessary infrastructure – the bikeways must be wide (>3.5m) each direction to provide high capacity. Maximum capacity for so wide bike path is not clearly known (though some sources state about 4500 bikes per hour per direction – a specific research must be done). The path must be fully separated and isolated from other modes to keep the flow non-stop, sustain the climate, restrict cyclists from entering the system without paying and provide safety. This makes Bicycle Rapid transit more costly to implement than usual on-street bus lines or trams yet cheaper than grade separate rail or bus transit. On the other hand cycling highways – unlike track based systems - can be effectively phased using existing streets for unfinished sections. Even one few kilometers long stretch of good bike highway would attract cyclists from districts yet directly unconnected to the system.

Operation compared to mass transit system
Travel time – generally shorter on Bicycle Rapid Transit because of no stops, no waiting time, no transfers and use of bicycle on the way to/from station instead of walking;
Peak performance – unclear as the capacity of Bicycle Rapid Transit System is unknown but even 4500 cyclists per hour per direction is sufficient for most routes in small to medium cities – it is equivalent to a tram with 200 riders running every 2min 40 sec. It is clear that bikes can’t handle very big flows but that is actually needed rarely;
Off-peak performance – as less crowded cycling would be even faster while public transport slower because of longer headways. If cycling network is closed for maintenance during nights – it would still be possible to use one’s bike to return home;
Accessibility – similar to public transport Bicycle Rapid Transit would not be very appropriate for wheelchair users and mothers with strollers during peak hours but during low hours would offer a comfortable ride. Cycling is appropriate for most of disabled people as specific vehicles like hand-powered tricycles are available. For others a simple bus network with long intervals and small capacity still must be sustained (possibly private). Bikes may provide also considerable hand luggage capacity if bags, baskets and trailers are used.
Building costs – high for cycling highways and associated stations compared to on-street transport. Also more land required than on-street pubic transport;
Running costs – extremely low for cycling highways as almost no moving parts (maybe only turnstiles, bike escalators and ventilators compared to additional trains and buses in conventional systems). Extremely low labor costs – no drivers, no vehicle repair stuff, just highway maintenance and possibly - station stuff. Also energy consumption is low and costs predictable - no moving cars, only highway lighting and ventilation.  Low operation costs is the biggest advantage of this type of system meaning that it can be kept open almost always – even during nights. Cycling is also oil-independent and ecologically friendly and contributes to public health giving huge savings for economy.

Possibilities in Riga
Readers may be tired of different concepts for Riga but I am not doing only because that’s the city I know best but also because of an unique feature – total lack of investment in public transport infrastructure (I don’t mean vehicles in this case – they are very good in Riga). Riga doesn’t have tunnels or elevated ways exclusively for public transport and even bus lanes are rare. That is why this city turns to be a good soil for new ideas.

Some of the cycling highways can be located along railway lines making their construction relatively cheap but still many cycling highways must be build above and parallel to main streets – usually elevated if located outside the railway ring and tunneled below streets in the central part. Districts of Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva are near the sea and booth are detached from other districts by a 6km wide meadow making the cycling highway building costs unreasonable and cycling time long. These districts can be included in the cycling system anyway – using specially equipped bus line for user ferrying together with their bicycles. The cost of ferry bus may be or may not be included in the cost of the rest of system. Theoretically – if such buses turn to be popular they can also link distant points of the system if the travel time by bus is considerably shorter and demand is sufficient.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Urban Cable Transit – The Future Transport Mode in Cities?

So far Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) has only been used for crossing natural obstacles – valleys, steep slopes or wide rivers. But the obvious advantage of going over artificial obstacles like junctions, congested streets and buildings is left unused partly due to undeveloped technology, partly by sticking to conventional transport modes and not willing to develop a new one.
Some South American cities have succeeded in using gondolas as feeders to main metro stations from the poor neighborhoods on the hills. The technology used is the same standard one used in ski resorts – but anyway it proves that cables can be used also outside mountains.
You can find out more about current technology (what is MDG, BDG, Funitels, 3S, what is detachability, what are approximate costs and capacity) here: 

High capacity urban CPT (if once developed) would have a great use in Riga as the soil conditions has turned off the deep underground project, also the building density in central part is high and streets narrow, there are several water bodies in the city – biggest obstacle being the 400m wide river Daugava. Maybe one day it will be reality to travel on easy-to-build gondola lines above the cities rather than trains in tunnels deep below the street level.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Riga to Oslo ticket prices

Riga to Oslo is one of two routes from the Baltic States served by four airlines (the second being Riga-Moscow). While Riga has only one airport, Oslo area is covered by three airports: the primary Gardermoen airport (used by Air Baltic and Norwegian), secondary Rygge/Moss airport (used by Ryanair) and Sandefjord-Torp airport located more than 100km from Oslo, but convenient for area South-West of Oslo and chosen by Wizzair.
The biggest carrier on the route is Air Baltic accounting for 51% of capacity share and – as using smaller aircraft than others – 68% of frequency share. Closest runner-up is Norwegian with 19% of capacity and 14% of frequency. Ryanair offers 18% of capacity and 11% of frequency while Wizzair 12% of capacity and only 7% of flights as offering only two departures per week.

Fare graphs indicates two price peaks – one on Oslo-Riga route on December 15 to 23 and the second on Riga – Oslo route on January 1 to 5. This strongly suggests that during Christmas time flights are used by Latvian workers visiting their families. Each of the airlines tries to differ from the others – Air Baltic and Norwegian provides connecting flights and uses the primary airport, Air Baltic offers big number of departures. Ryanair targets price-sensitive passengers and population South-East fro Oslo, Wizzair relies less on Oslo city but caches passengers South-West from Oslo. Here you can see how well the airlines manage to translate their strategies into cash from tickets:
Edited Nov21 - I found an official confirmation that Air Baltic's EUR 5 transaction fee can be avoided by using Baltic Miles MasterCard so ticket prices in the research are lowered by EUR 5 and five euro surcharge to usual Visa and MasterCard is added.
The average fares in the two-month span (November 18 to January 17) are as follows: Ryanair – EUR 29, Wizzair – EUR 37, Norwegian – EUR 74, Air Baltic EUR 81 EUR 77. Prices for Air Baltic and Norwegian are extremely similar and they even peak at the same days indicating that the two companies compete for the same passengers. Less successful are the two youngest operators - Ryanair and Wizzair. Booth started the service over seven month ago but tickets are still extremely cheep and are not coming significantly more expensive closer to the flight dates. On the other hand during Christmas period Wizzair has as high prices as Air Baltic and Norwegian showing that their strategy of targeting specific region near Oslo works. Overall it is clear that the ticket prices for Riga – Oslo route is low due to the high supply and some operators (Ryanair and Wizzair in particular) may even drop it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

airBaltic Oulu Base – New Gateway to the Arctic

Though airBaltic’s intention to open a base in one of Finland’s regional airports was known already for several months – the official announcement came today - Oulu has been chosen over Tampere and Turku. Opening is going to happen in 2012, when Oulu terminal capacity will be increased. This decision is hardly explainable from point-to-point strategy as Southern Finland is more populous, the competition is still limited (especially from Turku) and flight times to Western European destinations are shorter. Furthermore - Tallinn and Vilnius base examples demonstrated – all other point-to-point bases for airBaltic has been a target for cuts if not working so well as from Riga. So is there any way how Oulu base can become a complementing not competing base in BT’s network?
The unique market - Arctic
RIX is in perfect location for serving Southern Finland, but the airports of Northern Finland are too far and with too less traffic to Western and Southern Europe. But the demand for Arctic and sub-Arctic routes can be high enough to sustain daily or double-daily flights if traffic from Oulu and other Finnish cities is added. Here is my vision how to make it work: 
The far north towns are proposed to be served with overnight flights arriving in Oulu at early morning. In Oulu passengers could change to:
1. Direct flight to Riga and further to any destination in Europe;
2. Any flight proceeding to towns in Southern Finland;
3. Other direct flights – for instance Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg.
Most of planes continue travel southwards with one-stop flight to Riga in order to provide link between Oulu and mayor Finnish cities and to pick up passengers for Riga hub departures starting at 10:00AM. Once arrived in Riga planes participate in daytime flights to destinations in Europe. As the Oulu-based planes most probably will be turboprops, they must serve the closest destinations from Riga – cities in Central Europe. Northwards journey starts shortly before 3:00PM and goes exactly the opposite way as the morning travel.

I see such advantages in this complex routing:
1. High aircraft utilization;
2. The widest possible market to towns in Arctic – important as the population is low;
3. Key markets using this routing: Arctic to Southern Finland via Oulu, Arctic to Riga and other mayor daytime destinations via Oulu; Southern Finland via Riga to Europe; Central Europe to nighttime destinations in N, E Europe and Asia via Riga;
4. Planes in utilization at Riga during the busiest daytime hours.
And such disadvantages:
1. Delay strategy is needed – being late is some segments may cause missed connections and delayed onward flights. But as booth Riga and Oulu are going to be bases, replacement capacities can be provided.
2. Tricky maintenance scheduling;
3. Arctic to South, West, Central Europe markets served with two transfers – one in Oulu, second in Riga. Situation can be improved by adding some direct flight to Arctic towns from Riga or offering more direct flights from Oulu to destinations in Europe.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Riga urban and suburban mass transit consolidation

Riga city public transport has always been - and in foreseeable future will be - a ground-transport based as no massive underground projects are on horizon. The system consists of 9 tram, 20 trolleybus and about 54 bus routes and involves about a thousand vehicles, but on the other hand it suffers of strict mode distinction, route overlapping, too frequent stops and lack of interchange opportunities; the stops lacks amenities and even basic service information. Inspired from success of Bus Rapit Transit systems (BRT) in several cities I revised the transit route system in Riga and came to a core route proposal:

Routes are numbered G1 to G11 with terminal stations A, B or C (say a trolleybus with code G4C on it is heading to Pļavnieki). The new routes are based on these existing ones:
G1 – trams 6 and 7;
G2 – trams 4 and 11;
G3 – bus 3 with modifications on the right bank;
G4 – trolleybus 22 and 25;
G5 – tram, part of route 5;
G6 – trolleybus 14;
G7 – bus 53;
G8 – trolleybus 3 and 19;
G9 – trolleybus 23;
G10 – buses 2, 11, 22 and 24;
G11 – a new bus route. 

The main idea is to create a metro-like network (in witch transfers are extensively used) from transit lines that already exist. This in most cases means leaving a single, strong transport line from center to each district (unlike the current two or three) and providing vast interchange opportunities at several stations. Vehicles on the remaining lines would run with very short intervals (even less than 60s in peak hours) so making the system very attractive. Exclusive transport lanes may be required but the system may also work on usual city streets together with other traffic. At least in initial stages the introduction of such a system would be focused on branding, stop spacing, stop improvements and creation of line hierarchy rather than increasing the driving speeds.
As only the main districts would be covered by this network, feeders and some local routes also must be created to provide public transport in  less populous neighborhoods.

Suburban trains to do what they are supposed to
Right now suburban trains and the few regional trains in the city make frequent stops at small, poorly equipped stations not providing transfer opportunities and focusing just on the surrounding market. In order to make the train market wider I propose calling just at few but high-quality interchange station that serve the whole city. Instead of terminating at Riga central station the trains must continue the journey to other stations in the city to serve even more passengers. Here is the route-scheme for the reorganized system:
The colored lines are frequent suburban services (20-40 min intervals), black ones - all regional services (40-120min intervals). Currently Zemitāni-Pētersala and Imanta-RIX sections are non-existent but both are highly possible to be built. Until these rail links are getting built trains could terminate at Zemitāni and Torņakalns instead.

This plan don’t requires an excessively large funds but concentrates on making hierarchy (starting from local feeder buses, than to core routes, up to suburban, regional, intercity trains, coaches and planes) but it requires lot of political will and understanding. If such a consolidation would go hand-in-hand with exclusive bus lanes on streets or even separate level roads for public transport, Riga would have fast, modern and rather cheap public transport network with fully sufficient capacity.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Could the New airBaltic Terminal Become the First True Low-Cost Terminal?

Everyone who had air-traveled at least once had got familiar with the traditional order at airport: check-in, baggage drop, security, passport control, boarding, luggage reclaim and so on. But is it really the most appropriate, easiest and cheapest way to get people and their bags on and off the planes? There must be some more up-to-date model because the current system has strong roots in early luxury air travel when traveler numbers were low, ticked prices unaffordable for general public and service standards high.
Current terminal at Riga airport is now considerably crowded at peak times as airBaltic has created a local hub. All of the earlier expansion proposals came from airport itself and were some type of traditional glamorous ‘air-travel temples’ spread all over the world. The project did not move on and airBaltic took over the initiative of building a terminal for 7-8 million annual passengers with expansion possibilities to capacity of 14 million passengers. Terminal must be low cost (~EUR 95m) and satisfy needs of airBaltic. Here come my ideas for the terminal:

Self-Service Luggage Handling
The cheapest and most obvious way to handle luggage is to put this duty on the owner. This means no traditional luggage drop when entering the terminal but one must bring his suitcases as far as the aircraft and put it in trolley for loading onto aircraft. Arriving bags are delivered right near the aircraft and anyone can take them without any delays. Of course, all bags must comply with hand luggage safety standards so no sharp items or liquids can be carried. If all this is introduced luggage handing will cost less so most of restrictions and fees actually could be eliminated.
Problems start with other airports in airBaltic network – the arriving bags at Riga must be cleared as hand luggage not as checked-in luggage so gate baggage drop must be applied for everyone and several airports may not find it acceptable. Luggage transfers from traditional carriers to BT would be impossible and travelers would have to pick-up the bags from reclaim belt and go trough security again. Alternatively such type of luggage could be considered as air cargo and delivered at cargo facilities at RIX (with significantly longer delivery time).
Keeping the Terminal Simple
As terminal would not have a traditional baggage handling system, all the facilities can be located in single floor; there would be no need for check-in counters. Single floor and gate baggage drop don’t go well together with jetbridges so walk and bus gates are the only reasonable option also saving time.
New passenger oriented cargo and mail service must be developed for prohibited items in hand luggage. Sharp items and liquids could be delivered to destination with special mail service (optionally connected to traditional mail). The difference from current checked-in luggage would be earlier check-in times or later deliveries (booth in special offices), smaller item size. These items would not be attached to the particular flight where the owner flies but could be delivered to destination also earlier or later. The packages can be delivered to traveler’s preferred post office as regular mail so avoiding the need of make companies own post offices at all stations.

Maybe this all sound too crazy but just imagine how big savings could give significant airport cost reduction at hub airport for hub and spoke model airline. Hub model was introduced because it is cheaper than point-to-point model; it is multiple times easier to connect each node with one hub rather than each node with all of the others. Paradoxically European point-to-point LCC now can offer cheaper tickets with significantly more expensive network. Hub airlines can blame only themselves for high airport costs coming from starchitect terminals, luggage handling systems, jetbriges and 100m spans over check-in halls. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mix of Trains and Coaches for Riga Suburban Transport

Yesterday morning I took an early suburban train (7:45 a.m.) from Riga to Jelgava and found that train load was very light – just about 5% of seats was filled in my car. Actually this is not a surprise for of-peak (weekend) train. The operator use a strategy to keep train headways of around 40 minutes with makes the service quite attractive for the costumers. But how to keep the operation costs down and keep the short service intervals at the same time? Easy – use lower capacity coaches on the instead of the heavy trains.

Mix of trains and coaches on the same line gives good cash and time savings and go well together because:
1. Busses are used for off-peak traffic when passenger numbers are lower and spacious trains are used only when crowd of pax is expected. There will be no need for peak passengers to cross-subsideze off-peak passengers and ticket prices would go down for everyone.
2. Suburbs (at least around Riga) are situated along transit corridors where both – railways and highways are present.
3. Off-peak on rail means also off-peak on roads so coach travel times would be acceptable for passengers. The travel distances are not typically extensively long (<50 km) so the difference in real travel times because of operation speed can’t be big.
4. In most cases all passengers from one off-peak train can’t be fit in 50-seat coach so number of runs could actually be increased and headways cut so making the average waiting time shorter and give a time saving (and make the service more attractive).

A problem for introduction of mixed train-coach service is lack of coach piers in Riga central station and even worse - problems of approaching some intermediate train stops. This means that some stops will be located physically separate from train stops (near a highway) or even passed. It gives serious limitations for dynamic change of vehicles because passengers can not quickly move from railway to highway in many cases (e.g. rail to highway distance in Salaspils is 1.3 km) but - if the schedule is stable and known for everyone – it should not be big headache for passengers.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Personal Wireless IFE

I have made a guest post for Find out how to:
1. save weight and maintenance costs for in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems;
2. make people on-board socializing;
3. use more current media with less spending on licenses.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Regulation 261 - an insane standard for pax service

Regulation 261/2004 covers EU air passenger rights and airlines’ obligations in case of delays, cancellations, flight changes from airline’s side and other disorders. One of the main rules is airlines’ duty to give meals and to accommodate the delayed passengers. This regulation was presented like a triumph from consumer right protection organizations. Indeed - the punctuality now is top priority for all airlines as the passenger assisting expanses are undesirable. The recent airspace closure above parts of Europe had put an enormous financial challenge for air carriers – to assist stranded passengers from hundreds of flights for several days. Of course – most of airlines tried to escape this declaring that the delays are beyond airline’s control. We will see some legal actions against the airlines for breaking this regulation but I want to turn to the fundamental problems in the spirit of Regulation 261/2004:
1. It puts the expanses and responsibility of delayed passenger service on shoulders of airlines. Even if the delay is due to weather conditions or – more unfairly – government institutions which are not financially responsible for consequences of their decisions, the expanses are covered by airlines
2. The regulations are applied just to airlines and not train, ferry and coach operators.
3. The biggest problem – it regulates what shouldn’t be regulated at all. Airline’s dealing with delayed flight has nothing to do with safety issues which are the main objects of usual regulations. Keeping passengers happy is a pure example of ground service and it must be up to airlines how they position their brand and how keep people flying with them. A good example of good service is Volaris from Mexico – if a flight is more than 30 minutes late passengers receive a gift certificate for further flights valued 50-100% (depending on booking class) of the price paid for the delayed flight. This gives a great target for employees to arrive on-time and is one element why Volaris is the most loved airline in Mexico. And this policy comes from an airline, not from the government.
Government still could regulate required information about the product costumers buy. Airlines can be pushed to clearly define what type of help passengers receive in case of delayed/cancelled flight, up to what time the airline keep the rights to make  changes in the ticket and other areas of costumer service, leaving the product and price up to the market.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bringing Life to Liepāja Airport

Liepāja airport saw a start of scheduled airBaltic flights in 2007 to Riga, later also to Hamburg and Copenhagen yet already in 2008 all of the routes were dropped. Also Russian Atlant-Soyuz Airlines offered short-lived service to Moscow Vnukovo between 2008 and 2009. This failure on sustaining flights is mainly due the superiority of Palanga airport located about 60km south of Liepāja. Palanga airport have better facilities and – even more important – better catchment area. Palanga itself is a seaside resort and the airport is easily accessible from Klaipeda city in south, Liepāja in north and a number of mid-sized towns in east. airBaltic actually switched Liepāja feeder route to Palanga in 2009 regardless of the existing SAS feeder route to Copenhagen, Norwegian service to Oslo and seasonal UTair link to Moscow. Is there any chance of attracting some services – at least a feeder route to BT hub in Riga? I think – yes. The main idea is to develop the airport as a true city airport with fast connections to all districts of the city and full integration in the transport grid.

The Key – a BRT line from Liepāja to Grobiņa
Grobiņa is the biggest suburban town near Liepāja just about 10km from the CBD. Currently a twice-hourly bus service is the main public transport link between Liepāja and Grobiņa and it runs on the highway by-passing Liepāja airport. My point is that building a 4km brand-new Bus Rapid Transit line and upgrading a number of other roads and streets would allow to substantially speed-up Liepāja-Grobiņa bus service. A secondary effect from this BRT would be notably improved connectivity of Liepāja airport as the station can be built right next to the passenger terminal. The completely new road section for the BRT must be built trough reedy wetlands on the northern side of Lake Liepāja so some environmental concerns may rise but, as this road is dedicated for buses, cyclists and pedestrians, the impacts can be hold under control. This routing also bypasses urban areas so the actual operating speed for vehicles will be higher.

Gateway for Cars and Bicycles
Usually airports are surrounded by Park&Fly car parks but they are not used (at least I haven’t came across) like Park&Ride sites. In the case of Liepāja a win-win situation can be created if those booth facilities are merged. P&R will be based on BRT and the increasing traffic will bringing even better connections to airport. For successful implementation of P&R system some push-back actions like big parking fees in CBD or congestion tax may be applied. The same parking lots can be used for P&R and P&F so more effective use and bigger turnarounds will lower the parking prices.
A cycle line can be built along the BRT line so connecting Grobiņa to Liepāja and also airport to Liepāja. Booth air and road visitors can be easily served by one bicycle rent in the airport and  - cycling used to reach the golden beaches and lively clubs.

The biggest advantage of the listed measures is that ground transport system will be fully independent from level of air traffic which is designed to be more re-active. I believe - if the scheme is realized – a stable air traffic will came back to serve Liepāja from city's closest and the most convenient airport.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coaches Lead the Baltic Inter-City Transit

Coaches are the most developed and popular mode of intercity public transport in Baltic States despite the lack of highways and expressways (especially in Latvia and Estonia). The recent public order change in Latvia show that coaches are pushing trains out of business. A number of trains were substituted with coaches in Riga – Liepaja, Ventspils, Renge, Gulbene routes - booth main and secondary city pairs. The trains have too big passenger capacity (or too less frequency), the intensive freight transit has notably slowed down passenger trains and reduced free rail capacity. Also the costumer service is outdated – no new train sets, no separate-level stations, no high platforms, no multimodal opportunities, no rain shelters at stations and so on. As the governments of the Baltic States allows train-coach competition (unlike France and Germany) coaches has logically proved to be the most economical choice in almost all examined Baltic city pairs. This analysis showed the power of coaches and I start to doubt if my earlier proposed Rail Baltica Domestic plan will ever be competitive with inter-city coaches. Diagram below shows the coach connections between twenty biggest cities in the Baltic States.

The busiest route is Riga – Jelgava with 77 one-way runs on the day analysed (March 26th). Latvia have more cities in Western par so Eastern part seems to be undeveloped, but in reality Eastern part have many smaller towns and more developed rail network. In Lithuania coach routes are dense and frequent between Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai, Panevezys, Alytus, Marijampole. Similar situation is in Estonia – the main city pars are well cowered. The only state where trains significantly influence coach network is Latvia: Riga to Daugavpils and Rezekne is served by trains trice and twice daily and the coach departures are not as frequent as it could be. The international routes involve Riga in almost all cases. Booth Rezekne and Daugavpils have just one-weekly coach service to Vilnius with is not showed on the map (runs on Saturtdays).

Possible Drop in Ticket Prices

The bar chart shows kilometer price on analysed routes (average by country on runs with pricing information available). The route length between cities was chosen by routing tool in GIS site and no additional entries in town centers adjacent to the main road and other route modifications are taken into account. The results are clear – Latvia have the cheapest domestic coach ticket prices while Lithuania the highest. I am not well informed about subsidy systems in Estonia and Lithuania but one thing is unclear – why the uncontrolled international services are cheaper then Lithuanian domestic services. Latvian domestic coach routes are government regulated and subsidased ant the ticket prices are kept low.

In a few months a new Eurolines brand – Simple Express – is to start Riga – Kaunas (with connection to Warsaw) and Riga - Tallinn routes at incredibly low ticket prices – €7 or €8  to Kaunas and €10.5 to Tallinn. Simple express service is cheaper than Latvian heavily subsidized domestic service and almost twice as cheaper than Lithuanian domestic service. The way Simple Express can provide so cheap fares is still unclear, but – if it is sustainable – this move will cut fares on international routes and maybe will make the governments to deregulate the domestic markets in order to benefit from real competition.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Proposed Rumbula Residental Area: the Transportation Problems

The most recent european10 architect competition in Riga was dedicated to Rumbula district. The idea of transforming the abandoned military airfield and allotment gardens to modern residential neighborhoods has been included in development papers for years but nothing has been done yet. Despite the wonderful waterfront Rumbula is not attracting developers – let’s see what is wrong and what can be done with that.

Biggest Problem - Distance to the Center
Rumbula development site is about 10km from the Old Town (city hall) with is big distance in case of Riga. Residential areas like Bolderāja, Vecmilgrāvis and Jugla are located about the same distance from the center and only one – Daugavgrīva are located even further. All of named districts are considered to be inconvenient for commuting, the estate prices are lower and all of them (at least initially) were providing notable number of jobs (sea-port, manufacturing etc).
There are a number of possible development areas which are suitable for public and private residential development closer or at the same distance to the CBD so Rumbula have to withstand competition. As mentioned earlier the main advantage of the site is river Daugava. Also A6 highway to Daugavpils and other cities may be used as an advantage.

Main Strategy - Good Connectivity
Theory says that travel time is more important than the covered distance thus fast connections should be the focus in site preparation. Other strategy could be making self-sufficient community with small or no need to commute but arrival of labor-consuming and well paid business is less predictable than arrival of dwellers and can actually turn the district to a ghetto with low property prices.
The core of all transportation strategy I propose is fast public transportation branch from station Gaisma to the primary hub of district – station Jaunrubula and secondary hub – station Lidlauks. The link may be realized as city rail derived from suburban rail service or bus rapid transit line derived from trolley-bus line number 15 running along the existing rail. The line would link Rumbula to the CBD, airport, Akropole shopping and some secondary business districts – Skanste and Spilve.
The existing high standard tram line number 7 which ends at Dole can be prolonged to station Jaunrumbula trough station Zoom. It would also be possible to continue tram service to station Lidlauks if connectivity with rail/BRT system is provided.

As the riverfront will be the pedestrian area, connections between stations Jaunrumbula and Lidlauks and the riverside must be created. In case of station Jaunrumbula – a wide pedestrian street with retail on booth sides must become the mayor attraction of the neighborhoods. On the other side of river Daugava Nature Park Doles sala is located - ferry connection from Rumbula to recreation areas in Doles sala would bring extra attractiveness to Rumbula.
Already now car-based manufacturing, offices and retail is based along the highway so no need to change that. The district will see more commerce if the local streets and car access is brought up to date.
If all of this is realized Rumbula will became truly attractive place for living, working of recreation. To pay for the entire infrastructure needed the neighborhood must be urbanized very densely. The main question is still open: isn’t there cheaper development site somewhere in the city with better transport and are there so many costumers willing to pay for living/working near the river?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Riga to London fare watch

Right now two airlines offers direct Riga – London service: airBaltic (Gatwick) and Ryanair (Stansted). FR operates twice daily (morning and evening) flights; airBaltic makes daily midday flight and additional evening flight on selected days during summer. Wizzair will start three weekly Luton flights in end of March so bringing some fresh air in the market.

Here is a graph of available ticket prices in March, April and September:

Wizzair is cleverly using the drop in Latvian advertising sector by putting their pink posters with cute flight attendants on virtually every free billboard in the town. Also promotional pricing with average March&April fares of €27 for Riga – London and €33 for London – Riga creates big public attention.

Average available fares on March and April for BT is €66 (RIX-LGW) and €76 (LGW-RIX); for FR €69 (RIX – STN) and €60 (STN – RIX). The very similar fare levels for FR and BT breaks the popular stereotype of Ryanair being the cheapest and airBaltic the most expensive. In London – Riga section the airport fares seems to make the actual difference between BT an FR (as all depart from one airport in Riga but different airports in London area).
In September the ticket prices for BT and W6 flights are actually higher than in April. airBaltic and Ryanair now put bigger accent on monthly sales with cheap tickets for close travel dates rather than traditional cheep fares for distant dates. For budget travelers it means that “book well in advance” tactics must be changed to “keep your bags packed and hope that your destination will be in the next sale list”.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Irregularly Scheduled Flights for Point-to-point Carriers

While air travel has experienced a significant drop in fares during last decade and numbers of travelers increased, lodging is now the biggest expanse for part of costumers. So far low cost carriers who tend to use point-to-point system has paid no attention on setting their schedules so that trip can be done with maximum days and minimum nights at the destination. Many of destinations are served just 2-4 times a week. A twice-daily service on mornings and evenings would be ideal for travelers but most of routes can not sustain so big passenger flow and aircrafts still need to be somehow utilized during the rest of day.
These low-frequency schedules are usually created assuming that flights must be distributed as evenly as possible trough the week so granting similar headways regardless whether the time between the flights is used on sightseeing and business or sleeping. I think an airline that offers a longer stay at destination city without additional night at hotel would definitely attract and induce new costumers.
How to achieve this? Actually it is very easy – joust bringing some mix in the morning and evening destinations.
Here is an example on aircraft from Wizz air Sofia base. Morning flights are performed to FCO and CLR, evening flights to BGY and BCN. If Wednesday’s and Sunday’s FCO flights are made in evening and BGY flights in morning, Thursday’s CLR flight in evening and BCN in morning we could get 6 superb city break possibilities.

Such transformations also create inconvenient flight pairs but – as LCC costumers are usually flexible with travel dates – most passengers will benefit from the shifted schedule. Midday destinations too can be put in other timing, but the gain will be much smaller.
The convenient flight pairs in mornings and evenings work symmetrically for travelers from booth cities. Actually - if the traffic flow is one sided - problems might appear on some segments. For hopelessly one-sided traffic - to a tourist resort for instance - midday or night flights would suit better.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Does River Daugava Waterway Make Any Sense?

Some water transport enthusiasts in Latvia have lately raised idea using river Daugava as inland waterway following the canal development trend in Western Europe. Daugava was an important trade route starting from Middle Ages to 1860ies - when an extensive railway network was built. The first goal of the project I remember was connecting the Baltic Sea with the Black sea; now - as I understand form Mr. Uldis Pumpurs (sorry – in Latvian only) – the idea is to connect Vitebsk region in Belarus with Riga port. Initially I was very skeptical about this vision but doing a little research gave a little more credit for the project.  

Finding the Freight
Vitebsk region is the flagship of Belarusian export and – according to some sources – accounts for 68% of nation’s foreign trade. Petrol, electricity, sewing machines, TV sets, bricks, clothing, footwear, food and other goods are produced in the region. Water transport is very cheap, has big capacity and is rather slow. The main candidates for using boats are: timber, peat, construction materials and – already existing industry output – clothing, carpets, shoes and electronic devices. But here we come to a dead end – in Europe we can find territories already connected to ports and with resources of timber, peat and production if construction materials. Belarus is a country that tends to export goods with added value and smaller volume not raw materials. Maybe it is possible that the waterway could depend on manufacturing output at the beginning (less sensitive to transport costs) and gradually induce timber cutting, peat extraction, brick production and other freight that is very sensitive on transport costs.

New Structures Needed
Two big technical problems exist in this project. First – no possibilities for vessels to cross the three existing dams of power plants in Latvia. This can be solved by building locks or some kind of boat elevator. Second - and the biggest – Daugava upon Jēkabpils are shallow. The technical specifications and the corresponding depth are still unknown, but it is clear that rising river level or deepening the channel is required. Upstream Daugavpils is located nature park Daugavas loki – a scenic and environmentally valuable area. A solution that do not effect the park is mandatory (bypass canal for instance).
Most of canals in Europe were built more than a century ago using cheap labor, state funding and little estate costs. In case of proposed Daugava waterway the capital costs would be paid by the users – and I doubt that vessel transport will have significantly lower costs than rail or road transport. Current estimate of the total construction costs is €2 billion. (Cost of LGV Est 400km high speed line is about €4 billion) The length of Daugava from Vitebsk to Riga is about 570km, 420 km in a straight line.

The White Elephant in Existing System
Transport systems in Latvia and Belarus are road and rail not water based because the Industrial Revolution here came when railways were considered more progressive than inland waterways. In Western Europe these systems where introduced and developed simultaneously – and used till nowadays. Countries like France on Germany are improving their canal networks just because they have them. The same is why US do not build high-speed railways – because they do not have a good service of regular rail and all movements are done using other modes of transport.
Water transport would loose attractiveness if one extra reloading is required so the factories must be located right next to the river. Where they are now? Of course near railways. This is a very big block for the project – virtually all of the Daugava waterway costumers must be induced; I do not see any reason why existing factories would relocate themselves or ad one more reloading at local boat station on their delivery route.

I have to come to a conclusion that this project is heading to nowhere. I see almost no existing costumers. In long term Daugava waterway would create some depending industries and traffic but until then the project would be a financial failure. More welome are investments in existing railway system.